The Professor’s Date The Script Club #5 by Lane Hayes Narrator: Alexander Cendese Publisher: Lane Hayes Release Date: July 21, 2022 Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex Pairing: Male/Male Length: 05 Hours 58 Minutes Genre: Romance, Nerd/Jock, MM Romance, Humor, Hurt and Comfort
The professor, the hair stylist, and a wedding date…
Help! My sister is getting married and according to her, I need a date. And a makeover. I’m a busy man, though. I don’t have time to meet eligible bachelors, and the tape holding my glasses together works just fine. Until my hair stylist steps on them.
Yes, Noah, my dazzling dreamboat of a hair guru created a mini disaster, but I don’t mind at all. He’s a sweet, funny, kind jock who—
Screech! No jocks. I have nothing in common with sporty people.
Except…Noah is different.
I don’t date. However, I’m not opposed to offering fashion advice to a sexy professor in need. A haircut, a quick shopping expedition…
Boom! Mission accomplished.
Not so fast. I’ve misjudged the situation and my attraction to the geek with the tragic sense of style. Sure, Thomas is too smart for me by a long shot, but there’s something about him that makes it easy to forget my past. It might be his quietly commanding nature or his movie-star good looks. Or maybe it’s just him.
All I know is that I’m very tempted to be the professor’s date.
The Professor’s Date is an MM geek/jock romance featuring a nerdy professor, a soccer-playing hair stylist, and a quest for the perfect date!
“Oh, I think I have some in my SUV. If not, there’s a drug store on the next corner. Just give me a minute to clean up.”
Thomas held up a finger, squinting through his good lens like a drunk owl. “Thank you, but I don’t require assistance.”
“I’m responsible for this mini disaster. I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I don’t do something to help out.” I shook my head mournfully. “And I’m a mess without my eight hours, so please…”
He gave in with a sigh. “All right.”
I did a mini happy dance, hoping he’d crack a smile. No such luck. However, there was a decent chance he couldn’t see me and yes, I was vain and ridiculous, but it was better than thinking I’d irritated him beyond redemption. He’d liked me five minutes ago, damn it. Maybe even lusted after me. I wasn’t crazy. I noticed those shy, sideways admiring glances, and I preferred them to his current stoically distant expression.
I tidied my area at warp speed, sweeping up the largest clumps of hair before dousing my hands with sanitizer and pulling my man bag from the mini locker in the corner. I slung it over my shoulder, peeked my head around the partition to say a quick au revoir to Easton, then motioned for Thomas to follow me.
“I parked in the lot behind the coffee shop. This way.”
I kept up a steady barrage of inane conversation on the short walk to my ride, ranging from spring weather and the flowers in bloom at the park near my condo to my yearly allergy woes. You know…nonsensical filler designed to entertain the sexy stranger who’d gone ghostly quiet.
His silence made me nervous. I liked it better when we were discussing merman dick. I didn’t know how to restore that mood, but fixing his lenses was probably a good start.
I popped open the hatch of my white Explorer and yanked a giant duffel from under a portable net to reach a small plastic toolbox. In my haste to rearrange the bags, a soccer ball rolled toward me and bounced onto the pavement.
Thomas scooped up the ball before it got away, then held it from his body, his brow furrowed hard enough to leave premature lines on his forehead. “What’s this?”
“My equipment. Just…shove it anywhere,” I instructed, bending to sift through drill bits, wrenches, and tape measures.
“My vision is laughably bad, but this appears to be sports paraphernalia. American soccer, perchance?”
Now, that was kind of cute.
“You are correct, sir.” I plucked the ball from his fingers and wedged it into the open duffel, and returned to my task.
“Is it yours?”
“The ball? Yes, I—oh, I think I found it.” I tossed him a quick smile as I groped around the bottom of the box and pulled out…a dried-up tube of superglue. “Crap. We’ll have to go to the drug store for your cyanide.”
“That’s it. I promise it won’t take long. In fact, I’ll buy you coffee afterward. We can sip lattes while we wait for the glue to dry.”
“Thank you, but that’s really not necessary.”
“I insist.” I shut the hatch, turning toward him as I locked my SUV with my key fob. He met my gaze, though his pronounced squint indicated he couldn’t see me well.
Thomas pushed his mangled glasses to the bridge of his nose and somehow managed to look fierce as hell. Call me crazy, but the steely professorial armor under his rumpled façade was hot. Very hot. I wouldn’t mind climbing him like a tree, mussing his newly shorn locks, licking his lips, and—
“It was nice to meet you, Noah.”
He offered a vague smile and turned away.
I watched his retreating form, admiring his broad shoulders while berating myself for being such an idiot. But I let him go. I had to. It was a free world, and he was a big boy. He certainly didn’t have to listen to me. It was just a little worrisome that he’d risk life and limb and walking into walls—
Bam! He collided with the side of the bank building.
Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, 2018-2019, and 2020-2021 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.
He’s loved her forever. Now she’s marrying another man.
The wedding plans are underway, and the Save the Date cards are sent. If only the man she was marrying was the man she loved with all her heart.
Being a contemporary woman in a traditional faith requires compromise. Being in love with her best friend, Sad Fridays’ guitarist, Ben King, the man who saved her years ago, is agony.
It’s official. He has ruined her for all other men.
When Ben receives his Save The Date card, he gets so drunk he falls off stage during their American breakthrough tour.
He’s loved Chaya for what feels like forever.
But her father made it crystal clear. Ben will never be the one for his daughter. Now she’s marrying another man, and Ben is beginning to wonder just when Chaya will realise it’s him she should be saying I do to.
When tragedy reunites them, Chaya is caught between her fiancé and her love. And it’s up to Ben to fight for Chaya or let her go forever.
The tattoo across my right hip says it all really. A Life Less Ordinary. Inked by the amazingly talented Luke Wessman at the Wooster Street Social Club (a.k.a. New York Ink). Why is it important? Well, it sums up my view on life. That we should all aspire to live a life that is less boring, less predictable. Be bold, and do something amazing. I’ve made some crazy choices. I’ve been a car maker, a consultant, and even a senior executive at a large retailer running strategy. Born in England, spent time in the U.S. and Japan, before ending up in Canada where I met my own, personal hero – all six and a half feet of him. Both of us are scorpios! Yeah, I know! Should have checked the astrological signs earlier, but somehow it works for us. We have two amazing kids, who I either could never part with or could easily be convinced to sell on e-bay.
I’ve wanted to be a writer for a really long time. Check through my office cupboards or my computer and you’ll find half written stories and character descriptions everywhere. Now I’m getting the chance to follow that dream.
In THE MIX UP by Rebecca Wilder, Arlowe Mitchell discovers the charming bungalow she rented comes with a not-so-charming roommate after a rental mishap. And grumpy Yates Warner finds his unexpected roommate way too happy to become anything more than a short-term fling, just as long as they don’t blur the lines and become attached, should be easy right? Fans of small-town romances will enjoy this spicy, must-read grumpy sunshine romance from the Meet Cute Book Club Series.
The Mix Up
Meet Cute Book Club Series
by Rebecca Wilder
“I think that there’s been some kind of mix up.”
That’s my first clue that my stay in Lilac Harbor isn’t going to go according to plan.
There’s been a mistake with my rental booking and now instead of having the charming little bungalow on the shore all to myself, I’ve got a not so charming roommate.
He’s a grump in every since of the word, but there’s something about the guarded translator that tugs at my heartstrings.
I’m determined to make the best of this situation, and who knows? Maybe my grumpy giant and I can even be friends.
Yeah, we’re definitely never going to be friends.
Arlowe Mitchell is too sweet for a grouchy loner like me. She’s too friendly, too generous, and way too optimistic.
Also, incredibly too tempting.
The more time that I spend with her, the more that I want her.
When she tells me about the newest book her book club is reading and says how she always wanted to have a summer fling like the characters, I finally get my opening.
A four-week fling. No strings attached and we part at the end of the month to go our separate ways. The only rule we have is to not get attached.
I thought that it would be a piece of cake to follow it but the more time I spend around my new roomie, the more I realize that I’m in real trouble of breaking our one and only rule.
“Are you going to win me a stuffed animal?” I tease when I see him eyeing one of the games that we’re walking past.
“I doubt it. I’m terrible at all of those games,” he says and I laugh.
“I’m pretty sure that everyone is.”
We head into the vendor section and Yates waits patiently as I look around each booth. We get to one that’s selling cake pops and I grab two, passing one to Yates. He huffs out a laugh when he sees the mermaid one that I bought him.
“Did you want the unicorn one instead?” I ask him, offering him the one in my hand and he shakes his head.
“No, this one is fine.”
He takes a bite, finishing the whole thing in about two bites as we continue to browse through all of the craft stands. I debate buying a beaded wallet and a little water painting but put both of them back. I don’t want to carry either of them around for the rest of our afternoon.
I stop by one of the maple booths and grab Hartley her maple candy. I get another bag for me and then one for Yates and his new candy dish. They have maple everything and I debate sending my mom a bottle of maple syrup but I’m worried it would break before it got to her.
“Ready for some rides?” I ask him as I tuck the candy in my purse and he nods his head but he doesn’t look so sure.
“Do you think that your stomach can handle it?” I ask and he side eyes me.
“I’ll be fine,” he promises and I roll my eyes at his tough guy routine.
My phone dings as we get in line for the tilt-a-whirl, and I pull it out to see a text from my book club friend, Jamie.
