Talia Barca stared gloomily at her drink. How would she ever survive the next time she saw her ex-husband? The rat bastard.
“So what are you going to do?” her cousin, Nita Islas asked. The soft question broke through Tally’s misery.
“I don’t know,” she muttered and lifted her amaretto sour to her lips. She gripped the cold glass tightly so the shaking of her hand wouldn’t cause her to let it drop. Stupid nerves. There was no real reason to be nervous and yet she was. So what that she hadn’t seen her ex in years. Her entire family had been invited to her cousin’s upcoming wedding, a wedding he’d also attend. That meant nothing. Okay, it did mean she had to see his dumbass again. To make matters worse, if she didn’t attend she’d look like she hadn’t gotten over him. How stupid was that when she’d been the one to put in for the divorce in the first place.
“Stop thinking so hard, babe.” Nita shrugged her shoulders. Her black, wide-neck top dove to the side and showed off a sparkly bra strap over golden brown skin. “I mean our entire family should know at this point that he was a jerk to you.”
“You already know they think it was miscommunication. Makes shit worse that he’s been great to most of them. That’s why they never really pushed him out of their circle.” She swallowed a gulp of her drink, draining what was left in the glass.
“If my parents weren’t traveling most of the year they’d support you too. This isn’t fair if you ask me. I mean the guy was a dick to you.”
A dick with a small dick. That’s what she’d called him once she’d given up on trying to make shit work. She sighed. An entire week near Paul of wedding festivities was not what she was looking forward to. He had a god-complex the size of Texas. It made no sense since he didn’t have the body or equipment to back that up. Not even something a person should be proud of. He was an all-star asshole.
“I’ll think of something.” Tally sighed. She’d better think of something ASAP or she’d have to decline attending and that would look even worse. She didn’t hide from shit, but Paul was one of those people that the mere thought of him gave her a headache.
Nita slapped her drink on the table with a thump. “What about Mrs. Wilder?”
“Gerri? My neighbor?”
“Yes!” Nita leaned forward. “Didn’t she tell you as we were walking out tonight that she’s running her business from her apartment in your building?” Nita’s brown eyes widened with excitement. “If I recall, she said it’s a matchmaking or dating service or something like that.”
Tally frowned and swept a long black curl behind her ear, trying to remember the conversation. Mrs. Wilder was her older neighbor from across the hall and a lot of fun. They were the only two on her floor and so Tally visited the older woman quite often. The reason was more so she wouldn’t feel alone than Mrs. Wilder being old. Tally didn’t really get along with her family thanks to asshole Paul. Now her days were either spent with Nita or Mrs. Wilder. The older neighbor always had a ton of male visitors. She came from a huge family and she’d mentioned some of her grandsons would be moving in to the building in the next few weeks.
“She did say something like that,” Tally mused.
“Well, there you go!” Nita passed her empty glass to the waitress, grabbed a fresh one and lifted it to her lips. “Problem solved.”
Maybe. Or maybe she’d be in deeper shit if she allowed the elderly woman to mess with her personal life. When it came to men, Tally had some seriously sucky luck. She glanced around the bar that was located a few blocks from her building. The crowd was younger than she cared to be surrounded with, but in a college town, it was bound to happen. At thirty-two, she’d started to feel like a miserable old lady surrounded by hot young men. She didn’t see how her personal life could get any better.
“You need to talk to more men,” Nita said as if reading her mind.
“I’m too old for dating,” she grumbled but smiled at the waitress who’d given her a new drink. “I’m about to get my cat lady starter kit any day now. Men are too much work.”
Nita laughed. “You’re insane. You’re gorgeous! What the heck would possess you to say you’re too old? Thirty is young!”
Nita rolled her eyes. “It isn’t like you’re ninety.”
“Sure feels like it,” she whispered with the drink by her lips. She winced at how strong it was. Apparently the waitress felt she needed more than her usual dose of liquor. Tally had to agree. She needed a damn miracle.
“All you have to do is stop dating the wrong men,” Nita stated matter-of-factly.
She pinned Nita with a glare. “I thought that’s what I was already doing. I mean I work at a damn lawyer’s office. I don’t date any of those assholes. But why is it that when I meet what seems to be a nice, decent man, he turns out to be some kind of double bastard with a side of dickhead?”
Nita’s brows curved up. “Wearing a suit to work doesn’t mean you should live in one. Cut loose, woman!” She exhaled loudly and pointed a red-tipped fingernail at Tally. “You need to get laid properly.”
