HE WANTS TO LOSE CONTROL.
Between his parents’ messed up marriage and his narcissistic younger brother, Lincoln Moorehead has spent the majority of his life avoiding his family. After the death of his father, Lincoln finds himself in the middle of the drama. To top it all off, he’s been named CEO of Moorehead Media, much to his brother’s chagrin. But Lincoln’s bad attitude softens when he meets the no-nonsense, gorgeous woman who has been given the task of transforming him from the gruff, wilderness guy to a suave businessman
SHE’S TRYING TO HOLD IT TOGETHER.
Wren Sterling has been working double time to keep the indiscretions at Moorehead Media at bay, so when she’s presented with a new contract, with new responsibilities and additional incentives, she agrees. Working with the reclusive oldest son of a ridiculously entitled family is worth the hassle if it means she’s that much closer to pursuing her own dreams. What Wren doesn’t expect is to find herself attracted to him, or for it to be mutual. And she certainly doesn’t expect to fall for Lincoln. But when a shocking new Moorehead scandal comes to light, she’s forced to choose between her own family and the broody, cynical CEO.
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What Have I Gotten Myself into?Wren I slip onto the empty bar stool beside the lumberjack mountain man who looks like he tried to squeeze himself into a suit two sizes too small. He’s intimidatingly broad and thick, with long dark hair that’s been pulled up into a haphazard man bun thing. His beard is a hipster’s wet dream. His scowl, however, makes him about as approachable as a rabid porcupine. And yet, here I am, sidling up next to him. He glances at me, eyes bleary and not really tracking. He quickly focuses on his half-empty glass again. Based on the slump of his shoulders and the uncoordinated way he picks up his glass and tips it toward his mouth, I’m guessing he’s pretty hammered. I order a sparkling water with a dash of cranberry juice and a lime. What I could really use is a cup of lavender-mint tea and my bed, but instead, I’m sitting next to a drunk man in his thirties. My life is extra glamorous, obviously. And no, I’m not an escort, but at the moment I feel like my morals are on the same kind of slippery slope. “Rough day?” I ask, nodding to the bottle that’s missing more than half its contents. It was full when he sat down at the bar an hour ago. Yes, I’ve been watching him the entire time, waiting for an opportunity to make my move. While he’s been sitting here, he’s turned down two women, one in a dress that could’ve doubled as a disco ball and the other in a top so low-cut, I could almost see her navel. “You could say that,” he slurs. He props his cheek on his fist, eyes almost slits. I can still make out the vibrant blue hue despite them being nearly closed. They move over me, assessing. I’m wearing a conservative black dress with a high neckline and a hem that falls below my knees. Definitely not nearly as provocative as Disco Ball or Navel Lady. “That solving your problems?” I give him a wry grin and tip my chin in the direction of his bottle of Johnnie. His gaze swings slowly to the bottle. It gives me a chance to really look at him. Or what I can see of his face under his beard, anyway. “Nah, but it helps quiet down all the noise up here.” He taps his temple and blurts, “My dad died.” I put a hand on his forearm. It feels awkward, and creepy on my part since its half-genuine, half-contrived comfort. “I’m so sorry.” He glances at my hand, which I quickly remove, and refocuses on his drink. “I should be sorry too, but I think he was mostly an asshole, so the world might be better off without him.” He attempts to fill his glass again, but his aim is off, and he pours it on the bar instead. I rush to lift my purse and grab a handful of napkins to mop up the mess. “I’m drunk,” he mumbles. “Well, I’m thinking that might’ve been the plan, considering the way you’re sucking that bottle back. I’m actually surprised you didn’t ask for a straw in the first place. Might be a good idea to throw a spacer [CD3] in there if you want tomorrow morning to suck less.” I push my drink toward him, hoping he doesn’t send me packing like he did the other women who approached him earlier. He narrows his eyes at my glass, suspicious, maybe. “What is that?” “Cranberry and soda.” “No booze?” “No booze. Go ahead. You’ll thank me in the morning.” He picks up the glass and pauses when it’s an inch from his mouth. His eyes crinkle, telling me he’s smiling under that beard. “Does that mean Imma wake up with you beside me?” I cock a brow. “Are you propositioning me?” “Shit, sorry.” He chugs the contents of my glass. “I was joking. Besides, I’m so wasted, I can barely remember my name. Pretty sure I’d be useless in bed tonight. I should stop talkin’.” He scrubs a hand over his face and then motions to me. “I wouldn’t proposition you.” I’m not sure how to respond. I go with semi-affronted, since it seems like somewhat of an insult. “Good to know.” “Dammit. I mean, I think you might be hot. You look hot. I mean attractive. I think you’re pretty.” He tips his head to the side and blinks a few times. “You have nice eyes, all four of them are lovely.” This time I laugh—for real—and point to the bottle. “I think you might want to tell your date you’re done for the night.” He blows out a breath and nods. “You might be right.” He makes an attempt to stand, but as soon as his feet hit the floor, he stumbles into me and grabs my shoulders to steady himself. “Whoa. Sorry. Yup, I’m definitely drunk.” His face is inches from mine, breath smelling strongly of alcohol. Beyond that, I get a whiff of fresh soap and a hint of aftershave. He lets go of my shoulders and takes an unsteady step back. “I don’t usually do this.” He motions sloppily to the bottle. “Mostly I’m a three drink max guy.” “I think losing your father makes this condonable.” I slide off my stool. Despite being tall for a woman, and wearing heels, he still manages to be close to a head taller than me. “Yeah, maybe, but I still think I might regret it tomorrow.” He’s incredibly unsteady, swaying while standing in place. I take the opportunity for what it is and thread my arm through his, leading him away from the bar. “Come on, let’s get you to the elevator before you pass out right here.” He nods, then wobbles a bit, like moving his head has set him off balance. “That’s probably a good idea.” He leans into me as we weave through the bar and stumbles on the two stairs leading to the foyer. There’s no way I’ll be able to stop him if he goes down, but I drape one of his huge arms over my shoulder anyway, and slip my own around his waist, guiding him in a mostly straight line to the elevators. “Which floor are you on?” I ask. “Penthouse.” He drops his arm from my shoulder and flings it out, pointing to the black doors at the end of the hall. “Jesus, I feel like I’m on a boat.” “It’s probably all the alcohol sloshing around in your brain.” I take his elbow again, helping him stagger the last twenty feet to the dedicated penthouse elevator. He stares at the keypad for a few seconds, brow pulling into a furrow. “I can’t remember the code. It’s thumbprint activated though too.” He stumbles forward and presses his forehead against the wall, then tries to line up his thumb with the sensor, but his aim is horrendous and he keeps missing. I settle a hand on his very firm forearm. This man is built like a tank. Or a superhero. For a moment, I reconsider what I’m about to do, but he seems pretty harmless and ridiculously hammered, so he shouldn’t pose a threat. I’m also trained in self-defense, which would fall under the by any means necessary umbrella. “Can I help?”
About the Author:New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of PUCKED, Helena Hunting lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her incredibly tolerant family and two moderately intolerant cats. She’s writes contemporary romance ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.
Connect with Helena: Instagram: http://instagram.com/helenahunting Twitter: https://twitter.com/HelenaHunting Facebook: http://on.fb.me/Zt1xm5 Facebook Fan group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/385795934890523/ Website: http://www.helenahunting.com/ Never miss an update! Subscribe to Helena’s mailing list: http://bit.ly/2MlRKq6
Cosy Felton is great at her job—she knows just how to handle the awkwardness that comes with working at an adult toy store. So when the hottest guy she’s ever seen walks into the shop looking completely overwhelmed, she’s more than happy to turn on the charm and help him purchase all of the items on his list.
Griffin Mills is using his business trip in Las Vegas as a chance to escape the broken pieces of his life in New York City. The last thing he wants is to be put in charge of buying gag gifts for his friend’s bachelor party. Despite being totally out of his element, and mortified by the whole experience, Griffin is pleasantly surprised when he finds himself attracted to the sales girl that helped him.
As skeptical as Cosy may be of Griffin’s motivations, there’s something about him that intrigues her. But sometimes what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas and when real life gets in the way, all bets are off. Filled with hilariously awkward situations and enough sexual chemistry to power Sin City, Making Up is the next standalone in the Shacking Up world.
