New York Times bestselling author Jaci Burton kicks off a dreamy new series with a sweep-you-off-your-feet friends-to-lovers romance.
Three days before Erin Bellini’s wedding, her fiancé breaks up with her–in an email! Hurt and embarrassed, she decides to have a fling with veterinarian Jason Callum, who’s both the best man and the hottest guy she knows. But Jason wants a lot more than just a one-night stand with the woman he’s cared about for years. So he’s taking things slow. And hot. And showing Erin what real love can look like.
Suddenly Erin finds herself spending a lot more time with Jason than she intended. Feelings she never planned on having again are wrapping around her heart, refusing to let go. Erin isn’t sure she can trust her instincts, though. After all, she made a terrible choice with her ex-fiancé. But Jason intends to convince her that he’s the best man for her, and that what they have together is a real love that will last forever.
Erin Bellini shouted out from her office at Red Moss Vineyards.
“Mom. Have you talked to the caterers?”
Her mother didn’t respond right away. It was her most annoying quality. While she waited, Erin jotted down several things she needed to remind her bridesmaids about. Her two sisters were onsite so she had them covered, but she made a note in her planner for the rest of the bridesmaids.
Erin’s mother, Maureen, made an appearance in Erin’s office. “You don’t need to yell at me, Erin. You could have just sent me a text. And yes, caterers are confirmed. Which I already told you this morning.”
“Right. You did. For some reason I hadn’t checked it off the list. Sorry.” She typed an X in the spreadsheet on her laptop as well as marking it off on the page in her planner. She looked up at her mother. “And my dress is back from alterations, right?”
“It’s in your closet.” Her mom made that face, the one where her lips went straight and her eyes narrowed and you knew you were being scrutinized. “You’re not getting nervous, are you?”
Erin smiled and took in a deep breath to center herself. “I never get nervous. Because I have everything organized. In my planner. In my spreadsheet. In the notes on my phone.”
Her mother smiled. “Right. Yes, well that’s you, honey. I’m going out to the vineyards to check on your dad. Call if you need me.”
She should call Owen, her fiancé, to make sure he remembered he had to pick up the tuxes. Or maybe she should call Jason, Owen’s best friend and the best man. Owen was always scattered and busy and he’d likely forget. Thankfully he had her to organize everything for him.
She picked up her phone and found Jason, then pressed the call button.
“Busy here, Erin.”
She shook her head at Jason’s gruff brush-off. They’d grown up together, had known each other forever. “I need you to pick up the tuxes.”
“The tuxes, Jason.”
“I’m knee-deep in cow shit right now, Erin. You don’t mean now, do you?”
“No. I mean tomorrow.” She heard mooing. “You delivering babies?”
“Oh. Cool.” Jason was a large animal vet, so he was always on the run. He was part of a practice in town, but he also worked the local ranches.
She was scrolling through her e-mails when she saw one from Owen. Huh. That was odd. Owen never e-mailed her. He either called or texted. She frowned and clicked on it.
“I thought Owen was doing the tux thing,” Jason said.
“Owen is likely up to his elbows in hops or wheat or whatever it is that brewers do. Or he’s making sure the brewery won’t go up in flames without him when we’re on our honeymoon. You know how he is.”
“Fine. I’ll handle it. Anything else?”
“Yeah.” She was trying to concentrate on Owen’s e-mail and forgot she was on the phone with Jason.
“Erin. Anything else?”
Her blood went cold. Everything in her went cold, despite the warm May day.
She read the e-mail again. It was a breakup e-mail. Two days before the wedding, and Owen was breaking up with her.
“In a freaking e-mail? He’s breaking up with me in an e-mail?”
“Who’s breaking up with you?” Jason asked. “Owen is?”
She was getting married in two days. Correction. Apparently she was not getting married, because exactly two days before their wedding Owen had broken up with her. Via e-mail.
She felt dizzy and sick to her stomach. She leaned over and put her head between her legs.
“Erin. Are you there?”
“Did you know about this?” she asked, trying not to faint or throw up.
“Hell no, I didn’t know. Did he call you?”
Erin straightened, the dizziness making her feel as if she’d just downed a bottle of Bellini’s best prosecco in one gulp.
