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Lorana Hoopes

Spring Into Love

Spring Into Love

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Love is not supposed to be this hard. Is it?

I thought I had found my soulmate, but then Ian went MIA on me. To add insult to injury, that promotion I had my heart set on didn't materialize. Cue my confidence nosediving into the abyss.

Enter stage left, my buddy Patrick, with a plan to shake things up and get me trying new stuff. Sounds great, right? Except the more we hang out, the weirder things get. Could it be possible that I'm starting to feel more than just friendly vibes for him? Nah, that's just crazy talk... or is it?

Fans of Emma St Claire and Jessie Gussman will love this heartwarming romantic comedy from award winning and USA Today best-selling author Lorana Hoopes!

First Chapter

Chapter 1 - Piper

The next ten minutes may be the most important minutes of my life.

I know that sounds a tad dramatic, but trust me, I am not a dramatic person. I am usually the farthest thing from dramatic, but this interview is important. I’ve wanted to lead a team on a project for a while now and I finally have a shot. If I don’t mess it up.

I smooth my hand down my tweed skirt one more time and pull my shoulders back before I tug open the large glass door. There are butterflies in my stomach swirling around like it’s the Olympics in there, but as long as I can keep my nerves from showing on my face, I think I have a chance. I am highly qualified for this job after all. I just need to show them that.

“Can I help you?” the secretary asks when I approach the desk. Her voice is as smooth as the satiny shirt she’s wearing and suddenly I feel underdressed. My shirt is cotton and button-down. Hers looks like roses were pressed into a liquid and then poured over her. Why couldn’t I have gotten at least one fashion gene? One tiny little chromosome that would tell me what to wear when.

“I’m Piper Montgomery. I’m here for the interview.” My voice cracks just the slightest bit, but I know she hears it because one manicured brow arches on her blemish-free face. Oh to have a blemish free face. Okay, I don’t really have blemishes, I have freckles, but they feel like a blemish sometimes. Especially compared to the woman across from me whose alabaster skin could sell products.

“Have a seat. They’ll be right with you.” She points to the sitting area, and I take a seat.

Even the chairs are luxurious up here. I can’t tell if they’re real leather or a very good knockoff, but this is one of the most comfortable chairs I have ever sat in. And the carpet? It’s that super cushy kind that feels like pillows beneath your feet. I glance down at my feet and cringe. My basic black flats were probably not the right choice, but I don’t own heels. I suppose I could have asked Belle to borrow a pair, but I wanted to be confident and comfort equals confidence in my book.

I glance back at the receptionist. Should I have put my hair up in a tight bun like hers? I never wear it up, but what if that’s the dress code up here? I can learn if I have to. After all, learning is what I do best. 

A buzzer sounds and the receptionist looks up at me. “You can go in now.” She nods toward the door.

“Thank you.” I was expecting someone to come out and greet me, but I guess things work a little differently here. I push open the door and step inside. The two men and one woman sitting around the large conference table are intimidating, but I force my feet forward.

The man in the middle motions to the chair at the opposite end of the table. Nothing like making the interviewee feel more like a specimen than a colleague. “You must be Piper.” His voice isn’t monotone exactly but it is devoid of emotion.

“Yes sir.” I perch on the edge of the chair because I’m afraid if I sit back then my legs will bounce and show my nerves. Although I’m so far from them that I’m not sure they would notice.

He picks up the paper in front of him, scans it, and then looks up at me. “Your resume is quite impressive.” 

“Thank you. I enjoy programming, and I’ve worked hard to become very knowledgeable at it.”

“Yes, we can see that,” the woman says, speaking up. Her lips press together, and I know the critique is coming next. “It’s just that we’ve heard you’re a little challenging to work with.”

I’m assuming she is referring to the fact that I have a habit of correcting people. It’s not something I think about, and I definitely don’t do it on purpose. It just comes out because my head is full of facts, but I know it annoys people. My roommates have told me this plenty of times. However, I’m not going to lie about it, so I try to spin it in a positive direction. “I’m working on my people skills. I’ve always been better with books and programs than people, but I believe in always striving for improvement.” 