Jamie: Are you ready for next Thursday?
Arlowe: Of course!
Jamie: Can’t wait!
“Who was that?” Yates asks as we move up in line.
“My friend Jamie. We’re in a book club together and she was just reminding me about our meeting this coming Thursday.”
“What book are you reading? A romance one?” He asks.
“Why? You want to translate it?”
He rolls his eyes and I grin as we show the ride operator our wrist bands and head onto the ride.
“It is a romance book, actually. The main characters have this sexy vacation fling on this island off the coast of South Carolina and they end up falling in love. It was so good,” I gush and he nods as the operator closes the bar.
“Sounds cool,” he says and I grin at his bored monotone.
“It is! You should read it.”
“Maybe,” he hedges as the operator heads back to the ride box and starts pushing a few levers.
“I’ve always wanted to have a super steamy vacation romance. Something where you can just get what you need without being worried about the rest of the relationship. Something strictly physical. It’s been on my bucket list for ages,” I say with a dreamy sigh.
“Are you coming onto me?” He asks and I blink at him, my head whipping to the side as I gap at him.
And then I burst out laughing.
I didn’t mean to be. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I mean, I’ve been trying to hide my crush from him since I got to town and the one time that I was just saying something innocently, he asks me that.
I laugh harder and that seems to surprise Yates. He wasn’t expecting that reaction and he frowns at me, looking insulted and I try to backtrack.
“I mean, you’re gorgeous. I’d love to have sex with you!”
I can’t believe that I just said that!
I can see a few people giving us weird looks but I ignore them. All of my attention is locked on Yates.
We both just stare at each other, neither one of us knowing what to do now. The ride starts and we both look away from each other and grab hold of the bar as the ride starts to spin.
Copyright 2022 @ Rebecca Wilder
USA Today Bestselling Author Rebecca Wilder writes contemporary and new adult romance. She loves writing about opposites attracting and finding their happily ever afters.
When she’s not spending time with her family or friends, she’s reading romance books, watching stand-up comedies, or crime TV shows. She’s also a total Pinterest addict, dog lover, tea snob, and a wannabe yogi.
Escape with the Meet Cute Book Club where meet-cutes don’t only happen between the pages of romance novels and members find their own happily ever afters.
Eight single women bound by their love of books take a monthly break from real life to lose themselves in the chapters of romantic fiction. From friends to lovers to fake relationships and more, each story features a brand new couple and their journey to find love from an amazing lineup of authors including Louise Lennox, Tracy Broemmer, A.M. Williams, Mel Walker, RJ Gray, Rebecca Wilder, Julie Archer, and Kate Stacy.
These eight standalone romances are packed with meet-cutes, heat, and of course a happily ever after!
This promotional event is brought to you by TheIndie Pen PR
For fans of THE EX HEX and PAYBACK’S A WITCH, a fun, witchy rom-com in which a bookstore owner who is fighting to revitalize a small midwestern town clashes with her rival, the mayor, and uncovers not only a clandestine group that wields a dark magic to control the idyllic river hamlet, but hidden powers she never knew she possessed.
Small Town, Big Magic
by Hazel Beck
Publication Date: August 23, 2022
Publisher: Graydon House
There’s no such thing as witches…right?
Emerson Wilde has built the life of her dreams. Youngest Chamber of Commerce president in St. Cyprian history, successful indie bookstore owner, and lucky enough to have her best friends as found family? Done.
But when Emerson is attacked by creatures that shouldn’t be real, and kills them with what can only be called magic, Emerson finds that the past decade of her life has been…a lie. St. Cyprian isn’t your average Midwestern river town—it’s a haven for witches. When Emerson failed a power test years ago, she was stripped of her magical memories. Turns out, Emerson’s friends are all witches.
And so is she.
That’s not all, though: evil is lurking in the charming streets of St. Cyprian. Emerson will need to learn to control what’s inside of her, remember her magic, and deal with old, complicated feelings for her childhood friend–cranky-yet-gorgeous local farmer Jacob North—to defeat an enemy that hides in the rivers and shadows of everything she loves.
Even before she had magic, Emerson would have done anything for St. Cyprian, but now she’ll have to risk not just her livelihood…but her life.
If you google my name—something I only do every other Tuesday because ego surfing is an indulgence and I keep my indulgences on a strict schedule—the first twenty hits are about the hanging of Sarah Emerson Wilde in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts.
Only after all those witch hits—three pages in—will you get to me, Emerson Wilde. Not a tragically executed woman accused of witchcraft by overwrought zealots, but a bookstore owner and chamber of commerce president. The youngest chamber of commerce president in the history of St. Cyprian, Missouri, not that I like to brag.
Men are applauded for embellishing the truth while women are seen as very confident for telling the truth—and very confident is never a compliment.
