A Perfect Man – Standalone Contemporary (but I’m open to continuing this series)
How far will she go to find her perfect man? How far will he go to be one?
When Karen Hardeman sets foot on the Foothills University campus, it’s her first step toward proving her abusive ex wrong. Just her luck, her first writing assignment in Intro to Romance sends her in search of the perfect hero—a quest she’s never managed to conquer.
Worse, her professor forces her to collaborate with the most overconfident, annoying guy in the class.
Seth Sayers is also at Foothills to find new direction—preferably one that takes him far away from the family drama that’s followed him since his father’s death. He didn’t mean to humiliate Karen by rewriting her manuscript from the hero’s point of view. He blames the painkillers the ER doctor gave him after stitching up a wine-induced cut on his hand.
As their collaboration progresses, Karen begins to trust Seth with her manuscript, then maybe a little piece of her heart. But Seth’s half-brother resurrects Seth’s suspicions about his father’s death. Until he finds the truth, he can’t be the hero in anyone’s life. Even his own.
Warning: Some alcohol consumption. Okay, writer amounts of alcohol consumption. There are also some adult situations, but nothing too explicit. It is a romance-writing class, after all.
Praise for A Perfect Man: Click on the source for the full reviews!
One of About.com’s 10 Must Read Novels for May 2015
“Overall, A Perfect Man was a smart, sexy read that’ll make you believe in second chances, and the inspiring power of love! That’s why A Perfect Man is Diva Moms’ #SexxyBook pick of the month for May! Also.. makes for a #HOT #BeachRead!” – Diva Moms Sexy Book Club
“I ended up loving this book and read it just at the right time. I could totally see this book being made into romantic comedy movie. I’d definitely watch it and love it.” – Ms. Nose in a Book blog
“What a treat of read! As a writer, I absolutely loved the aspects of the writing class that is talked about in this novel. But I don’t think you just need to be a fellow author to enjoy this book. You get a male and female POV, which I always think is fun, a lot of drama, romance, friendship and more.” – Chick Lit Plus
Where to find signed paperback copies:
Where to find it online: Nowhere right now, but stay tuned, I’ll be re-releasing this one late summer 2017!
Karen Hardeman walked onto the campus of Foothills University, into her new life, and straight into her ex-boyfriend.
She was mentally counting the total number of steps from the Graduate Parking Lot entrance to the Student Center Annex, site of her first class, which had been intimidatingly dubbed a “seminar”, when she saw him. This was supposed to be a new beginning, a fresh start, a personal renaissance. But there he was, unmistakable with his hipster goatee, round tortoiseshell glasses, and hair just a little too long.
The thought, he probably needs to get new jacket photos done, spiked her brain simultaneously with a shot of triple-espresso-strength adrenaline straight from her gut to her heart. Both sent her scrambling behind a magnolia tree as he approached on the sidewalk. Luckily he was looking at his phone, so maybe he hadn’t seen her. Although his average-at-best appearance hadn’t changed much, he exuded his customary attitude of I’m a bestselling author, and I will do what I want.
Karen wondered if he’d forgiven her for telling him she had a surprise for him for his thirty-fifth birthday and moving out while he was away for the afternoon at a writing retreat. Probably not. He’d certainly been surprised, though.
She looked up from her phone, which she’d been studying with all the logic of a cat who doesn’t think you can see it if it can’t see you. “Oh hi, Marius.” She tried to pull her lips into the ice-queen smile she’d practiced for just such an occasion, but all she could manage was convenience-store-slushie duchess.
“Lovely day here in the mountains, isn’t it?” He grinned like he’d just caught her sneaking buttercream icing out of the fridge—that had only happened a few times, and she’d justified it as a better coping mechanism than alcohol—and she leaned against the tree to preempt her spirit’s fetal-position reaction to his inevitable insult.