Two days. They were getting married in two days. This had to be a mistake. But as she looked at the e-mail again, the word “mistake” was written in the same sentence as the words, “us getting married.”
“Ahhhhhhhhh!” she screamed, long and loud, then yelled, “That sonofabitch. I will kill him. He broke up with me in an e-mail, Jason.”
“He didn’t,” Jason said. “Are you sure?”
She straightened, shoving her laptop as if somehow that was the same thing as slapping Owen. “Oh, he did. And I’m sure. I can read a damn e-mail, Jason. I gotta go.” She ended the call and stared at her lists, tears pricking her eyes as the future she’d envisioned with Owen dissolved right in front of her.
All because of an e-mail. An e-mail! How could he be so cold?
“I will kill him. I. Will. Kill. Him.”
She was breathing too fast and she knew it. She was going to hyperventilate if she didn’t calm down. She pushed herself out of her chair and forced herself to pace the floor of her office, centering her breathing, holding the tears back, resisting the urge to crumple on the floor and sob like a baby.
How could he do this to her? To them? They were perfect together.
Oh, no. She would not cry. Not over him.
Want to read the entire first chapter?
Then click HERE!
He’s also a pro athlete who needs to focus on winning games and staying out of the headlines.
I’m fiercely independent and need a man like I need a second period each month.
So when our worlds collide, I never expected him to be the one to jump in and save me. Especially not when my ex-roommate disappears, leaving me with her baby.
I’m clueless about babies—and it shows. Good thing Alexei isn’t. With six nieces and nephews and an apparent hero complex, the dude is both sexy and more than capable. It’s a combination that makes it easy to forget we’re just playing house.
She’s petite yet curvy with a nice ass and beautiful tits. But that’s not the first thing I notice about her.
The first thing that strikes me is that her coat isn’t warm enough for a Chicago winter.
It’s dark out, and barely above freezing. She’s standing on a street corner discussing something with a man in hushed tones, waving her hands dramatically as she speaks. It’s nearly midnight, and the street is almost deserted.
She has long dark hair, a trim build, and a full pouty mouth. And she seems to be pissed off. Curious about her, I stalk closer and then slow my pace.
“Fine. Tell me what it’ll take, sweetheart,” the guy says to her.
She stiffens and puts one hand on her hip. “I’m not for sale, asshole. I did my job, but that’s it. When you step outside those doors, the fantasy ends.”
They’re standing outside a dingy club, the kind of place that smells of rancid smoke, cheap beer, and meaningless sex. I should know. I’ve been here once or twice for bachelor parties and those kinds of things. My friends would call it a titty bar. But my friends are mostly pro football players, and their manners leave a lot to be desired.
The place isn’t really a strip club, more like a topless bar where beautiful women serve drinks in their underwear. It all seemed innocent enough, until now . . . until a sinking feeling washes over me as I watch this woman get propositioned in the street as she’s trying to leave work.
The guy laughs, the sound abrasive, like he doesn’t believe her. “Three hundred bucks. Come on, baby. It’ll be fast.”
She chews on one of those pouty lips as she weighs his words, contemplating what looks to be a life-changing decision . . . and not life-changing in a positive way.
Don’t do it, lady . . . just say no to what this asshole is offering you.
Part of me knows I need to mind my own damn business, that this guy just wants a quick fuck. Who am I to judge how this woman chooses to support herself? The other part of me—the fierce protector in me—says this is a situation that I can’t ignore. I won’t allow this asshole to force a woman to do something she’s not comfortable with.
I walk over, my legs moving of their own volition.
“Excuse me,” I say, interrupting them.
Her gaze swings over to mine, and the guy she’s with does a double-take. I tower over him by at least half a foot. Now that I have a better look at him, I see the guy is middle-aged, round in the midsection, his hair graying at his temples. I also know I can take him if it comes to that.
He shoots me a look that’s half pissed off that I interrupted his bargaining session, and half panicked that I may kick his ass. The latter is definitely what he should be more concerned about if he tries any shit. I may just decide to do it anyway, despite the fact I just promised my agent I’ll behave myself and not end up on any more tabloid news sites.
