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The Perfect Guy (excerpt)

THE PERFECT GUY (excerpt) by Debbie Goelz

Jule Vandamme knows she’s in big trouble before her boss utters a word. The walls in Vesta Harper’s office vibrate in the grey-green of a storm-tossed sea. At Pinnacles Center for Sexual Rehabilitation, it is difficult for employees to hide their emotions as the building echoes them quite publicly ….

Jule nervously fumbles with the doorknob to the suite. Ridiculous, she chides herself. I am a trained therapist. Whatever’s in there is part of me and must logically be, well, logical. Just get this over with. Give them a show and get out as quickly as possible. She straightens her posture and throws the door open hoping there isn’t a half-starved lion waiting for her on the other side.

Jule wishes it were only a lion. This is infinitely worse—a fairy tale-worthy glass castle. Her heart speeds as she searches for the monitoring cameras. A quixotic tableau is all she needs. Everyone will think she is some kind of starry-eyed romantic like her mother—earth’s most famous romance author. How many times growing up had Jule been teased about her mother’s, um, work?

The air smells like roses and freshly cut grass, with a hint of garlic. The edifice, perched at the far end of a formal garden, beneath an enormous, swollen moon, is swathed in trails of rose vines. Dozens of classical marble statues of naked men guard a walkway to the castle entrance brimming with faceted rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Even though the statues’ eyes are blank, Jule shudders as if they are staring at her. Jule knows better than anyone about the truth of fairy tales. They are dark, filled with witches baking children and women slicing off parts of their feet to get a goddamned prince. She pivots. Time to cut her losses and let Just Becquee win. Naturally, the door she had come through disappears as soon as she makes this decision.

Seeing no alternative, she stomps down the walkway, trying to ignore the jeweled pebbles that accumulate in her horrid spa shoes. She arrives at the front door with extremely sore feet. Through the transparent walls, Jule sees a cavernous entry hall lit by a thousand white tapered candles flickering and illuminating hundreds of crystal vases bursting with long-stemmed red roses. She rings the doorbell while shaking out the pebbles. Of its own accord, the glass door opens to a high-pitched creak as if it is made of ancient wood with iron hinges. “Thanks,” she automatically mutters even though no one is there.

The entry smells like roses, candle wax, chocolate and garlic. Something purrs. Not the purr of an ordinary house cat, this purr is deep and dark and raises the hairs on the back of her neck. She follows the sound to an adjacent drawing room where she finds a lion lounging on a massive red leather sofa. The lion catches her in its gaze. It lets out an unfriendly roar and its wings, yes wings, unfurl and flap violently, upending a bottle of champagne in a silver ice bucket and a bowl of strawberries. Jule screams.

“What is it, bella?” rumbles an Italian-accented male voice. “Are you alright?” Rivulets of acid curl in Jule’s stomach. Why does the Italian accent scare her more than the roar of a winged lion? Jule loves most things Italian—the coffee, the linguine, the footwear. Okay, so the bloody religious art she could do without, but otherwise …

“Magellan, I told you to stay off the furniture,” admonishes a male figure wearing only a starched white apron over his muscled physique. The guy looked like the cover art for one of her mom’s books. “Outside. Now.” Several panes of glass disappear, and the lion stalks out, his erect tail twitching. The window re-forms. “Please sit, bella. Do not worry about him.” He lifts his chin toward the lion. “He is harmless. Your dinner is almost ready. I shall clean up this untidiness and replenish the Prosecco.”

Dinner? A cooking, cleaning Erotibot? And a preference for a guy with that many muscles could not possibly have come from Jule’s DNA. And a winged lion? Come on. “The name’s Jule, and there must be some mistake.”

“What do you mean mistake?”

“I mean, you are, I mean, well, no offense …” Is she really worried about offending a robot? Ludicrous. But the look on his sculpted, tanned face can only be described as crestfallen. Erotibots follow a strict protocol of behavior. An Erotibot is there for one thing—seduction. Something is weird and wrong.

He runs his long fingers through his flowing romance-novel quality locks. “Si, cara Jule?”

“Um,” Jule bites her lip. She can’t stop looking at his massive hands. He follows her gaze and smirks as if he understands her thoughts, which is ridiculous. Erotibots are definitely not given to subtlety or clairvoyance.

“Mmm, more Prosecco, please,” Jule says. The robot artfully refills her glass, the sparkly foam stopping right before it reaches the lip. “Thanks. Hey, what did you call that pasta again? It was amazing.”