“Well,” he continued with that huge gotcha grin, “I was just visiting my good friend and former editor Sue Ellen Forrester-Schmidt. Maybe you’ve heard of her? She started the new MFA program in genre literature here. I just wanted to wish her luck on her first day.”
Karen reacquainted her upper molars with her lower ones so her mouth wouldn’t fall open. Of all the rotten, stinking luck!
“Yes,” he continued with a smug smirk, “my agent, Artie—you remember Artie, right?—introduced me to her at a party last year, and we hit it off. I heard she came here when Southern Lyon Books got bought and laid her off, so I was just checking in to see how she’s settling in.”
“How nice of you.” Karen sagged against the tree, its smooth bark solid under her arm and its steadiness supporting her, because life had become unfair once again.
“So what are you doing here? I wondered where you went.”
He wondered where she went, like she’d just left for a walk one day and hadn’t come back, not moved out of their little apartment and their life of almost a decade together.
“I decided to go back to school.” She tried to access her inner ninja and feinted left, then tried to pass him on the right, but he blocked her. He always blocked her.
“It’s a master’s program.”
Karen straightened to her full five and a half feet, almost as tall as him—which had always driven him crazy—and said, “It’s none of your business, Marius.”
He stepped aside and held a hand out for her to pass him, which she did. He waited until she was almost ten feet away before calling after her, “Tell Sue Ellen I said hello. Oh, and Karen? Surprise!”
She clenched her fists. Of course he knew. He always did. So instead of walking into her first class full of confidence and hope, she just knew the professor would hate her.
It was hard to move forward when the past kept biting her in the ass and dragging her back.
The cool of the Student Center Annex welcomed Karen like a polite hug—come on in, honey, but let’s not get too close. She checked the schedule and found the room. Thankfully, the professor hadn’t arrived yet, so she had time to compose herself.
Eyes down, she slunk to the only empty desk in the circle of six and slid in. The seat snagged the back of her thigh, and she was sure she’d just gotten a huge splinter. The encounter with Marius had left her confidence shriveled at the bottom of her gut, like a tequila worm burned by the immersion in his intoxicating but deadly ego. The burn stayed with her, reddening her cheeks, and she barely noticed as her classmates’ glances brushed over her. Each felt weighted with judgment—too fat, too frizzy, too cowardly, imposter.
She almost ran a hand through her dark curls but remembered she should leave them alone or else they’d turn her into a frizz monster, which would make her look even lovelier on top of the sunburn she’d acquired when she moved in the previous weekend. She could almost feel the freckles blooming on her skin. Sophisticated writer, that’s me.
This morning just got better and better, and now she was going to have to sit through an hour lecture on the romance genre. Hell, she needed Romance 101—the life course, not the writing course. What did she know about romance? Would she have to bare her soul and write sex scenes for strangers? What if they laughed at her like Marius had?
“Face it, babe.” His words from earlier that year echoed in her mind. “You can try this writing thing, but you just don’t have what it takes.”
The skin at the back of Karen’s neck tightened, and she knew Doctor Forrester-Schmidt had walked in and probably checked for her first, after talking with Marius. Oh God, what did he tell her? How screwed am I?
Karen had liked Doctor Forrester-Schmidt well enough at the program interview. Now, when the professor came in, she looked at each of the students intently, but her face didn’t reveal whether Marius had mentioned Karen. Not even a blink when their eyes met. Even now, at the end of August, the former editor in chief for Southern Lyon Books wore her signature long black skirt and suit jacket but seemed unfazed by the heat.
Is the woman even human?
“Welcome, class,” she said and surveyed them with a catlike half smile. “I’m glad to see the inaugural class for the genre literature program has such a range of backgrounds and ages. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves, shall we?”