“The lady said to leave her alone. I suggest you get the fuck out of here.” I glare down at the guy.
His eyes narrow, but he takes a step back and holds up his palms. “Fine. Going.”
He takes off down the street and disappears around the corner, leaving me standing across from the woman. She’s probably no more than five foot three, a hundred twenty pounds soaking wet. No way she could have defended herself against someone his size. More importantly, she shouldn’t have to defend herself from that prick.
“Were you really going to go home with that guy?”
She shakes her head. “No. He didn’t want to take me home. Just wanted me to show him my boobs and have me give him a hand job in the back seat of his car. He may or may not have mentioned something about finishing himself off on my breasts too.”
I wait to see if she’s joking, but sadly, I can tell what she’s saying is the truth.
Then she looks at me, with the prettiest shade of blue eyes I’ve ever seen, and my heart almost stops. “For the record—guys are gross.”
I chuckle at her surprising honesty. “Not denying that.”
Men can be real creeps. I’ve seen the evening news. Sadly, there’s just no arguing against her logic. Some of us are still good guys, but I don’t say this to her. I just let her believe what she wants.
“I’m Alexei,” I say, offering her my hand.
For a second, she just looks at my hand, and I don’t think she’s going to take it. But then finally, after deciding that she can trust me, at least for something as simple as a handshake, she places her small palm in mine and shakes my hand. She’s freezing.
“I’m Ryleigh. Thanks for, um . . . saving me.”
I haven’t done anything yet. I wanted to punch that guy in the fucking jaw when I heard him propositioning her. Instead, I let him walk away unscathed. Lucky prick.
“Do you work here?” I lift my gaze to the neon sign blazing above our heads in the darkness. I scrub a hand over my face as I picture the petite woman standing before me scantily clad and serving drinks to a group of horny men with grabby hands and fat wallets.
“You a stripper, then?” I ask.
Ryleigh makes an annoyed sound in her throat. “It’s a topless bar. I’m not a stripper.”
I knew as much, but part of me didn’t want to admit I’ve been a customer at the place. It’s not exactly a classy establishment. “But you serve drinks in your underwear.”
“As I said, men are gross. Sadly, they also pay my bills.”
I chuckle, again surprised by her. “I’m not denying it. And not that you asked for it, but in my point of view, men are visual creatures. And women are beautiful. We enjoy seeing them any chance we can get.”
She merely rolls her eyes, clearly not buying my bullshit. “Listen, as nice as it is to freeze my lady balls off and stand out here talking to you, I need to find a way to get home.”
“Where’s your ride? I can wait with you.” The words just stumbling out of my mouth before I can think about it.
“My car’s in the shop, and my friend bailed on giving me a ride.”
I nod, processing everything. Something also tells me she needs that three hundred bucks the guy was offering her. I take a deep breath, weighing my options. It’s either go home alone to my $6 million penthouse and lie awake wondering if she’s okay . . . or drive her home myself and convince her to just take the money I have in my wallet. It’s not like I need it.
As tired as I was walking out of my dinner meeting with Slate, now I’m way too keyed up for sleep. It’s then that I realize going home alone would be pointless.
“Is that what you needed the money for? Your car?”
Her inquisitive blue gaze meets mine, and for a second, I think she’s going to deny that she needs the money. She’ll probably try to save face by telling me I read the situation wrong, and she was never actually entertaining that scumbag’s offer.
Instead, she surprises me for the third time in five minutes.
“No. Well, yes. But not tonight. My immediate concern is getting home and taking care of my roommate’s baby.”
“Baby?” I ask, lifting one eyebrow.
She nods, tucking a long strand of silky brown hair behind her ear. “My ex-roommate, actually. She, um, dropped off her baby a few days ago and left. I have no idea when she’s coming back. I need to pick up diapers, more clothes, and baby formula. All of that stuff costs money.” Ryleigh straightens, her posture stiffening, like she’s revealed too much. “You know what, don’t worry about it. I’ll figure it out. I always do.”
“Where’s the baby now?” It’s after midnight, after all. But no matter how late it is, I’m not letting her walk away just yet.
“My neighbor is babysitting her so I could work.”
