Friday, October 18, 2013

The Matchbaker - Blurb & Excerpt



1C Chaos
1Tbsp Romance
3Tsp Betrayal
2C Comedy
1Pinch Magic

Candace Cooper is living the life she set out to live. With a posh apartment in Manhattan, a high-powered job that takes her all over the world, and designer clothes that most women would kill to have in their closet, she's definitely living the high life. But when her best friend drags her to a seedy section of Paris to meet with a crack-pot fortune teller, she hears things she doesn't want to hear. She desperately tries to ignore the unsolicited advice, but that becomes nearly impossible when her perfect life starts to unravel.

"Filled with comedic catastrophes, magical mishaps, romantic blunders, and tasty recipes, The Matchbaker will have you laughing, crying and reaching for the nearest box of baked goods!" Ava Stone, Amazon Best Selling Author

**Includes Cupcake Recipes from Erin Knightley, Polkadot Cupcake Shop & Sugarcain Cupcakes**

I can’t believe I’m doing this. Why, when I should be shopping on the Champs Elysee or sipping French wine at a fine restaurant, am I in a bad part of Paris, sitting in the front parlor of Madame Antoinette’s? That’s right. She’s a psychic. And I foolishly let my best friend talk me into coming to see her.
I look across at Lucy, who is poised elegantly on the edge of one of the purple cloth-draped chairs. We’re both wearing trendy business suits and expensive shoes, and we’re groomed to near perfection. We definitely don’t belong in this gaudy shop with five-pointed stars and crystal balls.
But I’m a good friend, I guess, and that’s why I’m here.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I ask Lucy. She darts her gaze to meet mine and I see the determination in her eyes. There’s no way I’m getting out of this now.
“I have to know, Candace,” she says simply and then turns her attention back to the ornate dragon sitting on the table next to her.
I do my best not to roll my eyes, but it’s not easy. Poor Lucy is convinced her boyfriend back in New York is cheating on her. I’m convinced he’s not. Apparently, she’d rather hear it from Madame Antoinette than me.
“Good afternoon, ladies.” The hanging beads in the doorway click and a woman appears before us. She has frizzy red hair, kept somewhat in line by a dark purple scarf. Her dress makes her look like a bawdy pirate wench, and she clicks and clanks with every movement thanks to all her bangles and beads. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is Madame Antoinette. Maybe I should invest in a ridiculous get-up so Lucy will listen to me and not drag me to the worst part of Paris for psychic readings ever again.
With a flick of her head, Madame Antoinette turns and walks back through the beaded curtain. Lucy is out of her chair, following behind, as if she’s in some kind of trance. I take a deep breath and follow as well.
I can’t help but notice the grime that lines the floorboards as we walk down the long corridor, and suddenly all I can think about is getting back to the hotel and taking a long, hot shower. I just hope Lucy gets her answers quickly.
At the end of the corridor, Madame leads us into a room on the left, and I have to stifle a giggle as we walk through the door. What a joke! I can’t believe my best friend thinks this woman is going to have the answers she needs. I mean, seriously, there’s a large, foggy crystal ball in the middle of the table, which is draped with the same purple cloth as the chairs out in the lobby. I look around for hidden cameras, because surely we’re being taken for a ride.
“Have a seat,” Madame says, gesturing to the chairs at the round table. She takes her own place in front of the crystal ball. “Now, what is it I can help you with?”
Lucy shoots me a quick glance and then turns back to Madame Antoinette. “I think my boyfriend may be cheating on me.”
The woman smiles as if she understands completely. “You have been together a long time, no?”
“Since high school,” says Lucy, a goofy girl-next-door smile coming to her glossy lips.
“And what makes you think he is cheating on you, my dear?”
Lucy blushes and I know it’s because she doesn’t want to sound like a crazy person. I wish I could lean over and tell her she could never sound as crazy as Madame Antoinette, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t go over very well with either of them.
“I…I kind of found a text from another woman.”
“Aha. And what did this text say?”