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CosyWorking in an adult toy store is the opposite of glamorous. Sure, I get a fifty-percent discount, which is a real perk, but it doesn’t offset some of the weirdness I have to deal with. Such as Eugene, one of the locals who frequents the shop on a regular basis. He came in this morning and handled all the display toys. He’s mostly harmless, but the silicone fondling is pretty high on the creepy factor. Eventually I told him I had to close up for a few minutes so I could grab lunch. The deli across the street has the best daily specials. While I wait for my chicken shawarma, I make a mental list of all the things I need to do this afternoon: check the magazines to make sure the pages aren’t stuck together, restock the flavored lube, and wipe down everything Eugene molested with toy cleaner. Once I’ve tackled those less-than-fun chores, I can work on my assignment for my hospitality class, provided I don’t have real customers. I glance out the window, checking to make sure Eugene isn’t loitering around in front of the store, waiting to be let back in. Sometimes he’ll stop by more than once during my shift. He’s not there—thank God—but there’s a black sports car parked in the lot. It looks nice and possibly expensive, which might mean an actual customer who will spend money. Loki, the cashier at the deli, hands me my drinks and shawarma. “Thanks! Have a great day!” “You too,” Loki says to my chest. As I leave the store, I see a man in a suit reading the sign I taped to the door. I don’t want to miss a potential customer, so I take a deep breath and mentally shift gears, putting on my best sales-person mask. I have to pretend to be a completely different person when I deal with customers, so I can get through what would otherwise be a fairly embarrassing event. Discussing the ins and outs of sex toys with strangers is not something I particularly enjoy, but it’s a paycheck, so I’ve learned to roll with it. My root beer foams and drips down the straw while my coffee sloshes onto my hand—the lids never fit right—and my chicken shawarma dangles perilously between my pinkie and ring finger as I cross the street. The suit doesn’t look creepy like Eugene, but then, suits can be deceiving. Half the time they think they can proposition me like a sex worker. Or they pretend the weird stuff they’re buying is a gift and not for them. Pfft. I know better. Suit turns and heads for his car, so I call out, “Hey! You in the suit, hold on!” His shoulders hunch, as if he’s trying to be smaller, which is physically impossible. Based on the size of him, he probably played college football. Or he has Marvel comic hero blood relatives. Either way, he’s a big dude. He stops walking, though, which is good. I could use some sales today. The commission boost is always a plus to the shitty minimum wage. Rent is due next week, and judging by his car, he has money to burn. My heels are skyscrapers, and everything I’m wearing is either too short or too tight to facilitate running—the Sex Toy Warehouse uniform is supposed to be sexy, aka revealing—so I awkwardly jog the rest of the way while trying to get the key to the shop out of my pocket and not drop my shawarma. The manager gave me my own set since I frequently open the store. “Sorry to keep you waiting; plastic dicks don’t quite cut it for lunch.” Inwardly I cringe, because seriously, why did I say that? “I would imagine they’re not all that satisfying,” he replies in a deep voice that would probably sound good whispering naughty things in my ear. I’m not sure if he meant that suggestively or not. Regardless, I walked right into that one. I finally look up. Dear sweet Jesus on a cloud of marshmallows, this is my lucky day. The suit is gorgeous. Like the kind of hotness that sucks the breath right out of your lungs and sends all the blood in your body rushing between your legs. It’s a good thing clits don’t react like penises, otherwise mine would be hanging out of the bottom of my shorts with excitement. I’m thankful my physical reaction is limited to damp underwear and tingles. His dark hair is straight and cut short, parted at the side and neatly styled. He’s a cross between a mobster, and a fifties movie star. Capone and Ward Cleaver rolled together and dipped in lust. His nose is straight, lips are full, and he’s got a chin that looks like it could cut glass. His features are strong, but he somehow manages to be boyish even though everything about him screams pure, undiluted masculinity. His tongue drags across his pillowy bottom lip and his throat bobs. I lift my gaze and meet his eyes. They’re a strange color. Not brown, not green, but some kind of honey-lemon color, ringed in emerald. Like a cat maybe.
About the AuthorNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author of PUCKED, Helena Hunting lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her incredibly tolerant family and two moderately intolerant cats. She’s writes contemporary romance ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.
Connect with Helena
Instagram: http://instagram.com/helenahunting Twitter: https://twitter.com/HelenaHunting Facebook: http://on.fb.me/Zt1xm5 Facebook Fan group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/385795934890523/ Website: http://www.helenahunting.com/ Never miss an update! Subscribe to Helena’s mailing list: http://bit.ly/2MlRKq6
Title: Mr. FantasyAuthor: Cambria HebertGenre: Contemporary RomanceRelease Date: April 2, 2019
Better than your reality…A Caribbean island.A rich CEO.A woman thrown overboard.A delicious one-night stand.Want to know what happens next?Find all the answers and more between the pagesof this sizzling standalone romance—Mr. Fantasy.Mr. Fantasy is a standalone contemporary romance novel and contains an HEA.
AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
B&N / KOBO / APPLE BOOKS
CHAPTER 1 + 2 of MR. FANTASY1Nora“I can’t believe the week is almost over.” Val groaned, then consoled herself with a large gulp of the fruity cocktail sitting in front of her.I sighed sadly, silently agreeing with her. Spring break needed to be a lot longer than a week. Pretty soon, it would be back to work, back to classes… back to reality.Reality sucked.Especially when I gazed around this tropical resort and realized some people lived like this all the time.“One week in paradise just isn’t enough,” I said out loud, playing with the pink umbrella perched in the coconut drink I held. Rotating the barstool, I spun to face the turquoise water of the ocean and pure-white sand beneath it.Grass umbrellas dotted the beach, and under them, people lounged and played. Beyond the beach, people also played in the water, running around in skimpy bikinis and golden tans.The breeze off the ocean blew through the tangled strands of my blond hair, and sand clung between my toes. Focusing past the shoreline, I gazed across the water, past the floating cabanas, and out to a small island filled with palm trees.“I’d like to see the guy who owns that island just once while we’re here.” My voice was wistful as I plucked the cherry out of my drink and popped it into my mouth.Sweet juice from the fruit burst over my tongue as I stared.Val made a sound and slapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t even tell me that’s the reason you haven’t had a fling yet!” she practically yelled.Swiftly, I swung in her direction. “Shh! God, Valerie, don’t announce our sex life to the entire resort.”“At least I have a sex life,” she muttered, fitting her straw into her mouth. “That’s what spring break is for. Letting loose, having fun… no regrets.”“Hey, I’ve done that, too.”She made a rude sound. “You’ve turned down three guys since we got here.”I shrugged and looked back at the ocean. “I’m picky.”“You have to let him go, Nor,” Valerie said gently. Leaning in, she rested her cheek on my shoulder. “I know you loved him, but Alan wasn’t good enough. And he hurt you.”Yeah. Yeah, he did.I sucked on the straw until it made that annoying slurping sound because my alcohol had officially run out.“Having a fling is the best way to get him out of your system. Let someone rock your world for a night, and forget about him completely.”I smirked. “You think a one-night stand will erase a guy I dated for nearly a year?”Val sat up and wagged her eyebrows at me. “The right guy will.”I laughed, and she snagged the empty coconut out of my hand and held it over her head. “Bartender, another!”“Now, about that.” My best friend pointed out toward the distant island. “Please tell me you haven’t been holding out to see if Mr. Island shows up to rock your world.”I scoffed at her assumption.“I knew it!” she yelled.People around us turned to look at her.I smiled at them, “Sorry. She’s a bit extra.”“You’re still hung up on your cheating, scumbag ex, and now you’re hung up on some faceless guy who might not even exist?” Val dropped her forehead into her hand. “I’ve failed as a best friend.”I slipped an arm around her shoulders. “You have not.”A tap on my shoulder made me turn, my eyes colliding with a set of piercing green ones. “Oh,” I said, a little breathless.“Your drink is ready,” the bartender said, leaning over the bar, holding out my refill.“Oh!” I glanced down at the drink. “Thanks.”“Anytime, gorgeous,” he quipped and winked.I nearly spilled the drink in my lap right there. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and he had the bronze tan of a local with an accent to match.“You need anything else, just wave.”I nodded, unable to reply.“See!” Val said, putting her arm around me, bringing me back around. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. You’re gorgeous. You could have any guy here you wanted. Even the bartender. Yet you’re busy mooning over some guy who’s probably old enough to be your grandpa.”“I am not mooning!” I insisted. Then I grimaced. “And ew… grandpa.”“You really expect some young, hot single to own that island over there?”I shook my head. “Not just the island… this entire resort.”Valerie moaned. “That’s just a sexy rumor the staff here likes to tell women like us. It makes us even more excited about this place.”“It could be true,” I murmured, staring out to sea. “He really could be some young, rich computer genius who sold off an app and bought this place.”“Uh-huh. And he has a hot body and the stamina to make you forget all about Awful Alan.”“Hey,” I accused, salty. “I didn’t judge you when your fantasy was to sleep with a yoga instructor to see if they really were more flexible than other guys.”Valerie giggled. “They are. They totally are.”I rolled my eyes. “You’re incorrigible.”