Karen’s heart gave a little squeeze when Forrester-Schmidt’s cold, gray eyes passed over her, but the professor’s javelin gaze speared the guy next to Karen. She hadn’t paid much attention to him, aside from noting he doodled spaceships in the margins of his yellow pad. His shaggy, light-brown hair hung in his hazel eyes and made hers itch by looking at them, but he had sweet dimples and nice-looking lips. The vintage men’s shirt he wore showed off his biceps and the breadth of his chest nicely, and Karen wished she’d at least said hi when she sat.
“Why don’t you get us started, Seth?” the professor asked.
The young man next to Karen cleared his throat. “I’m a programmer who wants to put his computer knowledge to good use by writing and editing science fiction.”
“And does he always speak in the third person?”
“Um, no,” he mumbled, “I was just trying to be grammatically correct.”
“And although you succeeded grammatically, you failed stylistically. Karen, tell us about you, but please don’t use the royal I.”
Karen felt for the poor guy. Marius had liked catching her out like that, especially when she tried hard to impress someone. With an apologetic glance his way, she said, “Hi, I’m Karen. I most recently lived in Atlanta, but I grew up in Birmingham and went to school in Arkansas. I was a front-office manager for a medical practice, but I couldn’t take the politics and left to pursue my first love of writing. I was actually just there to support my writing habit.”
She waited for the chuckle, which didn’t come. Now Seth sent her a sympathetic glance.
She shifted in her seat and straightened. She didn’t need another guy’s pity, not today. “And, um, I’m not sure where I want to specialize. I’m just open to learning new things right now.”
“Thank you.” The professor looked around the room. “If you’re already tied to a specific genre, then you will be miserable during parts of this program because we expose you to all of them. Whether you go on to be a published author or have other plans for joining the publishing industry, the best thing we can do for you is give you an idea of what genre fiction has to offer. Who knows?” She smiled at Karen. “You might find something you didn’t realize you love right under your nose. You never know until you try.”
The knot of tension loosened in her chest, but then the panic returned when she wondered if Forrester-Schmidt meant she, the professor, had feelings for Marius.
Oh God, oh God.
Karen’s mind bounced the possibilities around, and she missed the other four class members’ introductions, aside from snippets.
“Now,” Doctor Forrester-Schmidt said and handed out the syllabus, “this is the first part of the program: Romance. This genre sells thousands of new titles per year, making it the most popular fiction category. We’ll also cover related genres like chick lit and women’s fiction, which are fair game for your semester projects. And while these areas seem to be the stronghold of women, men’s voices are also needed.” She raised an eyebrow at one of the other students, a redheaded guy who had rolled his eyes. “Even those who were raised in semirural Georgia and like to wear all black on their first day in school.”
The guy blushed like a redhead.
“While we will be reading plenty of excerpts, as well as writing a novella, your first assignment is to go to the bookstore and pick out what you think is a ‘typical’ romance novel.”
Karen flipped through the syllabus as the professor discussed what the “typical” romance novel might be. She would only consider buying one author for this assignment—Delilah Phillips. She wrote lighthearted contemporary and had been Karen’s savior during her darkest times with Marius.
She looked up.
“If you will please rejoin us on this plane of existence. You may make your travels during speculative fiction, but writing romance, like love itself, requires your full presence and attention.”
This time the heat in Karen’s face wasn’t sunburn. “Sorry.”
Doctor Forrester-Schmidt towered over Karen’s desk and looked at the page she’d been reading. “Ah yes, our semester project. As an added bonus, I’ve booked one of my former authors to come into the class to speak toward the end of the semester. The student who has written the best project will go to dinner with this author and myself.” She looked around. “It’s someone who writes in the genre, but who has a more, shall we say, modern slant on it. The student with the best project, which will be judged by me and this author, will be able to spend an entire evening with…” she paused, “…Delilah Phillips.”
If it were possible to be simultaneously rooted to the ground and buoyant with joy, that was how Karen felt. She almost blurted out Delilah was her favorite author, but she didn’t want to seem an eager beaver trying to tip the odds in her favor.