Lucy blushes again. Oh, good Lord. What does it matter what this woman thinks of her? There’s a bottle of Bordeaux with my name on it back at the hotel, and I’m getting antsy.
“I don’t actually know,” she says, and Madame Antoinette’s eyebrows rise until they nearly disappear under her hair. “I just saw the name—Kelsey Attwater—but I didn’t see what she wrote. I’ve never heard of her, and Steve was acting kind of weird after he read the text.”
Madame nods and then turns her attention to the crystal ball before her. She closes her eyes, which begs the question, how will she see what’s in the crystal ball? This thought tickles me and a bubble of laughter rises to my throat. I stifle it as best I can, but not well enough apparently, since Lucy shoots me a scathing look. Which makes me laugh even harder. It’s not until she kicks me in the shin with her pointy toe that I gain control of my faculties.
“Yes, yes,” mumbles Madame Antoinette. She’s swaying in circles and her eyes keep rolling back. I’m waiting for her head to start spinning around.
Lucy is on the edge of her seat. I roll my eyes. God, this is such a waste of time. Steve isn’t cheating. I know him, and he would never do that to Lucy. If he did, I would lose faith in love and men altogether. Not that I have a lot of faith in those things to begin with. But Lucy and Steve are the perfect pair. If they can’t make it, then I’m surely doomed.
Madame opens her eyes suddenly and trains them on Lucy. “Your hunch is correct,” she says.
My mouth drops open. What a load of crap!
“I knew it!” shouts Lucy. “See, Candace, I told you!”
I’m biting my tongue so hard I can taste the blood. I take a deep breath and look from Lucy to Madame Antoinette with my stoniest of glares. Who is this woman to tell Lucy what Steve is up to, anyway? She doesn’t know Lucy and she certainly doesn’t know Steve, and she doesn’t know them together.
“What should I do?” Lucy begs the strange woman for advice. I can’t help but feel a little jealous. She never asks for my advice with such fervent desperation. Actually, I’m not sure she ever really asks for my advice at all. What a sucky thing to realize about your best friend.
“You should confront him, of course,” says Madame Antoinette.
Lucy reaches into her handbag and retrieves her phone.
Is she serious? “Luce, not now,” I say to her.
“It is not your responsibility to direct your friend’s path.” Madame is staring at me now. “If she feels the need to call in this moment, then it is important she does.”
“I’m sure it is, since you’re being paid by the minute, Madame.”
“Candace!” Lucy hisses while she waits for Steve to pick up.
“I’m sorry, Luce, but this is ridic—”
“Hi, honey, it’s me.” Lucy has turned away from the table and she’s talking to Steve in hushed tones. “Yes, I am, but…we need to talk.”
I glare at Madame. I’m so over being polite right now.
“You are angry with me,” she says.
She should get a medal for her ability to state the obvious. I say nothing.
“I understand,” she continues. “Your friend is taking advice from a stranger, and now you doubt the friendship.”
“I don’t doubt our friendship.” This woman is infuriating. “But I know Steve’s not cheating. He loves her and he would never do that to her. They’ve been together since high school, for God’s sake!”
“A person’s love for someone does not necessarily keep them from being unfaithful.” I can’t stand her all-knowing tone when she says this.
And if what she says is true, I’m never going to fall in love. I’m not about to get heartsick over someone and devote years of my life to him, only to have him cheat on me.
Lucy is in the far corner of the room now, her whispers more emphatic than before. Crap. Things aren’t sounding good. I really don’t want to have to eat my words. I’d rather eat steak tartare at the Michelin-starred restaurant in the hotel.
“You are twenty-eight, no?” Madame says.
I look up at her, shocked. “How did you know that?”
She shrugs and peers into her crystal ball. “Hmm.”
Hmm? What the hell does hmm mean? Against my will, my butt scooches forward on my seat, and I lean in to see what’s in the ball. “What are you doing?” I ask, trying to sound more perturbed than intrigued.
“You will be twenty-nine soon,” she says. Lucky guess. “And you will see some very interesting changes in the coming year.”
Oh, wow. That’s not vague at all.
“I see a career change in your very near future.”
