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SAGE ADVICE

The Lone Stars Book 6

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https://amzn.to/2EdplRf

Chapter 1

Chloe Caldwell pinched the bridge of her nose to ward off a headache. She’d gotten in too deep. There was no turning back. All she could do was cross her fingers, forge ahead, and hope she still had a career this time next month.

“I can’t wait to finally meet your fiancé.” Blanche Armstrong’s voice, just like the rest of her, was all business. As the founding partner of Armstrong Literary Agency, the premiere self-help book agency, she’d built an empire on being all business.

Chloe stared down at her smartphone on the off chance that her phone had magically switched to FaceTime and she hadn’t noticed. Not that it had ever done that, but there was always a first time. “Yes, me too.”

In person she was a terrible liar, which worked well with her pediatric patients but was definitely an issue when it came to adults. She was a licensed clinical psychologist who’d chosen to work with children, but she’d done some of her postgrad work in couple’s therapy.

It was time to circle the conversation back to something safe. “I’m getting great feedback from my advance readers.”

“That’s because L-O-V-E is full of practical, commonsense relationship information. Everyone loves your blog and podcast. The publisher is marketing the hell out of this book. Just so you know, this isn’t normal. Usually they leave marketing up to the author. They’re calling you the Queen of Relationship Advice.” Blanche dropped some of her usual all-business to sound the slightest bit excited. “I can’t wait for the world to start using L-O-V-E—Let Others Value Emotion—as the new relationship catch phrase.” There was a brief pause. “I guess love has always been a relationship catch phrase.”

The release of Chloe’s first book would also “out” her to the public. She was the anonymous person behind Sage Advice, the award-winning relationship advice blog and podcast. Up until now, she’d managed to keep her identity private. It wasn’t that she wasn’t proud of her work; her anonymity was more about the social anxiety she’d had since childhood. In a perfect world, she would fade into the background and never be noticed. The fact that she held a PhD in psychology and knew she had almost crippling social anxiety should have helped her work through it, but “Physician, heal thyself” was a phrase batted around by people who didn’t have real problems.

If she’d written in to Sage Advice, she’d have told herself to suck it up. But she’d tried that and all it did was suck.

“I don’t want to get your hopes up, but Dr. Phil’s people contacted me today. We’ve been playing voicemail tag.” The all-business cracked even more and excitement crept in. “Just think of the publicity. Your book would be a bestseller for sure.”

Chloe put her hand on her rolling stomach. “Publicity” started with the word “public,” which meant a large group of people. For her, public speaking was right up there on her things to avoid list with dental surgery and being attacked by a pack of wild dogs.

Chloe tried to swallow around the sudden lump in her throat. Her mouth felt like a desert. “That sounds wonderful.”

It was the opposite of wonderful. What were the chances Dr. Phil would agree to let her be on his show via telephone? Sure, it was low tech, but maybe she could fake some sort of injury or illness or kidnapping? Well, maybe not a kidnapping, because presumably her kidnappers wouldn’t let her use a phone to call Dr. Phil.

When had her life gotten out of hand? She’d been happy with her blog and her podcast and counseling children at Youth Outreach. Then a publisher had contacted her about writing a book. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

To take her mind off of Dr. Phil, she glanced at the unfinished/barely started blog post for Sage Advice.

“Back to Prince Charming. He needs to be at the book release party. The whole world wants to meet the man who stole Sage Advice’s heart.” Blanche was back to being all business.

Chloe couldn’t wait to meet the man who’d stolen her heart too. Because right now, her fiancé was made up. It wasn’t the first time she’d created a boyfriend, but it was the first time he’d proposed and she’d accepted, and now they were supposed to be planning a fake wedding. “He will absolutely be there. He’s very excited.”

