Bookmarked by Piper Vaughn
After their disastrous last encounter, Mark doesn’t hold up much hope Shepherd will agree. Shepherd’s never made a single public appearance. In fact, Mark wouldn’t even know what he looks like had he not accidentally discovered the sexy stranger he’d been flirting with for months, aka “Tall-Dark-and-Grumpy,” was also his fanboy obsession.
But desperate times call for desperate measures. If Mark can convince Shepherd, it’ll be a major coup in the book world and might just save Bookmarked from sinking. Too bad Shepherd won’t reply to his e-mails. Yet Mark didn’t earn the reputation of having a “sunshine-and-rainbow-fart” personality for nothing. He’ll do whatever it takes to get his man… and hopefully not make a fool of himself in the process.
“You know, if you keep making that face, your eyes are going to get stuck like that.”
Mark bolted upright in his chair, his heartbeat racing at the sound of an unexpected voice. Over the top of his computer screen, he spotted his best friend, Adam, lounging in the darkened doorway to his small, cluttered office. “Jesus, you scared the hell out of me. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Serves you right,” Adam said. “You stood me up.”
Mark’s eyes flicked to the clock on his monitor. 10:30 p.m. “Oh man, is it that late already?” He and Adam had spoken earlier and agreed to meet for drinks at ten. It felt as if he’d just locked the doors to the shop, but there he sat an hour and a half later. Good thing Adam had a spare key for emergencies… like when Mark got caught up in spreadsheets and forgot their plans.
“Sorry.” Mark pulled off his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. “Anyway, it might be an improvement if my face did get stuck like that. I’m not winning any prizes lately.”
Adam made an amused sound, not quite a laugh, and crossed the room to drop into the seat in front of Mark’s desk. “You might if you ever actually left this store. Even in the gayborhood, I don’t think bookstores are considered prime cruising spots.”
Mark sighed. “And therein lies the problem. I can’t leave the store when I’m the only full-time employee, and we’re not bringing in the kind of business I’d need to justify hiring another one. I feel bad enough Dad comes in to help when I can’t afford to pay him.” Mark’s only other employee was a part-timer, a student from nearby Havenston University, who filled in around her class schedule.
Adam gave him a sympathetic look. “Is it that bad?”
Mark had been staring at the month’s sales numbers, despairing, since he’d ushered the last customer out the door and shut down the registers. No matter how much or how hard he wished, the figures hadn’t magically changed. It was a good news/bad news scenario. The good: he was still just barely in the black. The bad: one rough dry spell could change that. If business didn’t improve, and soon, he’d have to consider closing down the shop.
His stomach lurched at the thought. Everything he’d worked so hard to build, everything he’d sacrificed for over the last five years, would be gone. The neighborhood bookstore was going the way of the dodo, and Bookmarked might be another casualty of Internet convenience shopping if his circumstances didn’t change in the immediate future. Mark couldn’t think of a quick solution, aside from praying for a miracle to any god who might be listening. Maybe there was a tribal dance he could do to draw in fellow book nerds.
“What are you going to do?” Adam asked.
Mark shrugged, fiddling with the bracelets and cuff on his left wrist. “I have a few ideas. I’m not sure any of them will work.”
Was that really him speaking in such a dull, defeated tone? He hardly recognized his own voice anymore. Where was the enthusiasm and cheer that had made his college roommates grumble about freaks of nature and their perpetual good moods? It went against his personality to be so listless and negative, but he didn’t know how much longer he could stand to keep a smile on his face while his dreams and accomplishments crumbled around him. It hurt too much.
“Well, shut this stuff down.” Adam waved his hand. “We’ll go to Three Sheets and talk it out.”
Ten minutes later, they were seated in their favorite booth at Three Sheets, a pub down the block from Mark’s bookstore. It was one of the many businesses lining Market Street, the main thoroughfare in downtown Heartsville. Thanks to its thriving LGBT community, most people jokingly called it “the gayborhood,” as Adam did. For Mark, it was simply home. A place where he felt free to be himself, where he’d be safe holding his boyfriend’s hand or even sharing a quick kiss while strolling the sidewalk. If he had a boyfriend. Which he didn’t because high stress and eighty-hour workweeks weren’t exactly conducive to romance.
“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Adam said once they’d ordered their drinks and he’d gotten over his irritation at being carded by the new server. Again. Adam might be approaching thirty, but with youthful good looks, shaggy hair, and big brown eyes, he could pass for a fresh-faced eighteen. It had been the bane of his existence for years, having caused him countless issues as he built up his photography business and struggled to be taken seriously by his peers.
Mark consulted the list of ideas cycling through his brain. “I was thinking of maybe a signing weekend. I’ve had a couple in the past, but the problem is the indie authors don’t draw in much of a crowd, and booking a bigger name from out of state is a pipe dream. We don’t get enough business to make it worth their while.” He took a fortifying sip of his chocolate stout. “There’s only one local author who has a large enough readership to actually make a difference, but he never does signings. At least not that I’ve heard.”
“Oh no.” Adam arched his brows. “You don’t mean Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Grumpy?”
“One and the same.” Mark kept his tone casual, but just the thought of his last encounter with Shepherd Knight made his cheeks heat with residual embarrassment. Hard to believe a year had already passed when the humiliation still made him want to melt into the carpet and die.
“So you’re going to poke the sleeping dragon.”
Mark trailed his fingertip along the rim of his glass. “It’s not like I have a lot of choices right now.”
If he did, he wouldn’t even contemplate contacting Shepherd.