Career change? A pit forms in my stomach, but I can’t tell if it’s from excitement or nerves. “What do you mean?” Maybe I’m going to get that promotion, after all. The one my boss promised me almost two years ago. I’m sorry, Can, I really thought it was going to be this quarter, but it’s just not going to happen. I promise in September the position will be yours. Maybe it’s finally going to happen. Maybe Celia isn’t just blowing smoke up my skirt this time.
“You enjoy baking,” she says as if it’s a fact.
I burst out laughing. “Ah, no,” I say. “Not at all, much to my parents’ chagrin.”
Madame Antoinette cocks her head to the side as she stares, confused, at the crystal ball. “But…”
We’re both distracted by the sniffles coming from the corner. I look at Lucy. Her back is to us and she still has the phone up to her ear, but her body is shaking with sobs. Crap. One for Madame Antoinette; Zero for me. Now I’m torn. Do I want to know what Madame is going to say, or do I want to hear about what a creep Steve is?
I turn back to the psychic. I’m desperate to wipe the smug smile off her face, but annoyingly, she’s sparked my interest with this comment about baking. It’s probably just a coincidence, but still…
“So,” I say, re-focusing my attention back on her. “What’s this business about baking?”
She looks into her crystal ball again, her eyes fixed on the nothingness inside. God, what is wrong with me? Am I really so desperate to know my future that I’m turning to Madame Antoinette? I’m at once irked and curious. I mean, she did call that situation with Steve.
I glance again at Lucy. She’s still on the phone, but now she’s sitting on the floor, her knees pulled tightly to her chest as she rocks in place. Gross. She’ll have to get that suit dry-cleaned.
“Yes, I am still seeing the same thing,” Madame says, and I return my focus to her and the crystal ball. “A career change will find you…baking.” She turns her hands up and shrugs.
“That’s impossible.” I peer around to see if there’s anything for a normal person to see in the ball. Nothing. Just cloudy smoke. “I mean, maybe not entirely impossible, but…no, it is. It is impossible. That’s not my path. I deliberately stayed out of the bakery growing up. I hate baking. Hate it. The kitchen is hot, it’s messy. The few times I helped my mom out I nearly broke my hand trying to pull the heavy pans out of the oven. No. No, no, no, no, no.”
“I’m sorry,” says the psychic. Ha! Some psychic. Clearly, she knows nothing about me or she would know that what she’s seeing is hogwash. “I do not make these things up. I only relay what I see.”
“Well, what you see is ridiculous,” I tell her, trying to keep my cool. I mean, seriously! Me? In the bakery? I don’t think so.
“Fine. Then I will not tell you about the handsome stranger I see in your future as well.”
Damn it, she’s tricky. I grit my teeth. I don’t want to seem interested, but Luce is still bawling over in the corner, and since we’re paying anyway…
“What handsome stranger?” I say, completely against my will.
“Aha. I see now how to get your attention.” She stares intently at the ball. “You will meet him this fall. September, perhaps. You will be working together. Closely. And you will fall madly in love with him.”
“And what about him? Won’t he fall in love with me?” I can’t help but feel a little indignant at the idea that I might love someone who won’t love me in return.
“It all depends on how you handle yourself, my dear. I will warn you now, be careful how you use your powers.”
Powers? “Sure. My powers. Thanks for that hot tip.” Now I know this woman is a hoax. She really had me going there with the bakery and all, but does she really expect me to leave my job when I’m on the fast track to being an executive? And I probably will meet a handsome stranger this fall. I meet handsome men all the time, but I’ve yet to fall in love with any of them. The likelihood of that happening this fall is pretty slim. Especially after this debacle with Steve and Lucy. If they can’t make it…
“You do not believe me.” She’s still staring at me.
“No,” I say. “I’m sorry, I don’t.” I toss a wad of French bills onto the purple table and stand up. “I think we’re done here.”
“You do not have to believe me,” she continues. Now I’m getting annoyed. “But Madame Antoinette is never wrong.”
I ignore her as I pick Lucy up off the floor. The phone is still open and Steve is still on the line.