Something inside me believes Ryleigh’s telling the truth. Even though the last thing I want to do tonight is deal with a sad woman who has what sounds like more drama than an episode of Law & Order, with an even more unusual twist of playing nanny for someone’s baby, I find myself gesturing toward my car. My black Mercedes is parked right across the street.
“I’ll take you.”
She narrows her eyes. “I don’t even know who you are. Why would I trust you?”
I don’t point out that she was just considering getting into the car of a complete stranger. Or that she was considering doing unsavory activities with said stranger. I could tell her it’s because I grew up with three sisters, and I have a big heart. I could tell her that I have six nieces and nephews, that I’m good with babies. I could even hand her my business card and tell her she could ruin me with one call to the media about how I tried to pick her up outside a nightclub. But I don’t say any of those things. Instead, I find myself wanting her to trust me on instinct alone.
I finally settle on, “Because I’m offering to help you. No strings.”
“No strings, as in I don’t have to show you my boobs?”
I almost choke on the laugh that crawls up my chest. “Only if you want to, but remember . . . we men are visual creatures.” I offer her my best playboy smirk, the one that usually makes women swoon, only to find it has no effect on Ryleigh.
Maybe it’s because she doesn’t know who I am, but she treats me differently than the women I usually meet, as if I’m a regular guy and not a famous millionaire sports star who easily melts women with simply a smile.
Ryleigh has no idea that I’m Alex Ivan, pro football player for the Chicago Hawks. She doesn’t swoon and bat her eyelashes or try to impress me. In fact, she doesn’t follow any of the normal protocols. Clearly, she’s not a gold digger, because if she were, she could talk me out of way more than three hundred bucks. An even bigger part of me knows I could add several zeroes behind that figure, and she’d need every damn dime.
“Fine. I’ll take the ride. But it’s going to be a hard pass on the boobs.”
“Whatever you want.”
The truth is, she’s gorgeous, and if she wanted to share her body with me, I’d jump at the fucking chance. But something about her no-nonsense demeanor tells me that’s not going to happen, which is probably for the best. I don’t have time to get tangled up in something right now, anyway. I have to focus on myself and my career now more than ever.
After another moment’s hesitation, Ryleigh looks back at the club one last time, and then to my car. I can see the moment she makes up her mind, letting out a soft sigh.
“Don’t make me regret this,” she mutters under her breath before she follows me to my car.
I hit the button on the key fob to start the engine, then unlock the doors. When we slide inside, I turn up the heat and direct the vents toward her.
“Thank you,” she says, buckling her seat belt. “Nice car.” Her gaze lingers on the sleek wood paneling, supple leather, and chrome fixtures.
“Thanks,” I murmur, suddenly feeling a little sheepish about the opulence of my luxury sedan while she has to consider back-alley propositions just to feed her baby. No, not her baby, her ex-roommate’s baby, which makes this entire situation even crazier. I shift into drive and pull out onto the road. “So, where to?”
“Oh, right.” Ryleigh rattles off her address, and I wince.
I’ve only been to that area of the city once, and it was by accident because I was lost. It’s not a safe or very nice area, and I hate to think about her walking around after dark alone, petite beauty that she is.
“So, your name, Alexei, is that . . .”
“Russian. My parents moved here when I was six.” I also have no fucking clue why I told her my name is Alexei. Everyone calls me Alex. Everyone except for my mothers and sisters.
“Do you remember much of it? Living in Russia? I’ve never been out of the United States. I’ve barely been out of the Midwest.”
“A little. My parents tried to keep up the traditions for us. They were proud of their heritage. We spoke Russian at home, and every Friday, my mother would make a big traditional meal.”
“What kinds of foods are in traditional Russian meals? Like borscht?”
I chuckle. “Borscht is disgusting.” It’s a beet soup that looks like a bowl of blood. “My favorites were the cabbage rolls and herb-and-meat-filled pies she would make.”
“That sounds amazing. I haven’t eaten a real home-cooked meal in a long time.”
All this talk about food makes me wonder if she’s hungry, if I should offer to stop and get something for her to eat. Then I decide against it because I don’t want her to feel that I think she’s a charity case. Plus, dinner together seems too personal, and I can’t do personal right now. She’s a big girl. She can feed herself.