The three exchange glances, but I have a bad feeling this interview is over and my stomach sinks. The woman speaks again. “I’m afraid we need someone who can be a leader out of the gate. However, if you work on your communication skills, then I think we will be able to promote you in the future.”

My throat constricts, but I manage to thank them and exit the room without embarrassing myself further. Alabaster-skin secretary glances up at me as I dart through, and I’m almost sure there is a satisfied smirk on her face. Work on my communication skills? How exactly am I supposed to do that? As soon as the door closes behind me and I’m sure I’m alone, I pull out my phone to call Ian. 

Even though we’ve only been dating a few months, his number is on speed-dial in my cell. I’m pretty sure that’s normal, though Ian is the first guy I’ve ever really dated besides Eugene Frogbottom, the boy my mother forced me to attend prom with. Her reasoning was that if he’d summoned the courage to ask, I could at least say yes. Thankfully, Eugene wasn’t much of a dancer and we spent the night discussing theories of website coding, so it wasn’t that bad but I would have rather stayed home.

The line rings in my ear and Ian’s recording picks up. My disappointment grows. This is the third time I’ve called him and gotten his recording. I tell myself he’s probably just busy.

“Hey Ian, it’s me,” I say after the beep. “I didn’t get the promotion.” I’d told him about the promotion a few days ago. Well, I’d left him a message about the promotion because he hadn’t picked up then either, but surely he’d at least listened to it. I consider asking him to call me back, but I’ve done that the last few times I’ve called, so I end the call and head back to my desk.

“Uh oh, that doesn’t look like a happy face,” my friend and coworker Patrick says as I sigh and plop into the chair.

“It’s not. I didn’t get the promotion.”

“What?” He leans forward and his eyes widen. “Why not? You’re definitely the most qualified.” Patrick is one of my favorite people in the office. Not only is he incredibly good at his job, but he is so positive and affirming, a skill I wish I had.

“They said I didn’t have the people skills for it. How am I supposed to hone people skills? We are computer nerds. We spend more time coding software than talking to each other, and wouldn’t I be leading a bunch of people like myself who also suffer from the same affliction?”

His lips fold in and his expression morphs into one I know well. He clearly does not agree. “Not always,” he says. “Look, I know we’re all into coding and geek speak, but some of us also do things outside of work, including talking to people.”

I fold my arms across my chest. “I talk to people.”

He lifts an eyebrow at me and leans back in his chair. “Your roommates don’t count.”

Okay, he has a point. Other than him, my roommates, and a few other people in our department I don’t really speak to anyone. “Well, there’s also my boyfriend, Ian. He and I talk although we haven’t actually spoken in nearly a week.”

“What?” This time the word is even louder and Patrick leans forward so fast in his chair that I’m surprised he doesn’t tumble right out of it. “You haven’t spoken to your boyfriend in a week? Is he out of town or something?” He shakes his head. “No, scratch that. Unless he has zero cell service and no access to a landline, even that is not a reasonable excuse.”

“I’m sure he’s just busy.” I turn to the computer screen in hopes of changing the subject. I don’t want to think about Ian right now on top of the promotion rejection and I definitely don’t want to think about what the concerned expression on Patrick’s face means.

“That’s a lame excuse, Piper, and you know it,” Patrick says, but thankfully he lets the subject drop after that. He’s right though. It is a lame excuse, and it reinforces the feeling I’ve been trying to ignore that Ian is breaking up with me.

Though there’s only another half hour before my work day ends, I try to focus all my energy on the software program we’ve been building. Normally, I love the puzzle of putting code together, but today I can’t focus on it. My eyes keep glancing over at the phone to see if Ian has responded yet, but there’s nothing. No call. No text. Not even an emoji reply which takes all of about five seconds.

When five o’clock hits, I power down the computer determined to be more productive tomorrow, wave goodbye to Patrick, and head toward home. 