If you slog past all the Crucible references and sad YouTube videos from disaffected teens with too much eye makeup, you might read about how my committed rejuvenation efforts have brought ten new businesses to St. Cyprian in the past five years. You might read about our Christmas around the World Festival which, thanks to my hard work and total commitment, brings people from—you guessed it—all around the world. You could read any number of articles about what I’ve done to help St. Cyprian, because it’s not a good day unless I’ve done something to support the town I love best.
And I pride myself on making every day a good day.
Even if most people read about Sarah and the witch trials and stop there, I know the truth about her. I learned all about my notorious ancestor while researching a presentation for my fourth-grade class.
My peers might have preferred Skip Simon’s bold and unlikely claims that he was a direct descendent of the outlaw Jesse James, but learning about Sarah changed my life. The reality of Sarah Emerson Wilde is that she was a fierce feminist who wanted to play by her own rules. A nonconformist who wasn’t interested in playing the perfect Puritan, and therefore a direct threat to the Powers That Be. Following her own rules, ignoring theirs, and trumpeting her independence got her killed.
Sarah wasn’t only a tragic figure. She was also a fierce martyr who would have hated being called either.
In retrospect, it was maybe too much for Miss Timpkin’s fourth-grade class.
But ever since then I’ve considered Sarah my guiding light. I’m proud to have such an exceptional, indomitable woman in my family tree. My great-grandmother times nine, to be precise. I’ve always felt that I owe it to myself, the Wilde name, and Sarah to be a strong, independent woman who doesn’t let the patriarchy or anything else get her down for long.
“And I don’t,” I announce brightly to the quiet of the early-morning kitchen of my family’s historic house.
It’s a Tuesday in March and I have plans. I always have plans. It’s what I do, but these are particularly epic, even for me. I might have been born too late to speak feminist truth to Puritan patriarchal power, but I have my own calling.
I am here to make St. Cyprian a better place.
You can’t fix the world until you sort out your own backyard. I intend to do both.
Since my first St. Cyprian community project with my second-grade class, I have put everything I am into this shining jewel of a river town, the people lucky enough to live here, and the shops that carve out their spots on the cobbled streets—like my own intensely independent bookstore.
For all the women who came before me who weren’t allowed. Or those who carved out their way and were shunned for it.
Fist pumps optional.
I pump a few on my own in the kitchen, because there are few things in this life that psyche a girl up more than a fist pump. One of those things is coffee. Another is sugar. Combine all three and I’m ready to face the day.
But first I need to face my roommate.
My roomie and best friend, Georgie Pendell, grew up in the rickety old house next door, but moved in with me when she could no longer bear another moment of agony in her parents’ house—her dramatic words, not mine. She’s been here five years, sprawled out over the third floor and using the extra bedroom I’d assumed she’d make into an office as a library instead.
Mind you, what Georgie calls a library gives me hives. It’s an overflowing catastrophe of books piled into tottery towers that she refuses to let me organize for her. The last time I tried to go inside, the door only opened about two inches before hitting one of her stacks.
She insists it’s exactly the way she wants it.
And that’s fine, because Wilde House is big enough for the both of us. In fact, bigger than we need. With my parents gone living the high life in Europe and my sister’s defection to who knows where after our high school graduation, the house had seemed too big. I had been thrown for a loop when both my sister and parents left St. Cyprian within a year of each other—though I’d rallied the way I always do. My sister, Rebekah, had always been a free spirit. My parents had always been socially ambitious—so why not take that as far as it could go on the Continent? I had the town. I had my friends. I got to live in this piece of history with my grandmother. Yet when my grandmother died a few years later and left me here alone, the old house felt like an ominous, rattling thing that might swallow me whole. Winter had seemed to seep in, cruel and unforgiving. The halls had seemed too long, the lights too dim.
Possibly I was grieving. The loss of Grandma. The loss of my family, who I knew had their reasons for staying away, in Rebekah’s case because she always had reasons no matter how little she communicated those reasons. Or returning only for the funeral, in my parents’ case, and then rushing back to their European adventure.
It felt a little stormy there for a while.
My silly, happy, eccentric best friend moving in has been like letting in the sunshine.
Organizational challenges aside, having her here makes these early mornings with the whole of Wilde House creaking around me, like it’s singing its own song while I wake, feel less…lonely.
Not that I allow loneliness in my life. I swat it down like an obnoxious fly anytime it pops up. Because loneliness is a betrayal of all the women who came before me and I am not going to be the Wilde who lets them down. I’m the current caretaker of this landmark of a house that’s been in my family some three hundred years, since the first Wilde wisely made the long trek away from the Massachusetts Colony and settled down in this part of Missouri where two great rivers meet, the Mississippi and the Missouri. I like the idea of roots that deep and rivers that tangle together. I like this house that towers above me with its uneven floors and oddly shaped rooms. I like where it sits in town, on one end of Main Street like a punctuation mark.