The handsome robot smiles. “Spaghetti alla puttanesca come li fanno a Siracusa. I’m glad you liked it, cara mia.”

Jule sips her Prosecco. The room feels as if it floats on a current of air. Without thinking, Jule turns on the sofa and places her feet in his lap. He presses his thumbs into her arches. Each press can be felt somewhere else entirely, as if her foot has a hotline to her crotch. Jule moans despite herself. His hands are warm, his eyes like melted caramel, and she nearly forgets where she is. What she is doing. That she is being watched. It feels too good.

When he kisses her big toe, she practically convulses, spilling the rest of her Prosecco all over her robe.

“Allow me.” He daubs the wet fabric with the edge of his apron.

Jule “accidentally” gets a peek underneath, noting that his hands are indeed proportional. She is already red-faced from drinking, so her blush is imperceptible.

“Perhaps you should remove this wet garment.”

“That’s okay. I’ll keep it for now.”

For now. You taste so sweet, cara mia.” He shifts her bottom onto his thighs.

How could she have lived for twenty-six years and never know she liked toe kisses? I don’t know your name, Jule thinks, even though she knows it doesn’t matter. Erotibots don’t need names.”

“I am not sure,” he says, shaking his head in confusion. “Perhaps you could give me one until I remember?” He kisses her nose.

Jule giggles. She hadn’t realized she said that question about his name out loud. “I think you’re an Umberto. Kiss me, Umberto.”

Despite herself, Jule grinds herself shamelessly on Umberto’s lap. Umberto holds the back of Jule’s head and pulls her toward him. When his lips touch hers, shivers of lust ripple through her body. He feels so good. How can she ever give up this feeling? As he intensifies the kiss, their tongues exploring, Jule thinks she could faint from pleasure. She can’t breathe. The room tilts and Jule feels herself slipping over the edge. She grabs Umberto’s neck, and as she succumbs to oblivion, she curses her stupidity in having drunk so much Prosecco.

When she wakes, sunlight streaks across the cool satin bed sheets. Outside, the winged lion nibbles the meadow grass and watches her as it chews.

“My beautiful Jule.” Umberto enters the room wearing black silk pajama bottoms and bearing a silver tray. He has arranged a single lavender rose in a crystal vase beside a plate of eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, scones, clotted cream, apricot and raspberry jam and a mountain of home-fried potatoes.

Jule’s face colors as she remembers her behavior the night before. Had she really given him a lap dance? She sits, her back resting on the fluffiest collection of pillows she’s ever encountered, and clears her throat. “Thank you.”

“It is nothing, cara mia. I love to cook for you.” Jule reminds herself that Umberto is only following his programming. He wants to cook for her because her DNA wanted him to. He thinks her beautiful for the same reason.

“I don’t know where to start.” She unfolds the linen napkin.

“Try them all. Tomorrow I will make your favorite.”

A pain stabs through Jule’s chest, and for the first time in her life, she understands why love is personified as a cherub with a bow and arrow. There will be no tomorrow for Umberto. Tomorrow Jule will be back at work, and Umberto will be reduced to his component parts.

“That’d be nice,” she says. She pokes a perfectly cooked poached egg and watches the yolk spread. She takes a bite of egg and potato. “Mmm. You’re good.”

“You have no idea how good, cara. But soon.” He touches her cheek and the same heat she’d felt the night before surges. She masks her discomfort with another bite. She manages a bit of waffle and an edge of scone, washed down with thick espresso. She looks around the room wondering where the cameras lay hidden. The strangest thought occurs to her—making love to Umberto would be wrong. A farce. He is so sweet and kind and doomed. But he’s a robot, Jule reminds herself. He has no feelings. She sets the cup on its little platter.

“Umberto?” Why had she given him a name? She sees now this had been a mistake.

“Yes, my Jule.”

“I’m afraid it isn’t going to work out.”

Excerpted from The Perfect Guy

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Debbie Goelz is a refugee from Hollywood where she served for ten years as a financial executive for such companies as Universal Pictures, Dino de Laurentiis and Jim Henson Productions. During her last position as the Vice President of Finance for Jim Henson Productions she met her future husband. Her film career began and ended with her puppeteering a chicken during the closing scene in Muppet Treasure Island. She lives in rural Marin County with her husband and two children. She is working on her first novel, Alien Invasion: a Love Story.