Everyone except Katie is home when I arrive. Hannah stands at the stove moving something around in a skillet, Charlie is at the table working on something, and Belle is at the counter cutting vegetables. She is the first one to notice me. “Hey Piper.”

“Hi.” I drop my keys on the end table by the door and then sink into a chair at the table near Charlie. 

Charlie glances up from her work. “What’s wrong?” 

“I had my interview today for the promotion, but I didn’t get it.”

“Oh, Piper, I’m so sorry,” Hannah says, turning from the stove.

“Thanks.” I check my phone again, but there’s still no response from Ian. “They said I need to work on my people skills, but I don’t know how to do that.”

“Maybe we can help,” Belle says, but before she can explain how, the front door opens and Katie steps through.

“Oh good, you’re just in time,” Hannah says.

“Just in time for what?” Katie sets her bag on the floor and shuts the door behind her.

“For dinner. We made your favorite,” Belle says.

“Oh. I can’t stay for dinner. I have plans.”

“What plans?” Charlie folds her arms across her chest as she stares at Katie. She seems to have forgotten we were in the middle of a conversation.

“Plans with Derek.” She grins and pulls a magic eight ball. “You guys. He showed up at my office today and apologized. Then he gave me this and made me use it to answer his questions, but check it out. He had it specially made so that it always says yes.” She hands the eight ball to Belle who turns it over a few times, smiles, and then passes it to Hannah, who does the same.

“I knew it.” Hannah grins as she passes the ball to Charlie. “Didn’t I tell you they’d get back together?”

“Actually, I think my bet is closest,” Charlie says.

“Wait, you guys were betting on me?”

“Uh yeah.” Belle rolls her eyes as if this answer should have been obvious. “So, I’m assuming we don’t need to buy more ice cream when we run out now?” Belle asks.

I don’t usually speak up when the other girls get on a tangent like this, but I’m frustrated by the promotion passover and confused that Ian still hasn’t responded. “No, we do because I might need it.” 

“Why would you need it?” Katie asks. “You rarely eat ice cream.”

“She didn’t get the promotion she wanted,” Belle says.

“There is that, but I’m also afraid that Ian is breaking up with me.” I drop my gaze to the floor as four pairs of eyes laser in on me. I probably shouldn’t have said anything; I know how my friends are, but I’ve been dealing with this alone for the last few days and I can’t take it anymore. I have limited experience when it comes to dating and no idea what to do in this situation. Which is why I’m asking and hoping they don’t go crazy about this like they seem to about everything else. I’m not leaving this up to a magic eight ball like Katie did.

“What do you mean you think he’s going to break up with you?” Belle asks. “He’s been so sweet. He sent you those secret admirer gifts before Christmas -”

“The ones you thought were for you,” Charlie interrupts with a laugh.

Belle frowns at her and then quickly rubs the wrinkles out of her forehead. Though not obsessed with her looks, she believes frowning too much will create wrinkles, so she always rubs them out right after. “Regardless, it was sweet and you guys have been spending so much time together since then.”

I think back to the red rose, the note, the little mirror, and the charm bracelet he gave me for Christmas. It was sweet which was why I’d agreed to go out with him, and things had been going well - at least I thought they were going well - until he started canceling meetups. “Except that I haven’t heard from him in days. He canceled our last date and he’s not answering my calls. He’s not even responding to texts.” I pull up our recent conversation on my phone and hand it to Belle.

Belle scans the screen and then her lips press together as she hands the phone to Katie. She obviously thinks it’s something as well.

“I called and texted him today to tell him I didn’t get the promotion since I knew he would understand how important it was and yet nothing.”

Katie, ever the voice of reason, leans forward, her brown hair framing her face. "Piper," she says firmly as she passes the phone on, "you're reading too much into this. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation."

"Yeah, maybe he's just taking some space to figure things out," Hannah offers sympathetically. She turns off the stove and comes closer to the table. “Or maybe he’s working on some big paper. You know how you get when you’re working on a project.”

I do, but the only problem is that Ian hadn’t mentioned working on a paper or a project, and I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t tell me.