“Hey, I’m young, single, and being safe. What’s wrong with a little fun?”I drank some of my cocktail.“Besides, at least my fantasy was attainable. Yours is practically from the pages of some cheesy romance novel.”“Whatever.” I sighed. This conversation was bringing down my buzz. “Finish your drink so we can go lay on the beach.”“Your time is running out.” She reminded me. “We’re going home tomorrow night. If you don’t have a fling soon, you’re never going to get over Alan.”I’d had enough of this conversation, and if she said my ex-boyfriend’s name one more time, I was going to scream. I jumped down off the barstool and tripped on my flip-flop, stumbling.“Whoa,” I stammered as I fumbled forward. Seconds later, I collided into the back of a chair, falling over the shoulder of whoever was sitting there and dumping my drink down their chest.The shoulder under my waist stiffened, and I scrambled to leap back.“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!” I exclaimed. Dumbly, I looked down at the drink in my hand. It was empty.Horrified, I skittered around the chair as the person sitting in it stood, pushing it out from beneath him.Our bodies collided and I tumbled back, but he caught my arm to keep me from falling. Another apology formed on my lips, but the second I looked up, it dissipated.He was tall. So tall I had to crane my neck back to look up at him. His shoulders were wide, and his jaw was chiseled. His skin had the same deep bronzed look as all the locals, and his hair was the color of midnight.I didn’t know if his mouth was just sexy as hell or if the way he pursed his lips as he regarded me made them look pouty, but the effect was still the same.Everything inside me tightened and then went liquid, as though he’d melted me with just one glance.My mouth moved, but no sounds came out. I was exceptionally aware of his large hand wrapped around my upper arm. Even though we were sitting in the shade, his hand felt warm like he’d been in the sun. Goose bumps erupted along my bare arms and legs, and my scalp prickled with awareness.Glancing down to where he held me, I couldn’t help but notice how his hand was so big it wrapped around my arm completely. Involuntarily, I shivered as I thought about what else his hands would completely cover.Embarrassed, I jerked away from his touch. His hand dropped beside him, and then I realized the entire front of his shirt was completely soaked with my drink.Gasping, I tossed aside the empty coconut and let my hands hover near him. “This is all my fault,” I exclaimed. “Can I get some napkins over here?” I yelled. “Valerie!”My best friend, who was standing there just as speechless as I was, burst into action and turned toward the bar.“I’m so clumsy,” I told the guy. “I’m so sorry. I’ll buy you a new shirt,” I offered. “And whatever you’re drinking today.”“No need,” he said. His voice was quiet but so commanding it didn’t need to be loud. “It’s just a shirt.”Glancing down at the ruined garment, I groaned again. It was blue silk. Probably cost more than I made in an entire week. And because of the material and the fact that it was soaked, it was plastered to his chest as if he’d been caught in the rain.He was thin… but imposing. Everything about him was.Val shoved a towel in front of my face, and I snatched it quickly. Rushing forward, I didn’t even think twice about reaching out to try and dry the shirt.The thin material was saturated, and it seemed no matter how much I patted and wiped, nothing helped.Above me, a throat cleared. “Are you done?”I froze, towel still pressed against his shirt, and looked up. His chin tilted down, and our eyes met, pure desire sliding through me.I jolted back, flushing. “Sorry, I was trying to…” What was I trying to do?He smiled, reached up, and unbuttoned the shirt to peel it off his body and drop it in the sand. “I’m pretty sure it’s not savable.”My mouth ran dry. I couldn’t look up from his tan, smooth chest.A second later, he snapped in front of my face, making me lift my eyes. “You might want to lay off the alcohol the rest of the day. I think you’ve had enough.”Dumbly, I nodded and held out the towel for him to take.He glanced between me and the offered towel, then smiled. “I’m good,” he replied, then turned around and walked away.I stared after him long after he was gone, still holding out the towel like a moron.Val jumped in front of me, eyes wide. “Oh my God!” she whispered. “That guy was hot!”The towel fell out of my hands, landing beside his forgotten shirt.“Hey!” Val yelled toward the bar. “Who was that guy?”“Never seen him before,” one of the bartenders called back.“Sucks,” she muttered, then grabbed my hand. “C’mon, let’s go get some vitamin sea.”“Wait!” I exclaimed, pulling back before she could drag me away. Bending down, I picked up the wet, sandy shirt he’d just discarded from his body.Val tsked and dragged me toward the beach. “First the island guy, and now this.” She sighed. “You’re completely hopeless, Nora. Hopeless.”As I stared down at the shirt clutched in my hand, I couldn’t help thinking she might be right.2CarterI sat there listening to quite an amusing conversation going on behind me.One bad girl and one good… The bad trying to corrupt the good. I guess I could understand the appeal. The good ones were always the best at being bad.I never got involved in guest affairs, even though all these scantily clad women were ripe for the picking. It was too easy. Too boring.I liked a challenge.Like being able to erase a man from the mind of a woman who couldn’t let go.I wondered if the good girl behind me was as open to that kind of fling as she pretended to be or if she clung to the rumors about a man on an island because she knew he probably didn’t even exist.Sometimes holding on was easier than letting go because at least the pain of holding on was familiar.The second her drink spilled over my shoulder and across my chest, I wondered if it was my karma for listening to their conversation or if there was something else here at work.The sparks between us were practically visible, and the way she shivered beneath my touch excited me. Still, I pulled away, because sometimes being a mystery was better than being real.I felt her eyes against my back the entire time I walked away. I pondered if I would ever see her again, if I would be able to rise to her challenge.The way my life had turned out so far was all because of fate. So I decided to leave this up to fate, too.
Cambria Hebert is an award-winning, bestselling novelist of more than forty books. She went to college for a bachelor’s degree, couldn’t pick a major, and ended up with a degree in cosmetology. So rest assured her characters will always have good hair.Besides writing, Cambria loves a caramel latte, staying up late, sleeping in, and watching movies. She considers math human torture and has an irrational fear of birds (including chickens). You can often find her painting her toenails (because she bites her fingernails) or walking her Chihuahuas (the real rulers of the house).Cambria has written within the young adult and new adult genres, penning many paranormal and contemporary titles. She has also written romantic suspense, science fiction, and male/male romance. Her favorite genre to read and write is contemporary romance. A few of her most recognized titles are: The Hashtag Series, GearShark Series, Text, Amnesia, and Butterfly.Recent awards include: Author of the Year, Best Contemporary Series (The Hashtag Series), Best Contemporary Book of the Year, Best Book Trailer of the Year, Best Contemporary Lead, Best Contemporary Book Cover of the Year. In addition, her most recognized title, #Nerd, was listed at Buzzfeed.com as a top fifty summer romance read.Cambria Hebert owns and operates Cambria Hebert Books, LLC.You can find out more about Cambria and her titles by visiting her website: http://www.cambriahebert.com.Please sign up for her newsletter to stay in the know about all her cover reveals, releases, and more: http://eepurl.com/bUL5_5.Text ‘Cambria’ to 7606703130 to sign up for new release alerts
Emily Rhey has been my best friend since tin-can lunches in the first grade. We have seen each other through everything; the ‘firsts’, the ‘seconds, the ‘always,’ but most importantly when everyone left, she was still there.
She’s smart, beautiful, witty–the perfect woman for any man.
Even someone like me; heir to my father’s empire, as handsome as I am rich.
Over the years, plenty have questioned us–my brothers, even my mother; but we have never crossed that line.
I never thought about it, and as far as I’m concerned, neither has she.
When grief draws us together, very close together, it changes everything…
I tell myself we are only friends…until I can decide if it is still true.
“I bet you a hundred bucks, you’re going to break your neck.”
“Only a hundred? Come on, is my life not worth more than that?”
“Less… I bet ten.” Dylan. Such a prick. Always has been. Always will be.
“No one is going to die. It’s only a ten-foot drop. Easy,” Fletcher adds in.
“Yeah, but add that with the icy cold water and the angle—”
“Shut up, doc,” Grayson snipes at Jeffrey, who makes a face but accepts that we are the last people to accept his MD.
“Just get down from there, Carson,” Holden adds his pseudo patriarch voice to the conversation.
I turn to him and laugh, shaking my head at him. The motion makes me a little wobbly on the edge of the boat. I slip and catch myself with my bare feet, my jeans are the only thing protecting my body from the cold wharf air. I mock exactly what Holden says, and he makes a face, holding his hands up, one with beer and the other empty.
“Do you really want to die the night of my wedding?” Brant finally chimes in.
He has been quiet and brooding the whole time, and we haven’t even left the dock yet. All of us flocked here for his wedding this weekend to the super-hot lawyer he met only seven months ago. They swear it isn’t only for the kid she is about to have, I believe him—but I’m not a fan of insta-love. Or love in general.
“That question begs the fact that I might die, but I won’t. Are your video cameras out?” I stare down at the water calmly thrashing against the edge of the boat.
I guess I shouldn’t call a hundred-foot yacht a boat. It’s more of a small house, our own little city. It has been in the family since I was little and looked at it like a small city. Now it’s yet another thing I have grown used to in this fine life we live. Thanks for all the hard work, Dad.