The conversation I just had with my agent at dinner rings through my head. I need to keep my head down and stay focused on winning. Prove that I’m worth the huge contract that was just plopped into my lap. Period.
“What about you?” I ask. “Family in the area?”
She shakes her head, folding her hands in her lap. “I was an only child. Both of my parents have passed on.”
“I’m sorry.” Shit. Now I wish I’d never asked, because her story has gotten even more pitiful.
She shakes her head, still looking out the windshield. “It’s okay.”
We drive in silence for a few minutes, and when we get closer to her neighborhood, I spot a superstore that’s all lit up on the corner, one of those twenty-four-hour places. I pull into the parking lot and park the car.
Ryleigh’s gaze swings to mine, and I can sense the question on her parted lips.
I recall a piece of advice a coach gave me once about how people would come out of the woodwork asking for money once I signed my first big contract. He recommended instead of giving out cash that I should give them what they need—you know, like paying an electric bill versus handing someone a hundred bucks.
“Why are you stopping here? My place is still a few blocks away.” She gives me a curious look.
“Let’s get the stuff you need.” Plus, if she’s lying about the baby, now would be the time to come clean.
She swallows and nods. “Thank you.”
I grab a cart and we wander the store aisles, finally locating the baby section. She grabs a package of diapers, the smallest she can find, and places it in the cart. I know how quickly babies go through diapers. Those will only last her a couple of days, and I open my mouth to object. Then I decide I’m being a controlling asshole, and should let her do this her way. Next, we find baby formula, and Ryleigh selects a yellow tub of the stuff, groaning when she sees how expensive it is. Babies go through formula faster than diapers, and I know she needs a few of those tubs, but I stay focused on what she wants.
“What else do you need?” I ask, turning to face her.
Under the bright lights, I can see how truly beautiful she is for the first time. Her hair is the color of deep honey. It looked brown outside, but here in the light, shades of gold run through the soft waves. Her skin is like porcelain, soft and creamy, and her eyes are the most striking shade of blue, fringed in thick black lashes. Stunning.
As if she can sense me watching her, she chews on her lower lip and shakes her head. “I’m really not sure. I don’t know the first thing about babies. She cries a lot, and I . . .”
“How old is she?”
I push the cart to the next aisle and find what I’m looking for. “Does she use one of these?” I ask, selecting a pacifier.
“I’m not sure. My ex-roommate left me with almost nothing. It’s worth a shot.”
I toss a couple of them into the cart and then grab a Boppy pillow. “What about one of these?”
Ryleigh’s delicately arched eyebrows lift. “What the hell is it?”
I laugh again, amused by her honesty. “It’s a special pillow. She can do tummy time. Sometimes the crying is due to gas bubbles. This could help.”
“How do you know so much about babies?” Her eyes widen and lock onto mine.
I shrug, pushing the cart toward the checkout. “I have six nieces and nephews. I babysit them sometimes.” Whether I want to or not. I smile, thinking about my sisters shoving one or more babies into my arms anytime we’re at a family gathering.
We work together unloading the contents of the cart onto the conveyor belt. When the cart is empty, I pull out my gold card and hand it to the cashier.
Ryleigh stiffens. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I’ve got this, no worries.”
She looks at me, and I can see the wheels spinning in her head. She wants to trust me, wants to think I’m being chivalrous and gallant, but she’s wary because she’s likely never had a white knight ride in and save her. I see her underlying distrust, and for some reason, I want to prove to her that tonight, her white knight is real.
Besides, I’m not letting her spend whatever tip money she made tonight on this. I’m sure she needs it for other things, like fixing her car or feeding herself, not for taking care of a baby unexpectedly dropped off on her doorstep. I still need to get to the bottom of that story, but I sense that now’s not the time.
The cashier is watching our exchange with narrowed eyes. I smile and whisper to Ryleigh that she can pay me back if she likes, but it’s really not necessary.
The cashier rings up the items we’ve purchased, and I accept the bags after sliding my credit card back into my wallet.
Once I have the bags loaded into the back seat of my car, we set off again. A few minutes later, we’ve arrived, and when I park on the street and step out of the car, I get angry.