“Or,” Belle grins widely and claps her hands together, “maybe he's planning a surprise for you! You never know with guys like Ian." She giggles, but it almost seems forced. 

Charlie scans the phone when it’s passed to her and then looks up at me, an evil gleam in her eye. "If you want, I can go have a little chat with him. I'll teach him not to ghost you, Piper."

I can’t determine if Charlie is kidding or not, but I quickly shoot down that idea. "Thank you, Charlie, but I don't think that's necessary. I don't want anyone to get hurt. I just… I need to know what's going on." 

"Okay." Charlie shrugs. "But if you change your mind, you know where to find me."

“Well, I think you should just ask him.” Hannah crosses to the freezer and pulls the ice cream out. Dinner seems to have been forgotten, but that’s okay because I’m not that hungry at the moment. 

Belle shakes her head vehemently. “No she can’t. That’s a huge red flag and will make her come off as clingy and needy.” 

“It’s not clingy to ask for clarity,” Charlie says as she grabs bowls from the cupboard and takes them to Hannah.

“It is if she’s already called and texted several times with no response,” Belle says. There is a pause as we consider possible ideas. Then Belle’s light up. “I know. Why don’t we become detectives and follow him?”

“Yeah, that worked so well for you last time.” Charlie rolls her eyes as she delivers the first bowl and I know she’s referencing the time back in December when Belle thought she witnessed a murder and hired a bodyguard to protect her. Of course, that bodyguard ended up being Jaxon, whom she’s dating now so it all worked out, but it’s still a crazy idea.

“Okay, but I was working on my own then. We would be so much better as a team. And I’ve learned a lot since then.”

Katie scoffs and lifts an eyebrow at Belle. “Like what?”

“Like…” Belle pauses and chews on her lip. It’s clear she is thinking hard about how to answer this question. “Not jumping to conclusions for one.”

“I”m sure the guy you pushed in the fountain appreciates that,” Katie says with a chuckle.

“And not being so obvious.”

“Like hiding under tables?” Charlie puts a bowl in front of me.

“Exactly. Come on, we could be like real-life Nancy Drews or The Hardy Boys. We could be the Hardy Girls.” Her face scrunches for a moment. “Was there ever a series about girl detectives? If not, we should write one. I would totally read that.”

“You’re getting off track, Belle,” Hannah says, bringing her bowl to the table and joining us. 

Belle waves her hand dismissively. “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. We'll be stealthy, cunning, and charming – no one will suspect a thing."

I hesitate. “I don’t know, Belle. That seems a bit like stalking.”

Belle rolls her eyes. “I’m not talking about stalking. Just following him if we see him out and about.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of stalking,” Hannah says. 

“Well, does anyone else have a better idea?” Belle folds her arms across her chest and fixes us each with a give-me-what-you’ve-got stare. 

Katie glances down at her watch. “I don’t, but I have to get going anyway. I still have a date with Derek tonight, but I’ll help more later, Piper.”

“You’re not even going to eat the dinner Hannah made?” Charlie asks.

Katie shrugs. “Sorry, but I didn’t know he was going to come waltzing back into my life today and he’ll be leaving town soon for his acting thing. I have to take him up on his offer.”

"Go ahead and go, Katie,” I say. “I’m sure Ian will reach out soon.” I’m sure of no such thing, but I don’t want to ruin Katie’s happy day.

Belle pouts. “So, we’re not going to use my idea? I even had the perfect name - Operation Love Recon!" 

"Operation Love Recon?" Charlie snorts, shaking her head but grinning nonetheless. "You would come up with a name like that, Belle."

"Well, I think it's catchy!" she defends, puffing out her chest with mock indignation. “It would make a great hashtag too.”

"No hashtags,” Katie mutters under her breath. “The last thing we need is you posting about this and the cops showing up at our door.” 

“No one is going to post anything,” I say. “I’m going to find him and just ask him what’s going on.”

Belle shakes her head, but I know this is the right decision for me. I check my phone one more time, just to make sure Ian hasn’t responded. Nothing. I’m right to wait this out. Aren’t I?

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Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.