And I really like that my best friend is always right here, within reach.
Because before I head off to my beloved Confluence Books today, I need to get Georgie on board for an Official Friend Meeting tonight. Being a young, ambitious, independent woman in charge of the chamber of commerce in the most charming river town in Missouri—and therefore America—comes with its challenges. A strong leader knows when to lean in to her community, and I do. My friends are always the first people I turn to when I need some help.
I tell myself that I would do that even if my family was still here. That my friends are my family. My parents and sister are the black sheep—not me. Their leaving, their lack of contact entirely or bright, shallow, early-morning messages from abroad is their choice.
And their loss.
My friends stayed. They love St. Cyprian and loved my grandmother too. They are mine, and I am theirs. Just like this town I love so much.
Still, sometimes I like to make a gathering official because that makes it more likely we’ll get to the constructive advice more quickly.
I head for the curving narrow stairs that will take me up into the house’s turret. It’s never been my favorite part of the house—it makes me think of princesses and fairy tales and other embarrassingly romantic things that have no place in a practical, independent life—but it suits Georgie to the bone. Like it was made for her.
I eye the newel post as I start up the stairs because it’s shaped like a grinning dragon and I’ve never understood it. The Wildes are the least fanciful people alive. Pragmatism and quiet determination would be our coat of arms if we had such a thing, but we’re Midwesterners, thank you. Coats of arms are far too showy.
The dragon grins at me like it knows things I don’t.
“That is unlikely,” I tell it, then close my eyes, despairing of myself.
There is no room in my life for the kind of whimsy that results in discussions with inanimate objects. Especially a dragon. A sometimes creepy dragon who hunches at the foot of the banister like he’s guarding the house.
“Stop it,” I mutter at myself—and possibly at him—as I head upstairs.
Once on the third floor, I eye Georgie’s library door as I pass it, itching to get in there and establish some order, but sometimes friendship comes before logic. Or intelligible shelving systems. At the end of the hall, her bedroom door is ajar, and I can see Georgie herself sitting on the wood-planked floor facing the two huge turret windows that take up most of the outside wall. They are flung wide open to the cool spring air and she has her face lifted to the sunrise.
Her curly red hair swirls around her, and she’s wearing enough bracelets on her wrist to perform a symphony of tinkling metal sounds. Like the half hippie, half free spirit she claims to be.
Georgie’s family also has roots in Puritan Massachusetts witch trials but unlike me, she loves getting lost in all that witchcraft nonsense. She pretends she has various supernatural powers to annoy me, but mostly she likes the trappings. What she solemnly calls crystal lore and sage burning. She likes to talk to her cat as if he can understand her and claims his meows are detailed replies that she, naturally, can comprehend perfectly. And she steadfastly claims to believe that Ellowyn, one of our other closest friends, can brew teas that cure colds, repair broken hearts, and curse weak-willed men.
There’s something comforting about how Georgie wholeheartedly embraces the silliness, like this daily ritual of hers. The morning light streams in, making the colorful crystals she’s arranged around her in a circle glow.
As I stand in the doorway, she gets to her feet and begins to collect her debris. Her crystals are the only item she owns that I have ever seen her keep in some kind of order. I used to try to help her pick up the various rocks, but she would tell me things like I put the malachite with the quartz and everyone knows that’s wrong, or that reds and blues shouldn’t touch on Wednesdays, obviously. I finally gave up.
I’ll admit that sometimes I have to shove my hands in my pockets to keep from helping again anyway.
“What brings you to my lair this early in the morning?” she asks without looking at me. I know this is to give the impression that she divined my presence when it’s more likely she heard the creaky board out in the hallway.
She does something dramatic with her fingers in the air, and at the same time a breeze shifts through the wind chimes she has hanging in her windows. A funny little coincidence.
I ignore it. “You’re free tonight, right?”
“Sadly no. In a shocking twist that will surprise everyone who’s ever met me or seen me attempt to dance, I’m running away to Spain, where I will dedicate myself to the study of flamenco. And possibly also tapas and wine.”
In other words, yes, she’s free.
“I need to call a meeting.”
Georgie sighs and looks over her shoulder at me. “Not every get-together needs to be a meeting with a cause.”
I smile winsomely at her. “But some do.”
“Is this about those flyers I helped you put up yesterday?”
I smile even more broadly. If there was an award for best flyer, that one would win it. But then, I’m excellent at flyers. “That flyer was about the new and improved Redbud Festival, Georgie.”
“Yes, I know. I also know that anytime you try to new and improve something in this town, the plague that is Skip Simon descends on you like the locust he is.”
“He hasn’t. Yet.”
“But he will.”
He will. He always does.