And my anger only intensifies with every step toward Ryleigh’s apartment.
A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen titles, Kendall Ryan has sold over 2 million books and her books have been translated into several languages in countries around the world.
Her books have also appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists more than three dozen times. Ryan has been featured in such publications as USA Today, Newsweek, and InTouch Magazine.
She lives in Texas with her husband and two sons. Twitter Link Amazon Author Page Link
Home from the Marines, Noah Cortez has a secret he doesn’t want his oldest friend, Kristina Moore, to know. It kills him to push her away, especially when he’s noticing just how sexy and confident she’s become in his absence. But, angry and full of fight, he’s not the same man anymore either. Which is why Warrior Fight Club sounds so good.
Kristina loves teaching, but she wants more out of life. She wants Noah—the boy she’s crushed on and waited for. Except Noah is all man now—in ways both oh so good and troubling, too. Still, she wants who he’s become—every war-hardened inch. And when they finally stop fighting their attraction, it’s everything Kristina never dared hope for.
But Noah is secretly spiraling, and when he lashes out, it threatens what he and Kristina have found. The brotherhood of the fight club helps him confront his demons, but only Noah can convince the woman he loves that he’s finally ready to fight for everything.
“All done,” Noah said. He gently applied tape to hold the bandage in place, but with the way the back of her hand was swelling, there wasn’t any safe place to press. Sonofabitch. He couldn’t believe this had happened to her. And on his watch.
“You’re taking really good care of me, Noah. Thank you.”
“I will always take care of you,” he bit out. And then he realized what he said, and just how vehemently he’d said it. And damn if it hadn’t sounded a whole lot more than friendly. He chanced a glance at Kristina, and it was clear that she’d registered something in his tone, too. He threw away the trash and sat against the edge of the desk. “Why don’t you sit with the ice for a few minutes?”
Kristina rose and stood right in front of him, her pretty eyes even with his given how he was leaning. “I don’t need to sit,” she said in a low voice, her gaze boring into his.
“Well, I need you to sit. So sit.”
Her eyebrow went up. Just the one.
Under other circumstances it might’ve made him laugh. Could she ever just fucking listen to him? But he was wound so tight over witnessing her getting hurt, over the idea that it could’ve been so much worse, over seeing her spilled blood, that it was all he could do not to redecorate Mr. Johnson’s office along the lines of his shower. He was nearly vibrating with pent-up frustration.
And now Kristina was boxing him in, observing him too closely, not giving him an out.
“Here’s the part where I’m gonna say ‘thank you,’ and you’re going to say ‘you’re welcome.’ Ready? Thank you for protecting me and taking care of me, Noah.” Her expression was expectant, and not a little amused.
Something about her playfulness wound him a notch tighter. Because he wasn’t playing. His gaze dropped from her eyes to her full pink lips, and desire sucker-punched him so hard he nearly gasped. “Does your mouth hurt?” he rasped.
“Why would my-“
Noah was on her in a flash. Hand cupping the side of her face, arm hauling her tight up against him, mouth claiming hers on a deep, needful, soul-healing kiss. Kristina’s muscles braced in surprise, but then she melted against him, going soft and pliant against all his hardness. And he was hard. So hard, so on edge, so in need of release, that he could’ve spun her around, lifted her onto the desk, and buried himself deep right here and right now.
He needed to be more gentle with her, but the need roaring through him wouldn’t allow him to slow down or back off. And her eager responsiveness didn’t help, either.
Her good hand fisted in his hair, her mouth sucked maddeningly at his tongue, and her body writhed against his erection. And goddamn the noises she was making, because the desperate moans and little mewls of need were hot as fuck, every one stroking his cock and making him harder.
Instinct told Noah that Kristina wouldn’t hinder him playing out his little fantasy on the desk.
Except she was hurt. And they were in a fucking sub shop. Annnd, he couldn’t forget about what was behind door number three-they were supposed to be Just. Friends.
“Shit,” he rasped. “I did it again.”
She grasped at his face. “Yes, thank you for that, too. Keep doing it.” Kristina went in for another kiss. This time, her tongue penetrated him, like she wanted to fight him for control. And hell if that didn’t set off all kinds of heat inside him.