“Shush!” She glanced around the bar. A couple of the younger guys threw winks in their direction. Flames of embarrassment heated her cheeks. “You’re going to get us kicked out of here.”
Nita giggled. “What I’d like is to get you hooked up.”
“I’d settle for a date.”
Nita shook her head. “No. We need drastic measures here. You need to get laid.”
“Nita!” She gasped, covering the side of her face with her hand. “Shut up! You make me sound like a desperate cougar.”
“Aw come on, Tally. I hate that you have to worry about a date for a family function. You’re such a wonderful woman. This isn’t something you should be stressing. You should be kicking men out of your door every night.”
Right. Because she was such a wild one. Not. With her black-framed glasses, unruly, curly hair, larger than most women curves, and somewhat bitchy personality, she didn’t really see herself as a femme fatale.
“I think you’ve had too many of those drinks.” Tally smiled and patted Nita’s hand. “I’ll figure something out. I might ask Mrs. Wilder for some help. Who knows? Maybe she can succeed where I haven’t.”
“I like Mrs. Wilder. I don’t care that she can probably chew me into little pieces even at her old age.” Nita scrunched her nose. She twirled the small straw in her glass in circles. “It’s a good thing she likes you, and therefore me by default, because I have heard some crazy stuff about those shifters.”
Tally knew Mrs. Wilder wasn’t your regular granny, but she was such a sweetheart. And she was someone she could share her cake addiction with. They took turns baking different things and sharing with each other. It’s what fed Tally’s chocolate urges and kept her with way too many curves to count.
“Yeah.” Tally sucked down a gulp from her new drink. “Who would’ve thought that I’d become such good friends with a shifter granny.”
Nita grinned. “Why wouldn’t you? She’s sorta bitchy, like you.”
“Gee, thanks,” she said drily.
“It’s a compliment. I’m so tired of these bubbly women that are fake about how they feel. Feel bitchy? Be bitchy.” Nita picked up her glass and pointed to Tally. “This world is filled with too many fake people. You’re not trying to be a copy of anyone, Tally. That’s why I love you. You’re always going to be an original.”
Tally grinned. Clinked glasses with Nita and sipped her drink. “Thanks. So far that hasn’t really brought anything good into my life.”
“It will,” Nita assured her. “Go visit Mrs. Wilder and for once tell her you need help. It’s not the end of the world to admit to needing a man.”
Tally chuckled. “I don’t need a man. Not really. I need someone to be my date for the week from hell.”
Nita shrugged and motioned the waitress for the check. “Maybe Mrs. Wilder will hook you up.” She gasped. “Oh, my gosh! What if she hooks you up with one of those scorching shifters she has visiting her all the time?”
“Now that would be something to celebrate.” Tally giggled. “They are so sexy. She told me she has anything from bears, to wolves, to big cats.”
“Wow.” Nita sighed. “Bears and big cats. I used to have a best friend who was a bear.”
Nita pursed her lips. “When we lived near the mountains for dad’s job with the fish and wildlife department.”
“Was this before you all came back here?”
Nita nodded. “Yeah. We were sophomores in high school. He was so cute with his glasses and almost too innocent face. I told him everything.”
“My family came back here. I loved coming back here after all the years on the road, but that meant my bear friend was left behind. He and I lost touch,” Nita said softly.
Tally pulled out one of the many cards Mrs. Wilder had shoved in her hand every time she went over to visit. “Here you go. Why don’t you sign up and see what she can get you?”
Nita stared at the clear business card in awe. “Do you really think she can set me up with one of her shifters?”
“Check out the fine print. She’s made me read it more than once. She will set you up with whoever she deems to be the right man for you.” She read the tiny words on the back of the card and adjusted her glasses. “So, you’re pretty much guaranteed a man. I haven’t seen a single bad looking one yet.”
“You have to do it, Tally.” Nita blinked wide excited eyes at her. “I need to know what she does. You’re in need of a date. This really is the perfect solution.”
Tally sighed. “At least you’re not suggesting those other websites that find your ‘perfect’ someone.”
Nita blinked once. Twice. Then burst into giggles. “I’m sorry. It’s not funny after your last episode.”
Tally clenched her teeth. She hated that her mother, of all people, had bought her a membership to a dating site that promised to find her soul mate. She swore that every man they sent her way had to have been rejected by every other woman. There was no way that her soul mate was really a forty-five year old man with seven kids, who lived with his mother, had no teeth and worked a maximum of ten hours a week. No way.