I sigh. “Yes, he will. He can’t resist. But I don’t want to fight him.” This time is implied. “I want to find a way to get through to him. Preferably without embarrassing him in front of the whole town.”
Because the only thing I’ve ever been able to do when it came to Skip Simon, from another old and well-to-do local family here in St. Cyprian like mine, was embarrass him.
His unearned victory against me in fourth grade notwithstanding.
There was the kickball game. You’d think a grown man wouldn’t still be mad that a girl had accidentally smashed his face with a kickball in gym class, both breaking his nose and making him the laughingstock of the fifth grade, but Skip had brought it up at least twice in the past six months alone.
There was the olive branch incident. Except it wasn’t an olive branch. It was an extra helping of the fish sticks from the cafeteria that everyone knew he loved. I’d thought he’d find those fish sticks within the hour and maybe we could bury the hatchet. Instead, he’d come back from a week’s vacation—that he claimed was the flu, but he had a tan from lying on the beach in Mexico—to find everyone calling him Stinky Simon. And hadn’t believed I’d been out that same week because I really did come down with the flu before I could take the fish sticks offering back out of his locker.
There was the unfortunate field trip to Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home in Hannibal. The riverboat incident a year later. The ninth-grade intercom thing that even my own friends didn’t entirely believe was an accident, but how was I supposed to know that it could be so easily turned on? Or that Skip and his freshman year girlfriend would choose to use that room to make out in?
Classmates made unfortunate slurping sounds at him for years.
Then there’d been prom. Our parents had urged us to go together despite the many years of discord. They thought our two old St. Cyprian families should be friendlier, and obviously my rebellious sister wasn’t the one to approach for cordiality of any kind. And when they’d had a few drinks, our parents tended to wax rhapsodic about how they’d always had hopes for Skip and me.
Neither Skip nor I shared these hopes.
But we’d agreed all the same, because St. Cyprian is a small town. And because it made sense to make an effort. Okay, that was me, but he was briefly less jerky about things. We even called our awkward plans peace talks.
Then I stood him up.
It was an accident, but no one believed that.
My position, then and now, is that when your always-problematic sister “loses” your favorite science teacher’s chinchilla, you can hardly be concerned about a dance. You initiate search and rescue, in a prom dress, because it’s the poor, lost chinchilla that matters. And given that I was the one who found Mr. Churchilla, you’d think Skip would have forgiven me.
But he didn’t. Especially when the rumor went around that I’d always plotted to stand him up. As if I would descend to playing teen rom-com movie games with Skip. Plus, there was another rumor that Skip himself had actually been planning to embarrass me with something far more cringeworthy than his choice of white tuxedo.
I wish I could say we’d left such silly adolescent issues behind, but on the day of Skip’s coronation—I mean, election, if you could call it that when his grand and formidable mother basically forced everyone she knows into voting for her precious spoiled baby—as mayor of St. Cyprian, I led a town cleanup service project. I had no idea the cleaning substance we’d used in the community center would make the floor abnormally slippery. I was wearing shoes with decent treads.
But Skip was not. He tripped, fell flat on his face and, yes, broke his nose again.
Yes, he blamed me.
The harder I tried to be nice to Skip, the worse I seemed to embarrass him. Over time, he moved on from any actual incidents to simply blaming me by rote. If there is any bad word breathed about him on the cobbled streets of St. Cyprian, he assumes it’s my fault.
But he’s the mayor. What mayor is universally adored? Welcome to politics.
An argument he does not find compelling, sadly. I’ve tried.
Skip might not believe this, but while he can certainly schmooze with the best of them, he isn’t liked by all and sundry. He is mayor here because his family is powerful and because he vowed to keep the town as it is. The sad truth is, no matter how many progressive folks live here, a great many people in the greater St. Cyprian area are afraid of change.
That doesn’t mean they like Skip personally. Yet somehow the blame for any negativity aimed at him or his office or his campaign gets put on my shoulders. When he decides I’m wrong, which is pretty much anytime I get out there and try to change things for the better, he really goes after me.
This is why I need my friends to help me brainstorm ways to deal with Skip’s eventual, inevitable response to my new ideas for the Redbud Festival. Because I’m certainly not going to stop trying to improve St. Cyprian and its tourist-attracting, revenue-producing festivals to appease Mayor Stinky Simon.
HAZEL BECK is the magical partnership of a river witch and an earth witch. Together, they have collected two husbands, three familiars, two children, five degrees, and written around 200 books. As one, their books will delight with breathtaking magic, emotional romance, and stories of witches you won’t soon forget. You can find them at www.Hazel-Beck.com.
My sisters are always the ones who catch a guy’s eye at first sight. I’m used to attracting guys because I’m funny, or kind, or have a beautiful face. Never has my curvy figure drawn the attention of a man as hot as Noah.