He flipped them around and pinned her to the desk, nearly leaning her backwards over it. The position brought his hard-on flush with that sweet, hot spot between her legs. She cried out and tried to grind against him, but his weight and her skirt kept her pinned tight.
Hurt. Sub shop. Friends.
“Shit, wait.” He stepped back, putting space between them. Because he didn’t think he’d have the strength to resist a third time. Especially when she stared at him with such abject fucking need, her cheeks flush with desire, her hair mussed from his hands, her luscious breasts heaving under that clingy V-neck top. “You’re hurt.”
“And?” Kristina asked.
Noah glared. “Kristina, I’m kinda on the edge here, if you can’t tell.”
She slipped up onto the desk and spread her legs, just the little bit the skirt allowed.
New York Times and USA TODAY bestseller Laura Kaye is the author of over thirty books in romantic suspense and contemporary and erotic romance and has sold more than one million books in the U.S. alone. Among her many awards, she won the RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Romantic Suspense of 2014 for Hard As You Can. A former college history professor, Laura grew up amid family lore involving angels, ghosts, and evil-eye curses, cementing her life-long fascination with storytelling and the supernatural. Laura lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.
Laura also writes historical fiction under the name Laura Kamoie, also a Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today bestseller.
Laura is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Maryland Romance Writers, the Washington Romance Writers, and she is past president of the RWA-Contemporary Romance Writers.
Ex NFL star + snarky single mom = a touchdown of a holiday romance
After two Super Bowl rings, MVP status, and retiring from the NFL while still on top, Mitch “Flash” Flashman’s millions should make life at the ripe old age of thirty-five a blessing. Yet he’s restless, rudderless, and can’t tell up from down. Roped into helping his brother coach a bunch of teenagers, Mitch finds himself playing defense against the many women in town wanting his attention. Except for one particular woman who doesn’t seem to like him much. Becka Bragg is mouthy, vulnerable, and sexy, and she captivates Mitch despite himself. But Mitch has no time for a sexy single mom when he’s still trying to figure out who he really is. With the playoffs, a boy’s future, and his own heart on the line, he’ll need to figure out how to pull the ultimate victory—winning Becka’s heart and keeping it. For good.
Mitch was cold, hungry, and had a headache growing at the thought of the many people outside who would want to talk to him. He knew it came with the territory, but man, he’d love to just be average Mitch Flashman again. A simple guy who wanted nothing more than a cold beer and a plate of warm nachos to end the week.
Davey Madison popped his head around the lockers. “Hey, Coach? My mom wants to talk to you.”
Mitch contained a groan. “I’ll be out in a few minutes. I’ll meet her by the concession stand, okay?”
Davey nodded and left.
Mitch rubbed his face, suddenly bone-tired.
“She just wants in your pants.”
He spun to see Simon smirking at him.
“Mrs. Madison. She’s got a thing for you, like half the other moms out there.” Simon shoved his hands in his pockets, a tall kid swimming in a man’s coat a few sizes too large for his build. His light-brown hair needed a cut but seemed to fit the typical teenage style of too long and too shaggy. “Apparently you’re rich and handsome. I think I heard one of them call you sexy too.”
Mitch tried to play it off, though he felt his cheeks heating. Damn. Nothing like being a celebrity who hated the limelight and blushed too easily. Oh yeah, I’m macho and manly, alright. “Yep, that’s me. Sexy and handsome.”
“And rich, don’t forget that.” Simon grinned. The kid seemed to be enjoying Mitch’s discomfort.
Nothing like being wanted for your money. “Not your mom, though?”
Simon chuckled, his hazel eyes sparkling. “Nah, my mom thinks you’re an ass. ‘Night, Coach.” He left with a spring in his step.
Behind him, Deacon guffawed. “I do like that kid.”
“You would.” He walked slowly out of the locker room with his brother. “So what did you think?”
“About your crappy speech, the game, or the fact that we’re about to be mobbed by women who want in your pants?”
“Sometimes I really hate you. You know that?”