And just like that, her headache went from a gentle pounding to a sledgehammer chipping away inside her brain. Possibly, she shouldn’t have played up the fiancé thing quite so much, but it wasn’t entirely her fault. All she’d done was lie about having a boyfriend to avoid the further attentions of an aggressively flirtatious male copyeditor, and somehow her editor had thought Chloe was engaged. From there her tiny white lie had snowballed into an avalanche that included wedding gifts sent by her publisher and her agent. She’d returned them, of course, with the made-up apology that she and her fiancé were having a minimalist wedding—apparently minimalism and decluttering were trendy, so no one thought it was weird that she didn’t want wedding gifts.

Her life had been normal once. It had been a while, but she was sure she remembered what normal felt like.

“The world is so excited to meet him.” Blanche shuffled some papers. “Well, I’ve got to let you go. I have a lunch meeting. I’m flying into Austin for the book launch at BookPeople. I’d love to get together before for drinks. I’ll email you my travel details. Can’t wait to meet your lucky fiancé.”

Chloe almost dropped the phone.

“Um …” She should tell the truth now before it got worse. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

“Talk to you soon.” Blanche hung up.

This was bad. Chloe would embarrass herself in front of not only her agent but now possibly Dr. Phil and the whole world. Screwed really wasn’t strong enough to describe her looming fall from grace. The embarrassment would be nothing compared to the professional disgrace she might face if her lie got out. Her credibility as a relationship expert could be destroyed.

She set the phone down next to her keyboard, closed her eyes, and rested her forehead on her desk. She resisted the urge to bang her head against the desk. She was running out of time, and her reputation and career hung in the balance. What were the odds that God or the universe or whatever would deliver her perfect man to her by her book launch party?

Zero.

At least she hadn’t named her fake fiancé. She was firm on personal privacy, or at least that was what she’d told her editor.

This was a disaster.

She sat up. It was time to turn to a professional.

She Googled “how to hire a fiancé.” RentAFiancé.com came up. She clicked on the link. The website wanted her to fill out a form and become a member. How would it look if soon-to-be-outed relationship expert Chloe Caldwell signed up for RentAFiancé.com? What if she used an alias? But she’d probably have to pay with a credit card, so they would still have her name.

She closed that website. She still had two weeks to meet someone, fall in love, and get engaged. She’d back-burner RentAFiancé.com.

Or she could just fake a nasty breakup with her fake fiancé, only how would it look if her relationship ended right before the launch of her relationship book?

To get her mind off of her fake fiancé, she reread the blog post she was working on.

Dear Sage Advice,

My boyfriend and I love to throw dinner parties. There is always a theme. I make all of the food from scratch, decorate the apartment, pick out the wine, and create the invitations. I enjoy every single minute of it. All of our friends rave about how much they love our dinner parties.

But my boyfriend’s best friend always brings a side dish to the parties that doesn’t match the theme, even though I clearly state on the invitations that they don’t need to bring anything. Whatever he brings always throws off my buffet display. Since he’s my boyfriend’s best friend, I can’t not invite him, but I really wish he’d stop bringing unnecessary food. I’d love any advice you might have.

Thanks,

Dinner Party Disaster

Chloe started typing.

Dear Dinner Party Disaster,

Dictionary.com states the definition of buffet as a meal laid out on a table or sideboard so that guests may serve themselves. Nowhere does it mention that all of the food must be of a similar theme or be in balance.

Control, like perfection, is an illusion.

I appreciate that you’re organized and devote a lot of time to planning and preparing everything for your dinner parties. But when someone goes out of their way to make something and brings it to your house, you should be grateful. I’m sure your boyfriend’s bestie thinks he’s helping. Instead of concentrating on how the food he brings is disruptive to your buffet, try to appreciate the love and kindness he put into the food that he most assuredly thought would lighten your cooking load.

Your buffet may be out of balance, but if his food tastes good, what does it matter? It all comes down to this, does his bringing of food take away from the enjoyment of the dinner party? Think about it. A year from now, are your guests going to remember that he brought his grandmother’s creamed corn casserole to your sushi party, or are they going to remember the lively conversation and fun they had at getting together with you?