“Open the bay back doors for when I get back.” I shout to my brothers. All here except Isaac, maybe I am jumping toward him. Or is that way too touchy?
I’d like to think it is, but we are all thinking the same thing. There is a reason why we drink so much when we all get together. But I haven’t had enough to make me wobbly, or regret jumping out into the water, adding a flip. The water hits me cold, and I surface back up to find my brothers looking on.
All with video cameras.
* * *
“I look like a pompous ass.” Fletcher keeps picking at his suit like it was put on unwillingly. Maybe it was.
We are all laughing at him eyeing himself in the wide mirror like he doesn’t know who he is. I get it, big football guy wearing a suit. Not comfortable.
“You look like the rest of us.” Dylan stands behind him to fix his tie. At least Cora only wanted a simple wedding. But telling my mom she can go ahead and plan everything? None of them are prepared for what she did to the house for this party.
“Yeah, unfortunately we share genes. Alec on the other hand…”
“Fuck off,” Alec chimes in from his spot in the corner of the room. He is already dressed, the calmest of us all. Not just because he has always been a silent brooder, but because he has done this before and has a first-class ticket to chill out.
“You only have to wear it for the ceremony. And nine thousand pictures,” Grayson says. He looks older every time I see him, but he is only twenty-one. It’s probably from being away at the war and all. Or are we actually fighting?
“Right. Where is Brant?” Fletcher asks.
We all laugh.
Brant never freaks out about anything. He is always cool and chill. I crack the jokes to make the awkward moments go away.
“Not like he has anything to worry about.” I tilt my neck up to fix my tie. “Rich, famous, already knocked her up. She isn’t going anywhere.”
Holden highly disagrees with a scoff. “Yeah right, have you met Cora? She wouldn’t think twice about it if she had to. That chick is the definition of spitfire.”
“She reminds you of Elizabeth?” I ask Holden. He gives me a hard glare that still gets even me to shut up. I’m not allowed to talk about the woman he makes eyes with at work. But oh, he can bother me about any and every woman I hook up with. Just because he is older, he takes the hierarchy thing too seriously.
“Look, we all need to hurry up and get to Brant’s room.” Jeffrey brings us all back to the present.
We have turned the media room into our hangout spot while chaos ensues in the rest of the house—caterers, planners, whoever it is that brings the flowers and chairs. We don’t keep many friends. Just family friends, and actual family. Mom has a bunch of siblings, nieces and nephews—our cousins. But we didn’t make nice with each and every person we came in contact with because most of the time they only wanted something from us. Wanted in on the most successful family the tri-state area has ever seen.
But I’m not butt hurt about it or anything. I have friends, my brothers and—
“Where is Emily?” Evan asks.
I make a face at him as I walk over to the wet bar for a bottle of water. Fletcher makes a signal he wants one, so I toss it to him.
“Uh, out with Mom helping set up, I think.”
“Mom really likes her. More than Mia,” Alec says.
“Not possible, Mom loves Mia. And Emily has been in the family for a long time…” I guzzle down the water suddenly thirsty as hell.
“I know.” Alec chuckles. “But is she?”
My brothers all stop what they’re doing to make the room comically silent and stare me down until I answer. I hate them all. Of course, not literally. But every chance they get, they want to irritate me about this whole ‘best friend’ thing. Guys can have female best friends, and it doesn’t mean anything other than having a person, someone besides my idiot brothers.
I smile and laugh without humor.
“Don’t we have a wedding to get to?”
With more protests and denials, we pile out to find Brant in the pool house where he is supposed to be. He looks good, his bridal suit kind of matches ours, made more fancy by the tail end. I honestly never took him for the marriage type—maybe it is the rock-star thing. But now that I see it, I don’t question it, not since I saw him with Cora for the first time. It was the same with Alec and Mia, something about them is different…
“Imagining it’s you up there?”
I turn to Emily. She has her sneaky smile on. She’s got many smiles. I guess I would know since she is my best friend. What I didn’t know is how well she could clean up. Maybe it’s just been a while, but… she does look amazing.
“Hell no,” I whisper back.
She giggles softly and leans away from my ear. I would be up there with all my other brothers, but just like last time, we can’t all fit. Besides, Brant already decided on it. He doesn’t want anyone messing up the photo so it’s just him and his best man, good ol’ Holden.
“She is so pretty.” Emily sighs and leans her head on my shoulder.
The minister hasn’t been going that long, but I can tell it might get wordy. Brant likes that kind of stuff, and Cora humors him after she argues enough. It’s their thing.
“And she doesn’t even look pregnant. Well, that’s how I look after a meal of spaghetti.”
I chuckle softly at her, no one notices we are entertaining ourselves.
“You look great,” I whisper back. I feel her shrug like ‘okay.’
But I mean it. She has this tan dress on, side straps and a V-neckline low enough to remind me how sexy she really is. Sometimes I forget, especially when we spent our teen years together and saw each other through acne and braces. It’s long, I don’t see her legs crossed under the layered fabric of it. I know that’s how she sits though, always has.
“You look dapper.”
“You see me wear a suit every day.” I smirk down at her.
We work together at my dad’s company. I still call it that even though it has been almost a year since his passing, and Holden is well past running it on his own. Emily is an executive associate in international relations which just means she is one step away from running the whole team. Me, I’m COO because I know how to keep things in check—also studied business management at Yale with Emily. I went to college as a showpiece because I hated it, and when Dad passed, I officially took over as COO, and Evan moved to CTO so he wouldn’t have to manage both roles himself. We’re better at each position, respectively.
“Not like this.”
“You have the hots for me?” I lean down to whisper in her ear. Then she flashes me her goofy smile that I return.
“Shut up. Watch your brother get married.”
“It’s no different from the last time,” I murmur.
But I get my camera out when they start to exchange rings. I have an obligation to keep everyone updated.
“No way,” I say to myself when Brant starts crying at the end.
I look at Fletcher, and he frowns because he owes me some money since we bet on it. I bet he would cry, he said no way. How about that?
The lot of us hound Brant at the end. We are all super happy for him and Cora. Plus, the little one on the way. Alec has had his own share of it too, with Mia about the same amount of time along with their kid. Cora’s brother, Damien, is quite the socialite, talking up a few of our younger cousins. I guess they’re around his age. It’s nice to know that all facets of our family easily mesh together.
All but two now. Dad would be proud, and I don’t know if Isaac could care less.
“Let’s dance.” Emily stands and tugs me with her.
“I would rather eat these samplers.” I pick at one of my quiches.
But then she makes her face—the ‘please’ face. That face made me take a Pilates class with her, and I still have a wedgie.
“Ugh, fine. None of the Milly Rock stuff, though.” I follow her out to the designated dance area.
“Just because you can’t do it doesn’t mean you can knock it.” She laughs.
Most of the kids have found their own corner, the adults in another. Mom is sitting with Mia who is nursing her small belly. Mom is ecstatic about all the grandkids coming along. I’m sure she has plans in her head already.
The music is too slow for anything but goofy swaying. Our hands interlocked, moving back and forth while Emily laughs. She loves laughing at everything, and it is just part of who she is. Happy, loving, carefree, my twelfth favorite person in the entire world—right after my brothers and Mom.
“You learned new moves,” I shout to her.
Brant has taken the night off—no singing from him. But he did mention something about serenading Cora, and that would be the only singing he does over his honeymoon. Nothing like the heart-tugging first dance between them.
“I club a lot.” She giggles.
I shake my head at her and wrestle her into a dramatic dip. Her laugh shoots through my ears and makes me follow suit.
“How many more can you take?” I ask her as she doesn’t let me leave once again.
“What? You tired?” She comes closer and grabs my arms trying to make me hit the whip.
I smile down at her taking in the light of her dark green eyes and glowing sheen all over her dancing body. Was she always this pretty? I guess that isn’t the question at hand. Emily has a senseless beauty that grew like a flower, morphed with her soul in a fast, blinding moment. The soft roundness of her eyes frames her face over her button nose and small, set lips, her rounded face matches the rest of her sinuous body. I blink, she asked me something…
“Hell yeah, I’m tired.”
“Keep up with me, and I’ll buy you a milkshake after.”
“Can’t we ditch the wedding now?” I whine.
“We haven’t had cake yet. I never leave without cake.”
The first time I met you, you were a stranger. The second time, you were my roommate. The third time, you made it clear you were about to become the biggest thorn my side had ever known.
You sing way too loud in the shower and use all the hot water.
You’re bossy as hell.
You make my life all kinds of complicated.
But no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop thinking about you.
And truthfully … I can’t stop wanting you.
I was going to tell you this. I was going to sit you down, swallow my pride, hang up my noncommittal ways and show you a side of me you nor anyone else has ever seen before … but then you dropped a game-changing bombshell; a confession so nuclear it stopped me in my tracks.
