One Day Fiance by Lauren Landish



“That’s weird,” the woman says, surprised. “Nobody ever calls here.”

She suddenly looks uncertain, knowing I shouldn’t be back here, so I give her the push she needs. I hold up my hands out wide, then pointedly put them in my pockets. See? Harmless.

“It’s all good, I’ll stand right here, won’t touch anything. It’s just . . .”

I look back to the painting with a bit of shine in my eyes, and she whispers, “I know . . . I’ll be just a second.”

As she scurries off to answer the call, I think, Good, a second’s all I need.

Quick as a fox, I grab the small canvas from the nearby table and slip it under my hoodie, letting it lie flush against my back in the special pocket I wore in case I was successful. I’m already bent over to examine the signature in the corner of the Rossetti piece when she gets back.

“Sorry, they must have hung up.”

I shrug, straightening up. “It’s okay. I was enjoying the moment, just me and the goddess of beauty here.”

She smiles, but that uncertainty is creeping back in. She’s remembering that her job isn’t to have art nerds in the unsecured back areas of the museum. I’ve overstayed my welcome, which serves me just fine because I’ve accomplished my mission.

Or most of it.

Just one last phase . . . the clean getaway.

“Do we need to get out of here before I get you in trouble?” I ask softly, looking around like someone might’ve shown up in the few seconds she was on the phone.

“Yeah, probably so.”

“I understand. Thank you for showing me the piece, though. You made my day, my month, probably my whole year.”

She has no idea how true that is, but the warmth is back in her voice. “Well, you made those kids’ day, so it seems only fair.”

One more aw-shucks smile as I duck my head, and I follow her back down the hall to the main display galleries.

“Thanks again,” I say as she peels off, and I walk through the rooms, slow and steady, pausing to read a few wall plaques here and there and making sure I don’t look suspicious in the slightest. I even see the mom and kids out front, eating their promised burgers, and offer them a wave as I head down the street.

Even if they remember me, it’ll be as the nerdy art guy who was friendly and kind.

Not the guy who just stole a painting worth thousands of dollars.





Chapter 1





Poppy





He clutched at the large bulge in his jeans, squeezing it like a promised treasure. “I’m going to put this in you,” he says, “and you’re going to like it.”

Ugh. Rereading the sentence, I swiftly repress the urge to gag and instead jab the Delete button with my finger, breathing through my mouth, only until I get back to a point that I don’t feel like it’s utter trash.

“Great,” I say as I realize where I am. “Four hours of work and a grand progress of . . . fifty words?” I pull up my word counter and double-check. “Fifty fucking words? Fiddle-dee-FUCKSTICKS!”

Ugh, even that’s more words than I’ve written in the last fifteen minutes. I thump my fist into the middle of my forehead, resisting the urge to click Undo on all my deletions. Yeah, it’s terrible, but at least it’s something. And something is better than nothing.

Or at least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself as I get up from my kitchen table ‘office’ and walk over to my fridge, where I grab one of my pre-made sippy cups of black iced tea. I’m tempted to grab one of the wine coolers that I’ve got in there instead, but the calendar stuck to my freezer door reminds me that I’ve got a deadline.

As if I needed any more pressure. After the success of my first book, Love in Great Falls, I got cocky. And when Bluebird Publishing House came to me, offering not just a per-book deal but an actual advance, I took it.

That was two advance checks and dozens of talks with my agent ago. Now I’ve got a deadline looming, and as my Great-Aunt Hannah used to say, it’s time to piss or pounce. But that’s a lot easier to say when you’re not suffering from the inner fear that your follow-up second book isn’t remotely in the same galaxy as your first.

I flip off the freezer calendar like it’s the one that’s done me wrong and this isn’t all self-induced stress. “Way to put pressure on yourself, Poppy. Hello, looming deadline.” I take a long drink of tea and look back at my laptop, the mostly white space of my current page staring back at me. “Or dooming lead line.”