A local NuLu bar and microbrewery
Downtown, Louisville, Kentucky
Sarah Colby’s chest tightened, and she pressed her lips together. Her best friends were arguing again. The noise in the bar practically drowned out all thought, let alone conversation, but she heard well enough to know Kate and Tracy were quarreling about her.
And she didn’t like it.
“You can’t know a man by just one kiss,” Kate swiveled her barstool back and forth while sipping a pale ale IPA. Her voice was shrill.
“Lighten up,” Tracy chided. “Don’t say that to Sarah. I’m trying to convince her this is the way to start once she’s finally ready to look for her prince.”
Kate scoffed and forced a laugh. “By kissing strange men?”
Sarah stifled a sigh, lifted her cherry sour, and took a sip. The bar was packed. NuLu was a growing historic urban neighborhood and the place to be. With the Kentucky Derby only three weeks away, people were partying long before the day of the fabled race. Sarah and her barhopping companions were no exceptions. They were her go-to gang and had been her sorority sisters at the University of Kentucky—Tracy, single but looking, and Kate, divorced and certainly not looking.
“You know the fairytale about the frog prince.” Tracy’s eyes sparkled. “A frog is transformed into a handsome prince when a princess kisses him.”
“Men are disgusting toads,” Kate said. “Don’t be ridiculous. Kissing a man won’t turn him into Prince Charming.”
Sarah had to agree with Kate. Once she’d believed in fairy tales. As teenager, she’d lain awake at night dreaming of the man she would marry. He’d walk toward her with a warm smile on his lips and a tender look in his eyes. Tall. Dark. He would put his arms around her, and his kiss would be slow. Easy. Romantic. The image always faded with the kiss. But back then Sarah knew, just by that one kiss, he was her Prince Charming.
After all, her mom and dad met on New Year’s Eve at a bar where guys were kissing girls at midnight. Her mom had told her she’d known she would marry her father from that very first kiss as Auld Lang Syne played and balloons dropped from the ceiling.
But that was then, and this was now.
Sarah didn’t believe in fairy tales. At twenty-four, she’d dated more than her share of frat boys and joined online dating apps with no success. She’d had only one serious boyfriend and it hadn’t ended well. She never connected to the other men she dated. Their kisses failed to ignite a spark. Now she was afraid she’d never click with a guy. Why waste her time dating only to end up disappointed in the end? Was she too young to be so jaded?
“Look around, Sarah.” Tracy gestured with her hand. “For once this bar is crawling with unattached men. Why not sample a few of them? Maybe you’ll get lucky. It only took one kiss, after all, for the princess.”
“And my parents too. But I’m not a princess, and life isn’t a fairy tale.” Sarah didn’t like to be pushed. “I don’t want to make a fool of myself.”
Kate nodded in agreement. “Women do stupid things where men are concerned.” She swiveled again in her chair. “Look at me.”
“You didn’t think David was a toad when you married him.” Tracy reached out and touched Kate’s hand as if to comfort her friend.
“Well, the jerk fooled me.” Kate’s bitterness erupted. “The man I thought was Prince Charming morphed into a toad as soon as the wedding ring was on my finger.”
“Quiet, both of you.” Sarah shifted on the stool, crossing then uncrossing her legs. She tugged down her skimpy, black dress that hiked up her thigh. She should have worn jeans. “We’re here to celebrate the anniversary of Kate’s divorce.”
Tracy spun on the bar stool her arms flung out as if taking in the whole bar. “And maybe we’ll find Prince Charming if we kiss a few frogs.”
“Toads,” Kate amended under her breath.
Sarah’s pulse quickened. Her romantic heart knew there was a guy somewhere just for her. She didn’t want to believe all men were like Kate’s ex. But her pragmatic side knew finding him would be hard. Being shy and reserved, eligible bachelors were never attracted to her. Ineligible ones were always all over her though. Since she wasn’t interested in dating men old enough to be her father or stoners, she ran the other way at the first sign they were interested.
Tracy leaned forward toward her. “Look, Sarah, it’s very simple. To make sure you’ve found the right man, you need a point of reference. You need a baseline. That’s why you must kiss a lot of men.”
Sarah shrugged, considering Tracy’s argument. “My mom always guaranteed this method worked. It was how she found my dad.”
“There are no guarantees,” Kate grumbled into her now empty glass.
“I know that.” Tracy waved Kate’s objection away. “I’m simply trying to be proactive here. To encourage Sarah. She’s in a rut.”
“And how many toads have you kissed?” Kate challenged Tracy, unable to let go of her cynicism.
Tracy frowned, her normal confident smile fading, and she shook her head slightly. “Too many, I’m afraid.”
“And you haven’t found Mr. Right,” Kate pointed out.
“You don’t have to remind me.”
“So, it’s a silly idea.”
Sarah ignored Kate and fixed her attention on Tracy. Should she try this ridiculous plan? She was at an impasse when it came to dating. “Where do you think I should start?”
“Here and now. Half these people are drunk anyway.” Tracy surveyed the whole bar. “Check out that guy over there hitting on the blonde.”
Sarah surveyed the man with long hair in low-rider jeans and a bicep baring University of Louisville T-shirt. That guy wasn’t her type, but her parents had not raised a coward. Making up her mind, she drew a breath. “I’ll give him a try. Gotta begin with someone.”
Kate wrinkled her nose. “By the looks of that guy, I guarantee he’ll be glad to let you kiss him.”
Tracy glanced left down the bar. “Or there’s that babe magnet sitting beside you.”
Sarah turned and eyed the man hunched over his drink. He seemed oblivious to the clamor around him, but she liked his mature good looks. Black hair curled a little at his collar and several days growth of beard covered his jaw. A flicker of strong feeling stirred within her. Something about him seemed familiar. Had she met him somewhere?
She twisted back to the bar and sipped her cherry sour. Tracy had given her two options—the loud ladies’ man who already appeared drunk or this guy who looked as if he didn’t want to be bothered. What did she have to lose? She wasn’t going back to graduate school this summer. She was stuck living with Aunt Amelia and doing research for the regional cookbook her aunt was writing. Not much chance of meeting Prince Charming any time soon if she was in a dusty library or sitting behind a computer.
Besides, she had come tonight dressed to impress. She was still a freakin’ virgin, for crying out loud. A good girl. But she remembered her mother’s story. Maybe she should try something different. Maybe it was now or never.
Straightening her shoulders, Sarah eyed the crude guy who’d just been dumped by the leggy blonde. “Okay, girlfriends. Time to pucker up. Time to kiss a frog or a toad or a horn dawg and see what happens.”