How I didn’t see this coming, I’ll never know.
P.S. I miss you.
I’ve been a dog-walker on an episode of Will & Grace.
A bakery shop owner in a Lifetime movie.
Ryan Gosling’s kid sister in an indie flick that never saw the light of day.
Victim #2 in a season eighteen episode of Law & Order: SVU.
But today I’m faced with my most challenging role yet; a camera-less reality show called Girl with Lifelong Crush on Best Guy Friend starring Melrose Claiborne as … Melrose Claiborne.
Standing outside Nick Camden’s Studio City bungalow, I straighten my shoulders, smooth my blonde waves into place, and press my index finger against the doorbell. The heavy thump of my heart suggests it’s going to fall to the floor the second he opens the door—but I’m hopeful the butterflies in my stomach will catch it first.
He has this effect on me.
Every. Single. Time.
And that’s saying something because it takes a lot to make me nervous, to throw me off my game. But my crush on him has only intensified over the years, growing stronger with each unrequited year that passes.
But last night, out of nowhere, Nick called me—which was strange because Nick never calls. He only ever texts. He’s so against calling, in fact, that he has his ringer permanently set to “off’ and his voicemail box has been full for the last six and a half years.
“Mel, I need to talk to you tomorrow,” he’d said, breathless almost. There was a hint of a smile in his tone, giddiness. “It’s really important.”
“Nick, you’re scaring me,” I told him, half wondering if someone slipped something into his drink and he was drugged out of his mind. “Just tell me now.”
“I have to tell you in person. And I have something to ask you, something crazy important,” he said. “Oh my god. This is insane. I’m so damn nervous, Mel. But as soon as you get here tomorrow, I’ll tell you. I’ve been wanting to tell you about this for a long time, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t until now. But now I can. And I can’t fucking wait. This is huge, Mel. This is … oh, God.”
“Nick …” I paced my bedroom floor, my left palm clasped across my forehead. In nearly two decades of friendship, I’d never heard Nick so worked up before. “Can’t you just tell me now?”
“Come over tomorrow. Around three,” he’d said. “This is something that needs to be done in person.”
I ring his doorbell again before checking the time on my phone. Stifling a yawn, I rise on my toes and try to peek inside the glass sidelights of his front door. Knowing Nick, he probably got sidetracked or ran out for burritos and got caught up in conversation with someone he knows.
Then again … he was pretty insistent about talking to me in person at three o’clock about this “major” thing. I can’t imagine he’d space this off.
All night, I tossed and turned, trying to wrap my head around what this could possibly be, how I could know someone for so long and fail miserably trying to get a read on them.
Growing up, Nick lived next door, and the two of us were inseparable from the day he first moved into the neighborhood and I found him by the creek trying to capture bullfrogs—which I promptly forced him to set free. By the end of the day, we both realized our bedroom windows aligned on the second floors of our houses, and by the end of the week, he gave me a walkie-talkie and told me I was his best friend.
When we were ten, he gave me a friendship necklace—like the kind girls usually give to other girls. He gave me the half that said “best” and wore the “friend” half but always tucked it under his shirt so no one would give him any shit—not that anyone would.
Everyone loved Nick.
It wasn’t until the summer after seventh grade that Nick hit a growth spurt and everything changed.
His voice got deeper.
His legs got longer.
Even his features became more chiseled and defined.
It was like he aged several years over the course of a couple of months, and I found myself looking at him in ways I never had before. And when I closed my eyes at night, I found myself thinking about what it’d be like if he kissed me.
Almost overnight, I’d gone from running next door with a messy ponytail to see if he wanted to ride bikes … to slicking on an extra coat of Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers and running a brush through my hair any time I knew I was going to see him.
Suddenly I couldn’t look at him without blushing.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who noticed Nick’s head-turning transformation.
Nick’s door swings open with a quick creak and I don’t have time to realize what’s happening before he sweeps me into his arms and swings me around the front porch of his rented bungalow.
“Melly!” He buries his face into my shoulder, squeezing me so hard I can’t breathe, nearly suffocating the swarm of butterflies in my middle.
I breathe in that perpetual Nick scent, the one that always feels like home. Like the faintest hint of bar smoke and cheap fabric softener and Irish Spring soap.
Growing up in Brentwood, the son of a successful screenwriter and composer, Nick could’ve had it all—materially and professionally. His parents had connections that would put Steven Spielberg to shame.
But all he ever wanted was to be a regular guy who got by on merit, and I adored that about him.
“Look at you,” he says when he puts me down. His hands are threaded in mine as his ocean gaze scans me from head to toe. “I haven’t seen you in months.”
Three months, two weeks, and five days—but who’s counting?
The last time we hung out was on my birthday, and there were so many people at the bar, I barely had a chance to say more than two sentences to him all night. We’d made plans to get together the following weekend, but his band booked a gig in Vegas and I was leaving to film a Lifetime movie in Vancouver the day before he was coming back.
Life’s been consistent that way, always pulling us in separate directions at the most inconvenient of times.
“You find the place all right?” he asks as he leads me inside. The scent of Windex and clean laundry fills my lungs, and a folded blanket rests over the back of a leather chair in the living room.
I chuckle at the thought of Nick tidying up before I got here. He was always a slob growing up. Case in point? One year I tripped over a pair of his Chucks as I entered his bedroom and almost knocked my front teeth out on a messy stack of vinyl records. His empty guitar case caught my fall, but the next day he bought a shoe organizer.
“I did,” I say, glancing around his new digs. Last time I saw him, he was living in some apartment with four roommates in Toluca Lake. The time before that he was shacking up with a fuck buddy-slash-Instagram model named Kadence St. Kilda, but that was short-lived because the girl ultimately wanted exclusivity, and that’s something Nick’s never been able to offer anyone—that I know of. “When did you move here?”
“Last month,” he says. “I’m subletting from my drummer’s cousin.”
The sound of pots and pans clinking in the kitchen tells me we’re not alone, but I’m not surprised. Nick has always had roommates. He’s painfully extroverted. Guy can’t stand to be alone for more than five minutes but not in the clingy, obnoxious sort of way. More in the charismatic, life-of-the-party, always-down-for-a-good-time sort of way.
I follow Nick to the living room, and he points to the middle cushion of a cognac leather sofa before slicking his palms together and pacing the small space.
“Nick.” I laugh. “You’re acting like a crazy person … you know that, right?”
His ocean gaze lands on mine and he stops pacing for a moment. “I’m so fucking nervous.”
“You don’t have to be nervous around me. Ever.”
“This is different.” He stops pacing for a second. “This is something I’ve never told you before.”
My heart flutters, and some long-buried hope makes its way out in the form of a smile on my face, but I bite it away.
I’d never admit this out loud, but last night a very real part of me believed this entire thing centered around Nick wanting to tell me he has feelings for me, that he wants to date me.
The idea is absurd, I know.
Things like this don’t happen out of nowhere.
I’m not naïve and I’m not an idiot. I know the odds of my best friend going months without seeing me and suddenly professing his love for me are slim to none, but I’ve tried to come up with alternate theories, and none of them made sense because Nick’s never been nervous around me for any reason.
What else could possibly make him nervous around me other than a heartfelt confession?
Crossing my legs and sitting up straight, I say, “Come on. Spit it out. I don’t have all day.”
He cups his hands over his nose and mouth, releasing a hard breath, and when he lets them fall, I find the dopiest grin on his face.
His eyes water like a teenage girl with a backstage pass to a Harry Styles concert.
Nick tries to speak but he can’t.
Oh my god.
He’s doing it.
He’s actually telling me he likes me …
“Melrose,” he says, pulling in a hard breath before dropping to his knees in front of me. He takes my hands in his, and I swear my vision fades out for a second. “You know when we were kids and we used to tell each other everything?”
“There was something I never told you,” he says, eyes locked with mine. “I guess … I guess I was afraid to say it out loud. I was afraid this thing I wanted so bad, this thing I wanted more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life, wasn’t going to come true. And I thought that by admitting it, I was only going to jinx myself. So I kept it to myself, but I can’t anymore. It’s too big. It’s eating away at me and it has been for years. But it’s time. I have to tell you.”
Nick never rambles.
His trembling hands squeeze mine and then he rises, taking the spot on the couch beside me. Cupping my face in his hands, he offers a tepid smile that’s soon eaten away by his own anxiety. “This is insane, Melrose. I can’t believe I’m about to tell you this.”
My mouth parts and I’m milliseconds from blurting out something along the lines of “I’ve liked you since we were kids, too …” but I bite my tongue and let him go first.
“You know how I have my band, right?” he asks, referring to Melrose Nights, the band he founded in high school and named after me.
I nod, heart sinking. No … plummeting.
“What about it?” I ask, blinking away the embarrassed burn in my eyes.