She did a better job of looking like she paid attention during the second half of class, but her mind wandered to Ms. Phillips’s characters. She couldn’t wait to ask questions—like how did she come up with her heroines? Were they based on her life? What about the heroes? How did she come up with such flawed but utterly loveable men?
And did she have any advice on how Karen could find one for herself?
“Well, I really screwed that one up!”
The male voice startled Karen out of daydreaming about the plot of the last Delilah Phillips book she’d read, and she shot an annoyed glance to her left. Seth had followed her out of the classroom.
“Oh, I apologize, I don’t mean to interrupt. You were obviously thinking hard.” He didn’t sound sorry, and the corner of his mouth twitched like he tried not to smile.
Great… Sarcasm. “I was thinking hard,” Karen said. “And you did interrupt.”
He didn’t take the bait or apologize again. Instead, he said, “I liked your joke about working to support your writing habit.”
“Thanks. It’s how I feel.”
“I get that.” He brushed his hair out of his eyes, which made her want to rub hers. Seriously, didn’t the guy have a barber or something? But he was a welcome contrast to Marius, who never had a hair out of place and was so meticulous about everything he’d never let Karen do girlfriend things, like borrow his clothes.
“There’s not much room for imagination in software development,” he continued. “At least not the nuts and bolts of it. Even when you are creative, no one appreciates it.”
Karen frowned. “I’m not sure what to say to that. If you’re looking to be appreciated, writing is the wrong field. I’m anticipating lots of rejection.”
“Nah, I learned early on not to expect much from other people. I can appreciate my work on my own if I have to.”
Marius’s similar swagger came to mind, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes, especially since it had worked so well for him.
Seth kept talking, and she wondered what she could be doing to encourage him, other than not running away. Karen reminded herself she needed to be open if guys wanted to talk to her—that they wouldn’t always end up being condescending or insulting.
“I’m glad there’s someone my age in the class,” he was saying. “I was worried before I came in that there wouldn’t be anyone I could relate to, you know, agewise and stage of life.” He gave her a full smile then, and she decided he was good-looking, if a little scruffy. Oh well, viva la différence, as the French would say. At least his goatee was well trimmed.
Karen smiled back and appreciated the intense hazel of his eyes. “I was afraid of the same. Like it was going to be me, brooding young men, and a bunch of soccer moms trying to find fulfillment outside of the home.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with moms,” a voice behind them said, and Karen turned to see—oh crap—Samantha and Lillian, the other two women from the class, both of whom looked to be early to mid-forties and who had spoken of children and second careers now that they were getting a little older. How did Karen not notice them behind her?
Lillian smiled, and dimples showed in her cheeks. She brushed some of her expensive-looking milk-chocolate-colored layers over her shoulder and said, “We were just talking about how we sort of fit the stereotype, even though none of our kids play soccer.”
“Oh.” Karen’s tongue wouldn’t work. Could she have alienated two class members so quickly? Her mind went into damage-control mode. “We should grab coffee,” she said. “On me, to make up for my insensitive comment. Class ran short, so we have time.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Samantha. She punctuated her statement with a sharp nod. Everything about her was quick, from her easy-to-maintain blonde bob to the short steps she took. Karen recalled her saying something about being a medical billing specialist, which would explain her air of efficiency.
Seth looked at his watch. “I need to call my brother. It was nice to meet everyone.”
“Bye,” Karen said. Was it her imagination, or did his gaze linger more on her than on the others before he turned left to exit the building? With a smile, she turned right and followed Samantha and Lillian to the coffee bar.
Thank you for reading! I hope this excerpt whetted your appetite for the whole novel. I don’t have contact forms on all my book pages, but I’m interested in seeing who may be interested in this series continuing. I’m open to it, but I have limited time to devote to my writing and need to balance out interest and income. Luckily I love all of my characters.
If you would like to see a Perfect series rather than having it stop with just this one novel, please let me know by filling out the comment form below. Thank you!