But the second he stepped foot into my small town Alaskan inn, his gaze swept over me with desire, igniting a flame I thought was dead. He flirted with me, and I might’ve left two chocolates on his pillow at turndown, but that’s where it stayed.
Over the years, he’s floated in and out of town while a friendship developed between us. Which is probably for the best because I’m not a one-night stand kind of woman.
Which is funny because when he propositions me to be his fake fiancé in order to end a family feud, it turns out I am the kind of woman willing to pretend to be the one he’s in love with.
Both Noah and Mandi are good people with good hearts, they just find themselves quickly over their heads with their fake but quickly turning real relationship. Their conflict and the struggle with their attraction to each other, only to fall into bed (and love) together even knowing that things are going to end poorly, is charming and heartwarming. You have to be ok with fake relationship stories to really get into this one because there is a lot of lying, hiding, and guilt associated with what they are doing. But it is worth it to see their connection blossom as they slowly work their way to a HEA.
Piper Rayne is a USA Today Bestselling Author duo who write “heartwarming humor with a side of sizzle” about families, whether that be blood or found. They both have e-readers full of one-clickable books, they’re married to husbands who drive them to drink, and they’re both chauffeurs to their kids. Most of all, they love hot heroes and quirky heroines who make them laugh, and they hope you do, too!
Would you rather play it safe in the friend zone, or risk it all with a modern marriage of convenience?
Noah and Mia have always been best friends, and their friendship is the most important thing to them. Life is going great for Noah and he’s up for a promotion in a job he loves. But Mia’s life is on hold as she awaits a kidney transplant. She’s stuck in a dead-end job and, never wanting to be a burden, has sworn off all romance. So when the chance of a lifetime comes to go back to school and pursue her dream, it’s especially painful to pass up. She can’t quit her job or she’ll lose the medical insurance she so desperately needs.
To support her, Noah suggests they get married—in name only—so she can study full-time and still keep the insurance. It’s a risk to both of them, with jobs, health and hearts on the line, and they’ll need to convince suspicious coworkers and nosy roommates that they’re the real deal. But if they can let go of all the baggage holding them back, they might realize that they would rather be together forever.
“Pitch-perfect…gives me all the feels, and I love every one of them!”—Ali Hazelwood, New York Times bestselling author of The Love Hypothesis
“Ashley makes favorite rom-com tropes feel new again with a pitch-perfect friends-to-lovers story.” —Publishers Weekly starred review
Mia Adrian stared at her phone screen, wondering what in the hell she’d just read.
Noah: Would you rather—text message edition. Daily messages with strange animal facts OR positive affirmations?
What kind of question was that? She frowned and leaned one elbow on the arm of her chair before tapping out a one-handed response.
Noah: It’s a question. Would you rather receive daily animal facts or positive affirmations?
Noah: Both it is.
Mia: Don’t you dare.
A banner appeared at the top of her screen, alerting her to a message from an unknown number.
When I breathe, I inhale confidence and exhale timidity.
She groaned and waited, hoping for some additional message that would give her instructions to opt out of whatever service he’d just signed her up for. Her gaze darted to her computer screen for a second, then back to the phone.
Would she seriously get something like this every day? How the hell was she supposed to stop them?
The text alert dinged again. Another unfamiliar number.
Elephants are the only animal that can’t jump.
She pressed a fist to her forehead.
Mia: I’m going to kill you.
Noah: Should have done it before you taped a banana under my desk. I’ve been wondering what the smell was for days.
She couldn’t help the laugh bubbling up, and glanced around to make sure no clients were around. Noah might be her best friend, but they teased each other at the office like elementary school rivals. She liked her job, but it was still work—and their games usually helped her get through until five o’clock.
This, though? This was her personal cell phone.
He’d taken it one step too far.
Mark my words, Noah Agnew. I’ll get you back for this.
Yet another chirp sounded, but this wasn’t a text message. It was the alert reminding her she needed to leave in fifteen minutes for her weekly infusion appointment.
She smiled at the thought that followed. Thursday meant a trip to the infusion center, but more importantly, it also meant chicken wings for dinner.
She closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. What would it be today? Louisiana Rub? Lemon Pepper? Maybe she’d go wild and try the Mango Habanero.
They all sounded good—but which sounded best?
When it came to food—chicken wings in particular—Mia didn’t mess around.
“You’re thinking about chicken wings, aren’t you?”
Mia’s eyes popped open and she lurched to a sitting position. Noah stood on the other side of her desk, arms folded across his broad chest.
He had on the baby blue dress shirt. Blue always had been her favorite color on him—she’d told him so no less than fifty times. And yet he only wore the hue once a month, maybe not even that often.
She didn’t mention the ridiculous text messages. Best to let him think they didn’t bother her that much and get him back when he least expected it.
She flicked invisible lint from her black skirt. “It’s Thursday, is it not?”