“My dream, Mel, was always to hit it big,” he said. “Like, commercially big.”
My brows lift. This is news to me.
He was always about the indie scene, always so against the big music corporations that controlled every song the American people were played on the radio.
“Really?” I tuck my chin against my chest. “Because you always said—”
“I know what I always said,” he cuts me off. “But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought … I just want my songs to be in the ears of as many people as possible. And it’s not even about becoming famous or having money, you know I’m not about any of that. I just want people to know my songs. That’s all.”
I swallow the lump in my throat and glance toward a wood-burning fireplace in the corner where a crushed, empty can of Old Milwaukee—Nick’s signature beverage of choice—rests on the mantel next to what appears to be a crumpled lace bra.
Guess he forgot a few things when he was straightening up …
“Okay, so what are you trying to tell me?” I ask, squinting.
“We got signed …” his mouth pulled so wide, he looks like a bona fide crazy person right now, “… and not only that, but we’re going on tour with Maroon 5.”
I try not to let my rampant disbelief show on my face, but something tells me I’m failing miserably. He reads my expression, searching my eyes, and his silly grin fades.
“You hate Maroon 5,” I say.
“I used to hate Maroon 5,” he corrects me. “Anyway, the act they had fell through last minute, so they got us. We leave next week.”
“Next week? For how long?”
“Six months.” His callused hands smack together. “Six months on the road with one of the biggest music acts in North America.”
He says that last part out loud, like he’s still in disbelief over this entire thing.
Which makes two of us.
“Wow, Nick … that’s … this is huge. You were right. This is some big news,” I say. Everything is sinking. My voice. My heart. My hope. “I’m so happy for you.”
I throw my arms around him, inhale his musky scent, and squeeze him tight. There’s a pang in my chest, a tightness in my middle, like that indescribable sensation that washes over you when you know something’s about to change and things will never be the same again.
But I meant what I said. I am happy for him. I had no idea this was what he wanted, but now that he’s shared this with me, I am thrilled for him. He’s my best friend, my oldest friend, and all I want is for him to be happy.
Plus, he deserves this.
Nick is insanely talented.
It all comes natural to him. Keeping it under wraps on some lowdown indie scene would be doing a disservice to the rest of the world.
“I get that this is huge, Nick, but I’m curious … why couldn’t you tell me this over the phone?” I ask. “Why’d you make me drive all the way out here just so you could tell me in person?”
Nick leans back, studying my face as he rakes his palm along his five o’clock shadow. “Because I have a favor to ask you …”
Lifting one brow, I study him right back. He’s never asked me a single favor as long as I’ve known him (excluding those times he wanted me to talk to girls for him in middle school or steal him an extra Italian Ice at lunch).
“See, I’m taking over this guy’s lease,” he says. “I pay fifteen hundred a month for my half of the rent. Plus utilities. You know what a cheap bastard I am, right? I just don’t want to throw that money away over the next several months, and I don’t want to stick Sutter with my half of the rent and everything because that’s just shitty.”
“Sutter?” I ask.
“Sutter Alcott. My roommate,” he says. “Cool guy. Electrician. Owns his own company. You’ll like him. Anyway, I know you’re living in your Gram’s guesthouse, but you’re the only person I know who’s not locked under a lease, so I thought mayyyyybe you might want to help me out for a few months? As a favor? And in return, I’ll … I don’t know. I’ll do something for you. What do you want? You want a backstage pass to a Maroon 5 concert? You want to meet Adam?”
“You’re already on a first name basis with Adam Levine?” I ask, head cocked.
Nick smirks. “Not yet. But I will be.”
“I don’t know …” I pull in a long, slow breath. “What about Murphy?”
“We’ve got a fenced-in yard,” he says, pointing toward the back of the house. “He’ll love it here.”
“What about your roommate? Would he be cool living with a stranger?” I ask.
“And you’re sure he’s not a serial killer?” I keep my voice low, leaning in.
Nick chokes on his spit. “Uh, yeah, no. He’s not a serial killer. Lady killer? Sure. Serial killer? No way.”
Our eyes hold and I silently straddle the line between staying put and saying yes to this little favor.
My cousin-slash-roommate, Maritza, recently moved out and got a place with her boyfriend, Isaiah, so it’s just Murphy and I in the guesthouse now. It gets quiet sometimes. Lonely too. And Gram’s on this travel-the-world kick lately. One week she’s home, the next week she’s in Bali for twelve days with her best friend Constance or one of the Kennedys.
A change of scenery might be nice …
“I’ll do anything, Mel. Anything.” He clasps his hands together and sticks out his bottom lip, brows raised.
“Begging’s not a good look for you. FYI,” I say.
“Okay, then what’s it going to take for you to say yes?” His hands drop to his lap.
I try to speak, but I don’t know what to say.
“See,” Nick says. “You don’t even have a good reason to turn me down.”
I can’t blame it on the location because it isn’t out of the way. I can’t blame it on my dog. I can’t blame it on a lease. I can’t blame it on money because fifteen hundred a month is exactly what Gram charges me for rent, because free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.
But aside from all of that, I know Nick would do this for me if I ever needed him to.
Shrugging, I look him in the eyes and smile. “Fine.”
A second later, I’m captured in his embrace and he’s squeezing me and bouncing like a hyper child. With one word, I’ve unearthed a side of Nick I never knew existed.
“I freaking love you, Mel,” he says, hugging me tighter. “I love you so much.”
I expected to hear those words today … just didn’t think I’d hear them in this context.
Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.
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Looks aren’t everything.
It’s true. I’m not what most people would call “pretty” and, well, high school was rough. Fast forward ten years and life is good…
Until a bunch of jerks think it’s hilarious to put the “butterface” (AKA me) on a wedding Kiss Cam with the hottest guy ever—and that old humiliation hits hard.
I recognize him immediately. The hottest cop in Waterbury and totally out of my league.
But then he kisses me.
And we totally forget the room, the crowd, everything.
Then he tells everyone we’ve been dating for months.
Soon everything starts to feel too real, from adorable fights over “necessary” tools to fix my broken porch to surviving a free-for-all dinner with his six siblings to picking up where our last kiss left off.
But there’s something he’s not telling me about why he’s really hanging around, and I’m pretty sure it has to do with my mob-connected brothers.
Because this is not a makeover story, and Cinderella is only a fairy tale…
Pre-order your copy today!
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USA Today bestselling romance author Avery Flynn has three slightly-wild children, loves a hockey-addicted husband and is desperately hoping someone invents the coffee IV drip.
She fell in love with romance while reading Johanna Lindsey’s Mallory books. It wasn’t long before Avery had read through all the romance offerings at her local library. Needing a romance fix, she turned to Harlequin’s four books a month home delivery service to ease the withdrawal symptoms. That worked for a short time, but it wasn’t long before the local book stores’ staffs knew her by name.
Avery was a reader before she was a writer and hopes to always be both. She loves to write about smartass alpha heroes who are as good with a quip as they are with their *ahem* other God-given talents. Her heroines are feisty, fierce and fantastic. Brainy and brave, these ladies know how to stand on their own two feet and knock the bad guys off theirs.
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Fixed Forever (Fixed book #5) by Laurelin Paige
Chapter 1 Reveal: June 4th, 2018
Release Date: June 25th 2018
PREORDER FIXED FOREVER TODAY!
Amazon → https://laurl.in/FixedForever-Amazon
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You act so high and mighty, you and your perfect pregnant wife Alayna. With your perfect child and your perfect home.
You weren’t always perfect. Your past is filled with misdeeds.
Does your wife know all your secrets?
Would she stand behind you if she did?
You think because she’s on bedrest you can protect her? How sweet.
Sleep tight, you two.
-An Old Friend.
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With over 1 million books sold, Laurelin Paige is the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Fixed Trilogy. She’s a sucker for a good romance and gets giddy anytime there’s kissing, much to the embarrassment of her three daughters. Her husband doesn’t seem to complain, however. When she isn’t reading or writing sexy stories, she’s probably singing, watching Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead, or dreaming of Michael Fassbender. She’s also a proud member of Mensa International though she doesn’t do anything with the organization except use it as material for her bio.
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Eight months ago, you were just a soldier about to be deployed and I was just a waitress, sneaking you free pancakes and hoping you wouldn’t notice that my gaze was lingering a little too long.
But you did notice.
We spent a “week of Saturdays” together before you left, and we said goodbye on day eight, exchanging addresses at the last minute.
I saved every letter you ever sent, your words quickly becoming my religion.
But you went radio silent on me months ago, and then you had the audacity to walk into my diner yesterday and act like you’d never seen me in your life.
To think … I almost loved you and your beautifully complicated soul.
Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.
Maritza the Waitress
PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.