“Hi, Steve,” I say, my voice as stony as I know how to make it.
“Candace!” The excitement in his voice throws me. “You have to talk to her. Tell her it was a mistake. It was just a one-night stand with some chick. I don’t even remember what she looks like. I probably couldn’t even pick her out of a line-up.”
I ignore him, too. I really can’t deal with this right now. “Listen, Steve.” My tone is businesslike, which feels weird since we’re pretty good friends. “Luce will call you when we get back to the states. Bye.”
I slam the phone shut and put my arm around Lucy’s shoulder. She’s still bawling and mumbling about how it’s all her fault and she should have agreed to certain things in the bedroom.
That Bordeaux is sounding better every second.
“I think you should heed my advice, mademoiselle.”
Ugh. Not her again. The chaos in the small room is starting to get to me. With Lucy bawling in one ear and Madame Antoinette yapping in my other, I’m desperate to just get the hell out. I push Luce through the beaded door and down the corridor. She’s so devastated she can barely walk. Her three-inch Prada pumps aren’t helping, either.
The psychic is close on our heels, and she’s still shouting warnings about me using my powers for good and not for selfish gain, blah, blah, blah. Where did Lucy find this quack, anyhow?
Finally, we spill onto the sidewalk into the blaring sunlight. It was darker in there than I’d realized and I have to squint to see. I walk Lucy toward the street and look left and right in desperate search of a taxi stand. There’s none in sight. I shudder at the thought of taking the Metro. But it’s either that or walk, and these Christian Louboutins aren’t going to get me very far.
“Come on, Lucy,” I say, dragging her away from Madame Antoinette’s. “A hot shower and some good wine will make you feel much better.”
Lucy only nods. The tears are still flowing freely down her cheeks, and we’re getting odd looks from the passersby. Great. Just what I want. To draw attention to ourselves in this seedy part of town.
After walking for what seems like forever in a random direction, it’s clear we’re getting farther and farther away from civilization. The storefronts are getting shabbier, and most are closed for business. And despite the fact it’s close to rush hour, there are very few people out and about. I don’t want to admit that I’m lost. It wouldn’t do any good anyway. It’s not like Lucy is in a state of mind to help us get out of this area. Deciding I have no other choice, I stop the nicest looking man I see.
“Pardon,” I say in my best French accent. “Ou est le Metro?”
The man starts rambling to me in French, far too fast for my high school French education to be of any help. Thankfully, he’s gesturing, too. I catch a few words I recognize, and by the time he’s done, I’m pretty sure I know where we’re heading.
Merci!” I yell as we take off in the direction he’d pointed.
We walk a few more blocks until we reach the street I was sure he’d said to take a right onto. My toes are already starting to blister and the pads of my feet are burning. These shoes were definitely not made for walking. I look right and my stomach sinks. Oh, my God.
“CanCan,” Lucy says in her teary, little girl voice. “We don’t have to walk up that, do we?”
I want to cry right along with her. San Francisco has nothing on this hill. But the good news is that it’s way more populated here. We must be in some kind of tourist-y area. You’d think that would mean taxis, but there still aren’t any to be found.
I grab Lucy’s arm and give her a tug. We fall into the fold of the masses that are heading up the hill and begin to climb. Within seconds, my legs are burning, and I’m cursing Christian Louboutin’s name all the way. Who gave permission for men to design women’s shoes, anyhow? I’d like to see him walk up this monster hill in these four-inchers.
“My feet hurt,” Lucy whines, much to my annoyance.
“I’m not having a picnic here, either,” I say and immediately regret my tone.
Lucy sniffles. “You don’t have to be so mean. I just found out my soul mate’s been cheating on me!”
I want to roll my eyes and tell her that if he’s cheating on her, he’s probably not actually her soul mate, but I know that won’t help. “I’m sorry, Luce. Listen, we’ll be back at the hotel soon and then we can sort all this out. Maybe it’s just a misunderstanding.”
“Okay,” she says, her voice small. And then, out of nowhere, she begins to wail like a banshee. “But it’s not just a misunderstanding! He cheated on me!”