Just take a deep breath, paste a smile on your face, and thank him for bringing his famous chicken enchilada bake to your vegetarian curry supper.

Stop micromanaging the buffet. Everyone will have a wonderful time, even if he brings Swedish meatballs to Taco Tuesday.

Sincerely,

Sage Advice

She reread the post and hit publish.

She pulled up the next question.

Dear Sage Advice,

I just got engaged to the love of my life. I’m so excited. He really gets me and I really get him. I don’t know how I’ve lived without him. We are blissfully happy.

But, I was married once before … to his twin brother. My fiancé wants to ask his brother to be his best man, but feels that it’s inappropriate. I disagree. My fiancé was the best man at my wedding to his brother. I think it’s only fair that my ex be the best man at his brother’s wedding.

Also, our families are having trouble accepting our relationship. My father is refusing to pay for another wedding. My soon-to-be/ex mother-in-law refuses to give us her blessing. How can I help my family and his accept our love?

Thanks,

Wedding Woes

Chloe rolled her eyes. Eye rolling wasn’t exactly professional, but since no one could see her, it was okay. If this woman could find a fiancé, then surely Chloe could find one. Then again, she didn’t have a family reunion anytime soon, so maybe not.

Dear Wedding Woes,

You should elope.

Sincerely,

Sage Advice.

Short and sweet.

She hit publish.

On to the next email.

Dear Sage Advice,

My boyfriend just proposed and I said yes. Now I’m not so sure. He likes to go out with his friends several nights a week, and sometimes I find lipstick on his shirt and I smell perfume that I know isn’t mine. Every time I ask him about it, he always has some excuse and calls me jealous and controlling and paranoid.

My mother says that every bride gets a case of cold feet. Is this what I have?

I just keep thinking that if I marry him, everything will be better. I’d love any insight you might have in this.

Thanks,

Confused

Dear Confused,

Marriage isn’t a panacea. Just because you say “I do” doesn’t mean your world turns perfect and everything is magically better. If anything, marriage magnifies the relationship issues that you have now. Once you sign your name to the marriage certificate, he’s still going to go out with his friends.

People are people. You can’t make someone change, it has to be their decision.

Obviously, you have profound reservations about moving forward with the marriage. Why is that?

I don’t believe in cold feet. I do believe in the mind warning us about something that isn’t quite right.

As women, we often lead with our hearts. Right now, I’d like for you to take a step back from the situation so you can look at it from all sides. What does your head tell you about marrying your fiancé?

Think of it this way, if your best friend were in a relationship exactly like yours, what advice would you give her?

Thanks for reaching out, and I’m sending you cyber hugs.

Sage Advice

She reread it and hit publish.

Chloe might not know about marriage firsthand, but she’d lived through her parents’ marriage, which had been cold and hostile on a good day. Now her parents were happily divorced. It was the best thing for everyone.

She might not be married herself, but she was definitely in the market for a fiancé.

She stared at her smartphone and rolled her eyes again. This was real desperation. Then again, it wasn’t as bad as RentAFiancé.com.

She gave herself another eye roll and scrolled for a number in her contacts. She hated blind fix-ups, but she was officially desperate.

The phone rang three times, and then a recorded sexy Southern voice answered. “This is Sweet Louise, leave me a message and I might call you back. Kisses.” Sweet Louise Harding made kissing noises.

Chloe fought the urge to hang up. “This is um … Chloe … I mean Dr. Caldwell from Youth Outreach … um … you said you might know someone I could … um … you know … meet for drinks. I’d like to meet him. Thanks, bye. Oh wait, I guess you don’t need my number since I’m calling you … bye.” She hung up.

Most people thought of Chloe as professional and coherent. Clearly the subject of dating turned her into an idiot.

Sweet Louise was always saying she’d love to fix Chloe up, and now she would finally get the chance. Now all that needed to happen was for Mr. Fix-Up to turn into Prince Charming and for them to fall madly in love and get engaged ASAP.

Yeah, this probably wasn’t going to end well.