“Welcome to Brentwood Pancake and Coffee. I’m Maritza and I’ll be your server,” I greet my millionth customer of the morning with the same old spiel. This one, a raven-haired, honey-eyed Adonis, waited over seventy minutes for a table by a window, though I suppose in LA time that’s the blink of an eye.
He doesn’t so much as acknowledge me.
“Just you today?” I ask, eyeing the empty chair across from him. The breakfast rush is about to end, and lucky for him, I only have one other table right now.
He doesn’t answer, but maybe he doesn’t hear me?
“Coffee?” I ask another obvious question. I mean, the diner is called Brentwood Pancake and Coffee for crying out loud. Everyone comes here for the coffee and plate-sized pancakes, and it’s considered a Class-D felony to order anything else.
Placing his mug right side up on his saucer, he pushes it toward me and I begin to pour. Waving his hand, he stops me when the cup is three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he adds two creams and one half of a sugar packet, but the way he moves is methodical, rigid. With intention.
“Ma’am, this really can’t be that interesting,” he says under his breath, his spoon clinking against the sides of the porcelain mug after he stirs.
“You’re standing here watching me,” he says. Giving the spoon two final taps against the rim of the mug, he then rests it on the saucer before settling his intense amber gaze in my direction. “Isn’t there another table that needs you?”
His eyes are warm like honey but his stare is cold, piercing. Unrelenting.
“You’re right. There is.” I clear my throat and snap out of it. If I was lingering, it wasn’t my intention, but this I’m-sexy-and-I-know-it asshole didn’t need to call me out on it. Sue me for being a little distracted. “I’ll be back to check on you in a minute, okay?”
With that, I leave him alone with his menu and his coffee and his foul mood and his brooding gaze … and his broad shoulders … and his full lips … and I get back to work, stopping at table four to see if Mr. and Mrs. Carnavale need refills on their house blend decafs.
By the time I top them off, I draw in a cleansing breath and head back to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Douche-y, forcing a smile on my face.
“We ready to order?” I ask, pulling my pen from behind my ear and my notepad from my Kelly-green apron.
He folds his menu, offering it to me despite the fact that my hands are full, but I manage to slip it under my arm without dropping anything.
“Two pancakes,” he says. “Eggs. Scrambled. Rye toast. Butter. Not margarine.”
“I’m so sorry.” I point to a sign above the cash register that clearly reads ONE PANCAKE PER PATRON – NO EXCEPTIONS.
He squints, his expression calcifying when he reads it.
“So that’s one pancake, scrambled eggs, and buttered rye toast then,” I recite his order.
“What kind of bullshit rule is that?” He checks his watch, like he has somewhere to be.
Or like he doesn’t have the time for a rule that I entirely agree is pure bullshit.
“These pancakes are huge. I promise one will be more than enough.” I try to deescalate the situation before it gets out of hand because it’s never pretty when management has to get involved. The owners of the diner are strict as hell on this policy and their day shift manager is even more so. She’ll happily inform any and all disgruntled customers there’s a reason the “pancake” in Brentwood Pancake and Coffee is singular and not plural.
I’ve seen many a diner walk out of here and never return over this stupid policy and our Yelp review average is in the dumps, but somehow it never seems to be bad for business. The line is perpetually out the door and down the block every weekend morning without fail, and sometimes even on weekdays. These pancakes are admittedly as delicious and more than own up to their reputation, but that stupid rule is nothing more than clever marketing designed to inflate demand.
“And what if I’m still hungry?” he asks. “Can I order a second?”
Wincing, I shake my head.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” He sits up a little, jaw clenching. “It’s a goddamned pancake for fuck’s sake.”
“Not just any pancake,” I say with a practiced smile. “It’s a Brentwood pancake.”
“Are you trying to be cute with me, ma’am?” he asks, directing his attention at me, though he isn’t flirting. His nostrils flare a little and I can’t help but let my mind wander the tiniest bit about how sexy he looks when he’s angry—despite the fact that I would never so much as entertain the idea of getting down and dirty with an asshole like this.
He’s hot AF but I don’t do jerks. Plain and simple.
I’d have to be drunk. Like, really drunk. And I’d have to be desperate. And even then … I don’t know. He’s got some kind of chip on his shoulder, and no amount of sexiness would be able to distract me from that.
“Let me put your order in, okay?” I ask with a smile so forced my cheeks hurt. They say good moods are contagious, but I’m starting to think this guy might be immune.
“As long as it’s the full order, ma’am,” he says, lips pressing flat as he exhales. I don’t know why he keeps calling me “ma’am” when I’m clearly younger than he is. Hell, I couldn’t legally drink until three years ago.
I am not a “ma’am.”
“The cook won’t make two,” I say with an apologetic tone before biting my bottom lip. If I play it coy and helpless maybe he’ll back down a little? It works. Sometimes.
“Then it’s for my guest,” he points to the empty seat across from him. His opposite hand is balled into a fist, and I can’t help but notice his watch is programmed in military time, “who happens to be showing up later.”
“We don’t serve guests until they’re physically here,” I say. Yet another one of the restaurant’s strict policies. Too many patrons have tried to use that loophole over the years, so they had to close it. But they didn’t just close it—they battened the hatches with hurricane-proof glass by way of a giant security monitor in the kitchen. They even make the cooks check the screen before preparing orders, just to make sure no one’s breaking the rules.
The man drags his hand through his dark hair, which I’m realizing now is a “regulation cut.”
I bet he’s military.
Has to be. The hair. The watch. The constant swearing juxtaposed with the overuse of the word “ma’am.” He reminds me of my cousin Eli who spent ten years in the U.S. army, and if he’s anything else like Eli, he’s not going to let up about this.
Exhaling, I place my palm gently on his shoulder despite the fact that we’re not supposed to put hands on the guests for any reason, but this guy is tense and his muscled shoulders are just begging for a gentle touch.
“Just … bear with me, okay?” I ask. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The man serves our country. He fights for our freedom. Despite the fact that he’s unquestionably a giant asshole, he at least deserves a second pancake.
I’m going to have to get creative.
Heading back to the kitchen, I put his order in and check on the Carnavales one more time. On my way to the galley to refill my coffee pot, I pass a table full of screaming children, one of which has just shoved his giant pancake on the floor, much to his gasping mother’s dismay.
Bending, I retrieve the sticky circle from the floor and place it back on his plate.
“Would you like the kitchen to fix another?” I ask. They’re lucky. This is the only time they’ll make an exception, and I’ll have to present the dirty pancake as proof.
The child screams and I can barely hear what the mother is trying to say. Glancing around the table, I spot five little minions under the age of eight, all of them dressed in Burberry, Gucci, and Dior. The inflated-lipped mother sports a shimmering, oversized rock on her left ring finger and the father has his nose buried in his phone.
But I’m not one to judge.
LA is lacking child-friendly restaurants of the quality variety, and it’s not like Mr. Chow or The Ivy would welcome their noisy litter with open arms. I don’t even think they have high chairs there.
“I don’t want a pancake!” The oldest of the tanned, flaxen-haired gremlins screams in his mother’s face, turning her flawless complexion a shade of crimson that almost matches her pristine Birkin bag.
“Just … just take it away,” she says, flustered, her palm sprawling her glassy, Botoxed forehead.
Nodding, I take the ‘cake back to the kitchen, only I stop when I reach the galley, grabbing a stack of cloth napkins and hiding the plate beneath it. As soon as my military patron finishes his first pancake, I’ll run this back to the kitchen and claim he accidentally dropped it on the floor.
“Order up!” one of the line guys calls from the window, and I head over to see my military man’s breakfast is hot and ready—though I may have accidentally moved it to the front of the ticket line when no one was looking because I don’t have the energy to deal with him freaking out if his breakfast is taking too long.
Grabbing his plate, I rush it out to him, delivering it with a smile and a sweet, “Can I get you anything else right now?”
His gaze drops to his food and then lifts to me.
“I know,” I say, palm up. “Just … trust me. I’ll take care of you.”
I wink, partially disgusted with myself. He has no idea how difficult it is for me to be accommodating to him when he’s treating me like this. I’d love nothing more than to pour a steaming hot pitcher of coffee into his lap, but out of respect and appreciation—and only respect and appreciation—for his service, I won’t resort to such a thing.
Plus, I work for tips. I kind of have to be accommodating. And lord knows I need this job. I may be living in my grandmother’s gorgeous guesthouse, but believe me, she charges rent.
Free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.
He peers down his straight nose, stabbing the tines of his polished fork into a chunk of fluffy scrambled egg.
He doesn’t say thank you—not surprising—and I tell him I’ll be back to check on him in a little while before making my way to the galley where another server, Rachael, is also seeking respite.
“That table with the screaming kids,” I ask, “that yours?”
She blows her blonde bangs off her forehead and rolls her eyes. “Yup.”
“Better you than me,” I tease. Rachael’s got three of her own at home. She’s good with kids and she always seems to know the right thing to say to distract them or thwart a total meltdown.