She’s stopped walking now, and we’re creating a scene in the middle of the busy sidewalk. I never knew people could rubberneck while walking, but apparently they can.
“Luce,” I say in a hushed voice as if I’m talking to a toddler. “Listen to me. You have to pull yourself together, okay? We just need to get back to the hotel and then you can cry and scream and throw things ‘till your heart’s content. Okay, Lucy?”
She nods and opens her tear-filled eyes. Damn it, I’m going to kill Steve for doing this to her. What a jerk.
I look back up the hill. We’re not even halfway. I’m not sure my feet will make it, and I’m pretty sure they’re bleeding underneath the leopard print pony hair. But we have no choice. Still no cabs to be found.
Another five minutes of walking vertically up the hill and we finally make it to the top.
“Oh, thank God!” I’m panting hard. My quads are burning. And I’m more than ready to trade these damned heels for the fluffy slippers at Georges V.
“Where’s the Metro?” Lucy asks, looking around the area. Trees cover us overhead and before us is a staircase that’s so long, I’m certain it leads straight to hell.
“Pardon!” I grab a woman’s arm and she shoots me one of the most intimidating looks I’ve ever received. Huh. I’ll have to practice that one in the mirror. As an executive I’ll need a really intimidating glare. “Le Metro, s’il vous plait?”
She rolls her eyes as if I’m the greatest nuisance to ever enter her life and then points down the staircase. As she moves on, I squint to try and see what’s at the bottom. It looks more like a subway station for ants from this vantage point, but I can just make out the sign that says “Metropolitan.”
“All right.” I grab Lucy’s arm again. “Let’s go.”
We begin the descent down the long flight of stairs with the hundreds of other people, and I can only hope they aren’t all going to the Metro. Much to my dismay, they are. All of them. I feel like I’m in a swarm of bees tunneling into the hive. It’s absolute chaos when we finally reach the bottom of the stairs in the station.
Already, I’m dreading this experience. I’ve been to Paris a hundred times, and this is the first time I’ve been subjected to a subway ride. It’s no small feat figuring out how to purchase our rides and getting the still-distraught Lucy through the turnstile.
Once we’re on the platform waiting for the train, Lucy looks around as though she’s just waking up from a deep sleep. “Where are we?” she asks, clearly perplexed by the foreign environment.
“What do you mean where are we? Good grief, Luce, haven’t you been with me for the last thirty excruciating minutes?”
“Not really. I’m kind of devastated over here.”
I nod. “I know.” I put my arm around her and give her a half hug. It’s in this inopportune moment, while we’re stuffed like sardines onto a French subway platform, that I realize how badly I need to pee. Crap. How often do Metro trains come? And how long is the ride back to the hotel? It could be five minutes or it could be an hour. I’ve never been underground, but I do know it took about twenty minutes by car to get to Madame Antoinette’s. Surely it’ll take longer to get home by train. Can I hold it?
I close my eyes and try to distract myself with thoughts of work. Tomorrow’s my big presentation to Le Roi and, in all honesty, I probably should not have taken the afternoon off to come with Lucy to see the psychic. What was I thinking? I should have talked her out of it like a good friend and gone over my presentation like a good employee. Then I wouldn’t be in this blasted predicament.
I pull out my phone, hoping something on there will distract me. I don’t have service, but I do have about a hundred missed calls from my mom and three messages from my boss. Oh, God. I’m not nearly as worried about the calls from my boss as I am the ones from my mom. Why did she call so many times? Is it Dad? Oh, my God! What if he’s sick? Or worse! Or maybe it’s about my sister. I told her not to go to Cabo with that guy, but did she listen? Of course not! No one ever listens to me, which is why I’m standing in a stupid Metro station instead of drinking wine in my deluxe suite at Georges V.
I’m dancing from foot to foot now and clenching my vaginal muscles so hard I could probably crack a walnut. But nothing is helping. The sensation is just getting worse. And worse.
The woman next to us pulls out her water bottle, and I almost let go right then and there. She swishes the water around, takes a drink. More swishing. I’m going to lose it.