“Yep, little brother. I do.” Deacon put him in a headlock and dragged him out the door. “But hey, I did my time. You’re the new celebrity on the block. Roll with it.”
Mitch got free. “So was I too harsh on the kids? It’s only my third game helping out.”
“And I’m glad you are. Stan’s flu couldn’t have come at a worse time. The pub has me running ragged, what with that distributor problem and Roy out of town.” He groaned. “What a sucky time for his wife to go into labor.”
Mitch shook his head. “Such compassion for your best friend.”
Deacon laughed. “Right? I’m kidding. I wish Jess would have had the baby here though. Nope. Had to be down in Houston with her folks. She’s robbing me of my business partner!”
“What was she thinking?”
Roy had what they both wanted—a great job, a loving wife, and now a new baby. Deacon, like Mitch, had played pro ball. He’d had seven amazing years as a starring quarterback before he’d blown out his right shoulder to the point he couldn’t throw with the speed and accuracy he’d once had. A brutal divorce had stolen even more happiness, until Deacon had nearly quit everything—football, family, breathing…
Mitch had tried to help his brother, but he knew seeing him only reminded Deacon of all he’d lost. Their parents hadn’t known what to do either.
But good old Roy, Deacon’s best friend before, during, and after the NFL, had thrown Deacon a lifeline. Now Deacon was a partner in a thriving brewpub, head coach for a high school football team in a dream of a town, and had recently even dipped his toe back into the dating game.
“You know, all these women aren’t just here for me,” Mitch told him. “You’re fair game, from what I hear.”
“Ah, but I’m damaged goods.” Funny, Deacon didn’t seem too upset over the fact. “You’re rich and retired. Money, fame, fortune. You, little bro, have it all.”
“What I’ve got is a headache,” he grumbled as they passed many well-wishers. Parents from both teams shook his hand and made small talk, everyone wanting to touch the man who’d once been an MVP in the NFL. As if touching him would guarantee their kid’s own success. At least they bugged Deacon too. That made him feel a little better.
Mitch kept it together as they drew closer to the concession stand, encountering a rare moment of peace from the dispersing crowd. “God, kill me know. Deacon, don’t even think of leaving me to deal with her by myself.” He grabbed his brother by the sleeve and held on for dear life, having spotted Linda Madison’s flailing hands and bright smile.
Deacon didn’t try to hide his grin. “Mrs. Future Flash is waiting for you.”
Mitch shot him the death glare.
“Look, I’ll do my best to block for you,” Deacon conceded. “But you’d have an easier time saying no if you actually said no.”
“I did.” Mitch groaned. “The woman is like a pit bull, and her friends are just as bad. I tried to tell them I’m not interested. Yes, them, because all of them have made some not-so-subtle moves. It’s not funny,” he snapped.
Deacon continued to laugh.
“Hey, it’s not as if I’m out screwing half the town. I don’t want to date some pushy yokel so she can tweet about having landed the ‘Amazing Flash.’” He grimaced. “I have standards.”
“And so do we,” a husky voice muttered from behind him. “Come on, Simon. Let’s get away from God’s gift to women before I accidentally throw myself at him. I suddenly feel nauseous.”
He turned to see Simon grinning widely before the kid hurried to accompany two pretty, dark-haired women away. Mitch couldn’t be sure which one had insulted him, but tired, he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“Wow. You really do come across as a huge ass,” Deacon said. “Simon’s mom is right.”
“Huge.” Deacon dragged him faster toward the gaggle of women standing with Linda and Davey. “Hey, Linda. Look who I have with me? Flash wants to talk to you.”
Should totally have drowned him in third grade when I had the chance.
Award-winning author Marie Harte has been writing professionally since 2005. She’s both a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author and has written over 100 books and counting. Marie writes books with heat, humor, and Harte. ♥
She writes independently and for several publishers, to include Sourcebooks and Entangled. Though currently writing contemporary romance, she also writes paranormal and romantic suspense. Basically, everything romance with a touch of spice.
Before turning to writing full-time, she earned a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University and spent several years in the United States Marine Corps as a communications officer.
Marie currently lives in Central Oregon with her family. There’s nothing she likes more than finding a good book to read and a great cup of coffee to drink.