“I’ll trade you,” she says. “The family for the dimples at table four.”
“He has dimples?” I peek my head out, staring toward my military man.
“Oh, God, yes,” she says. “Deep ones. Killer smile, too. Thought maybe he was some model or actor or something, but he said he was an army corporal.”
“We can’t be talking about the same guy. He hasn’t so much as half-smiled at me and he’s already told you what he does for a living?”
“Huh.” Rachael lifts a thin red brow, like she’s wondering if we’re talking about two different people. “He asked me how I was doing earlier and smiled. Thought he was real friendly.”
“That one. Right there. Dark hair? Golden eyes? Muscles bulging out of his gray t-shirt?” I do a quick point before retracting my finger.
She takes another look. “Yeah. That’s him. You don’t forget a face like that. Or biceps like that …”
“Weird.” I fold my arms, staring his way and wondering if maybe he has a thing against girls like me. Though I’m pretty ordinary compared to most girls out here. Average height. Average weight. Brown hair. Brown eyes.
Maybe I remind him of an ex?
I’m mid-thought when out of nowhere he turns around, our eyes catching like he knew I was watching. Reaching for a hand towel in front of me, I glance down and try to act busy by wiping up a melted ice cube on the galley counter.
“Busted.” Rachael elbows me before heading out to check on the Designer family. I swat her on the arm as she passes, and then I give myself a second to regain my composure. As soon as the warmth has left my cheeks, I head out to check on him, relieved to find his pancake demolished, not a single, spongey scrap left behind. In fact, his entire meal is finished … coffee and all.
Reaching for his plate, he stops me, his hand covering mine, and then our eyes lock.
“Why were you staring at me over there?” he asks. The way he looks at me is equal parts invasive and intriguing, like he’s studying me, forming a hard and fast opinion, but also like he’s checking me out which makes zero sense because his annoyance with me practically oozes out of his perfect, tawny physique.
“I’m sorry?” I play dumb.
“I saw you. Answer the question.”
Oh, god. He’s not going to let this go. Something tells me I should’ve taken Rachael up on her offer to trade tables. This one’s been nothing but trouble since the moment I poured his coffee.
My mouth falls and I’m not sure what to say. Half of me knows I should probably utter some kind of nonsense most likely to appease him so he doesn’t complain to my manager, but the other half of me is tired of being nice to a man who has the decency to ask another waitress how her day is going and can’t even bring himself to treat his own server like a human being.
“You were talking about me with that other waitress,” he says. His hand still covers mine, preventing me from exiting this conversation.
Exhaling, I say, “She wanted to trade tables.”
His dark brow arches and he studies my face.
“And then she said you had dimples,” I expand. “She said you smiled at her earlier … I was just thinking about why you’d be so polite to her and not me.”
He releases me and I stand up straight, tugging my apron into place before smoothing my hands down the front.
“She handed me a newspaper while I waited. She didn’t have to do that,” he says, lips pressing flat. “Give me something to smile about and I’ll smile at you.”
The audacity of this man.
The heat in my ears and the clench in my jaw tells me I should walk away now if I want to preserve my esteemed position as morning server here at Brentwood Pancake and Coffee, but it’s guys like him …
I try to say something, but all the thoughts in my head are temporarily nonsensical and flavored with a hint of rage. A second later, I manage a simple yet gritted, “Would you like me to grab your check, sir?”
“No,” he says without pause. “I’m not finished with my breakfast yet.”
We both glance at his empty plates.
“More eggs?” I ask.
I can’t believe I’m about to do this for him, but at this point, the sooner I get him out of here, the better. I mean, at this point I’m doing it for myself, let’s be real.
“One moment.” I take his empty dishes to the kitchen before sneaking into the galley and grabbing that kid’s dirty pancake. My pulse whooshes in my ears and my body is lit, but I forge ahead, returning to the pick-up window and telling one of the cooks that my customer at table twelve dropped his ‘cake on the floor.
He glances at the plate, then to the security monitor, then back to me before taking it out of my hands and exchanging it for a fresh one. It’s a verifiable assembly line back there, just a bunch of guys in hairnets and aprons standing around a twenty-foot griddle, spatulas in each hand.
“Thanks, Brad,” I say. Making my way back to my guy, I stop to check on the Carnavales, only their table is already being bussed and Rachael tells me she took care of their check because they were in a hurry.
“Here you are.” I place the plate in front of my guy.
He glances up at me, honeyed eyes squinting for a moment. I wink, praying he doesn’t ask questions.
“Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” I ask, wishing I could add, “just don’t ask for another pancake because I’ll be damned if I risk my job for an ingrate like you ever again.”
“Coffee, ma’am. I’d like another cup of coffee.” He reaches for his glass syrup carafe, pouring sticky sweet, imported-from-Vermont goodness all over his steaming pancake, and I try not to watch as he forms an “x” and then a circle.
Striding away, I grab a fresh carafe of coffee and return to top him off, stopping at three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he glances up at me, his full lips pulling up at the sides, revealing the most perfect pair of dimples I’ve ever seen … as if the past twenty minutes have all been some kind of joke and he was only busting my chops by being the world’s biggest douche lord.
But just like that, it disappears.
His pearly, dimpled smirk is gone before I get the chance to fully appreciate how kind of a soul he appears to be when he’s not all tense and surly.
“Glad I finally gave you a reason to smile.” I’m teasing. Sort of. And I gently rub his shoulder, which is still tight as hell. “Anything else I can get you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take my check.”
I can’t get it fast enough. Within a minute, I’ve punched my staff ID into the system, printed his ticket, shoved it into a check presenter, and rushed it to his table. His debit card rests on the edge when I arrive, as if I’d taken too long and he grew tired of holding it in his hand.
He’s just as anxious to leave as I am to get him out of here. Guess that marks the one and only thing that puts us on the same page.
“I’ll be right back with this,” I tell him. His card—plain navy plastic with the VISA logo in the lower corner and NAVY ARMY CREDIT UNION along the top—bears the name “Isaiah Torres.”
When I return, I hand him a neon purple gel pen from my pocket and gather his empty dishes.
“Thank you for the …” he points at the sticky plate in my hand as he signs his check. “For that.”
“Of course,” I say, avoiding eye contact because the sooner I can pretend he’s already gone, the better. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Glancing up, I spot our hostess, Maddie, flagging me down and mouthing that I have three new tables. Great. Thanks to this charmer, I’ve disappointed the Carnavales, risked my job, and kept several tables waiting all within the span of a half hour.
Isaiah signs his check, closes the leather binder, and slides out of his booth. When he stands, he towers over me, peering down his nose and holding my gaze captive for what feels like a single, endless second.
For a moment, I’m so blinded by his chiseled jaw and full lips, that my heart misses a couple of beats and I almost forget our little exchange.
“Ma’am, if you’ll kindly excuse me,” he says as I realize I’m blocking his path.
I step aside, and as he passes, his arm brushes against mine and the scent of fresh soap and spicy aftershave fills my lungs. Shoving the check presenter in my apron, I tend to my new tables before rushing back to start filling drinks.
Glancing toward the exit, I catch him stopping in the doorway before slowly turning to steal one last look at me for reasons I’ll never know, and it isn’t until an hour later that I finally get a chance to check his ticket. Maybe I’d been dreading it, maybe I’d purposely placed it in the back of my mind, knowing full well he was going to leave me some lousy, slap-in-the-face tip after everything I’d done for him. Or worse: nothing at all.
But I stand corrected.
“Maritza, what is it?” Rachael asks, stopping short in front of me, hands full of strategically stacked dirty dishes.
I shake my head. “That guy … he left me a hundred-dollar tip.”
Her nose wrinkles. “What? Let me see. Maybe it’s a typo?”
I show her the tab and the very clearly one and two zeroes on the tip line. The total confirms that the tip was no typo.
“I don’t understand. He was such an ass,” I say under my breath. “This is like, what, five hundred percent?”
“Maybe he grew a conscience at the last minute?” Her lips jut forward.
I roll my eyes. “Whatever it was, I just hope he never comes here again. And if he does, you get him. There isn’t enough tip money in the world that would make me want to serve that arrogant prick again. I don’t care how hot he is.”
“Gladly.” Her mouth pulls wide. “I have this thing for generous pricks with dashing good looks.”
“I know,” I say. “I met your last two exes.”
Rachael sticks her tongue out before prancing off, and I steal one last look at Isaiah’s tip. It’s not like he’s the first person ever to bestow me with such plentiful gratuity—this is a city where cash basically grows on trees—it’s just that it doesn’t make sense and I’ll probably never get a chance to ask him why.
Exhaling, I get back to work.
I’ve worked way too damn hard to un-complicate my life lately, and I’m not about to waste another thought on some complicated man I’m never going to see ever again.
Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.
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