“Luce, I have to find a bathroom,” I say in a rush.
“What?” She turns to me in alarm. “We’re in a subway station.”
“I know, but I can’t hold it.” Desperate, I turn to a somewhat friendly looking stranger beside us. “Est ce qu’il y a un toilette ici?” I have no idea if that was right, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances.
The man points toward the exit and rambles something I’m too crazed to even try to understand. But it doesn’t matter. It appears there is a bathroom, so I push through the crowd and take off in search of it. I hear Luce’s heels clicking behind me as I make my way back through the station, the same way we came, keeping an eye out for anything that looks like it could be a bathroom. By the time we get back to the top where the turnstiles are, I’m still searching. But there’s nothing. And now I’m certain the man was trying to tell me the bathrooms were outside. Damn it!
I glance behind me. Luce is still there; we’re both fighting the mobs of people who are trying to get to the trains.
“I have to go up!” I yell back to her.
“But we already paid!”
How can she worry about money at a time like this? Or at all, for that matter? The shoes we’re wearing would pay most people’s mortgages. For several months. A piddly subway fare was hardly of any concern.
I race through the turnstile and up the stairs—not easy to do when everyone else is coming down. I barely even notice the excruciating pain in my feet anymore. All I care about is that little booth that stands about 200 feet from me now. By this time, I’m pretty sure my vagina could win a weight lifting contest.
I feel like William Wallace as I battle my way there, and finally, it’s before me. I breathe a sigh of relief as I tug on the door, only to discover it’s locked. Oh, my God. This can’t be happening.
Okay, deep breaths. It wants me to insert money. That’s all. No problem. “Change, Luce! Do you have any change?”
Poor miserable Lucy hobbles up to me, her tear-streaked face looking mutinous. “No,” she says.
She’s no good to me. I have to get into that bathroom, but where can I get change? I look around and see a newspaper vendor across the street. I’ll get change there. I’m about to step off the curb when I hear the blessed sound of the door opening behind me. I spin around, frantic.
“Hold the door!” I yell. The perplexed woman holds it open, but is rambling on in French as she does. “I know,” I say, assuming she’s upset that I’m trying to get in without paying. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any money. Je n’ai pas…money!”
I run past her into the little stall and try to shut the door, but the woman hangs on to it.
“Let go!” I yell.
She yells something back in French and tugs the door open a little more. I tug it toward me. She tugs it toward her. I’m seriously going to pee all over her. With one final superhuman yank, I pull the door shut. It slams and locks. I hike up my skirt and pull down my panties. I squat over the toilet and then a whirring sound begins. I look up, wondering what it is, but I don’t have to wait to find out.
“Ahhhhhhh!” I’m screaming bloody murder as a thousand jets of soapy water hit me. I want to keep it off my face, but there’s nowhere to turn that the jets can’t find me.
Luce is pounding on the door. “Candace! Candace, what’s wrong? Oh, my God! Candace, are you alive?”
Thirty seconds later, it’s all over. The bathroom is wet, but quiet. I’m dripping from head to toe. Outside, I hear Lucy bawling and begging for help because her best friend was just attacked by the bathroom. I realize that in the chaos, I peed down my legs, all over my Christian Louboutins. I know I should care, but I’m just so relieved. And since the rest of me is drenched, I’m pretty sure no one will notice.
Carefully, and with as much dignity as I can muster, I replace my panties, pull my skirt down and open the door.
“Oh, my God! Candace, you’re alive!” Luce comes running and throws her arms around my neck. “Why are you wet?”
I close my eyes and sigh. “Self cleaning toilets.” I want to cry, but I can’t. Instead, I burst into laughter as I spy a taxi stand about a hundred paces away.

Jerrica Knight-Catania left her "glamorous" life as an actress in favor of becoming a romance author, where she could write about truly glamorous lives. She currently resides in southeast Florida with her real-life hero of a husband, their shy Russian Blue, Dr. Snuggle, and their beautiful daughter who is most definitely a princess-in-training.

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