“It is. But even if it wasn’t, I’d still know. Nothing else puts that look on your face.”
“What look is that, exactly?”
He slid his hands into his pockets. “Pure, unadulterated longing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Only every Thursday for the last nine years.” She leaned forward and dropped her elbows to the desk. “It’s your fault, you know. You’re the one who introduced me to them.”
Noah reached out and moved her nameplate several inches to the left. It drove her crazy.
No matter, she’d rearrange the items on his desk tomorrow morning before he came in.
“I didn’t know I was creating a monster.”
Mia laughed. “Too late for hindsight. Want me to bring some over tonight?”
She didn’t have to ask what flavor he wanted. Noah was as consistent as her doctor’s appointments. When he found something he liked, he stuck with it. Long ago she’d noticed he usually ordered something he’d had before when they went out to eat, and once asked him why he never branched out.
“What if I try something new, and it’s not as good?” he’d said.
“What if it’s better?” she’d returned.
But he wouldn’t be swayed. Wasn’t worth the risk, he maintained, and she’d let it go.
She made a mental note to add a ten piece of plain wings to her order tonight, and swiveled aimlessly in her chair. “How’s your day been?”
“Boring. Full of client meetings, but you know that.”
“If not, I’d be the world’s worst administrative assistant.
Speaking of meetings, you’ve got one more in—” she checked her watch “—ten minutes.”
“Darcy Lane, here to discuss her new fitness center.”
“Right.” He put his palm flat on the desk and leaned in a little. His eyes brightened with excitement. “So I had lunch with my dad today.”
She smiled, ignoring the pang of jealousy at his casual mention of spending time with his dad. There was a time she and her parents got together for regular meals, too. Now, she couldn’t even remember the last time. “Yeah?”
“He’s going to announce his plans to retire. This week, probably.”
They’d been expecting it. Mr. Agnew had been dropping hints about retiring for the last three years. Mia didn’t blame him—he was in his sixties and had built an impressive architecture firm of fifty employees that had become known around Denver for modern, sustainable designs. He’d earned a break.
“Yep. Said the principals would look to promote one of the associates after he left.”
When Mia had started this job many years ago, it had taken her a while to learn the titles and hierarchy structure of architects at the firm. CEO, principal, associate, architect, intern…but eventually she’d gotten it straight.
Mia rubbed her hands together. “Which means a junior principal position will open up, and it will have your name on it.”
He shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t want them to pick me just because I’m the founder’s son.”
She snorted. “Son or not, you’re the best candidate. No contest.”
“Thanks,” he said, chewing on his lower lip. “I’d love the opportunity. And I know it would make my dad proud.”
He ran a hand through his hair, leaving an errant lock sticking straight up in the back.
“Noah,” Mia scolded. She stood and beckoned him to lean over. He obeyed and she smoothed his hair down, a ritual they performed at least twice a week. “Better.”
“Thanks.” He turned toward his office. “You’d better get out of here.”
“I will as soon as your three o’clock arrives.”
He started down the hall to his office just as Julia and David, both architects like Noah, came from the opposite direction.
Julia paused and flashed him a smile. “Hey, Noah.”
He offered a polite greeting but kept moving, and Mia scowled at his back. No matter how many times she brought it up, he always brushed off the suggestion Julia was interested in him.
Julia, looking poised and elegant in a gray dress and heels, veered off into the break room while David turned to where Mia sat. “I can’t find the Trodeau file.”
She blinked, disarmed by his clipped tone. She shouldn’t have been, though, because he always spoke to her like that. “Um, I thought I filed it last week. Did you check the black file cabinet?”
He looked at her like she’d just asked if he knew right from left. “Of course.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, I might have misplaced it,” Mia said, unease filling her stomach. Every time she messed up—which wasn’t often—it always seemed to involve David. The man thought she was a complete idiot. “I’ll find it.”
David just stood there and arched a sardonic brow.
Mia glanced to the side, then forced herself to regain eye contact. “I can’t do it right this minute, I’m about to leave—”
“Right,” David said disapprovingly. “It’s Thursday. Make sure it’s on my desk first thing tomorrow. It’s important.”
“Yes, I can do that. I’ll get it to you tomorrow.”
He didn’t reply and went back the way he’d come.
A subtle chime sounded, alerting Mia to a newcomer in the office. A young woman with long brown hair stepped into the foyer, and Mia stood.
“Good afternoon.” She smiled, trying her best to shake off the interaction with David.
The woman came forward. “Oh, hello. I’m Darcy Lane—I have an appointment?” It came out like a question.
“Yes, at three o’clock with Noah.” She should probably refer to Noah as Mr. Agnew to clients, but that had always been what she called Noah’s father. “I’ll just let him know you’re here. Can I get you anything? Water, coffee?” Serving and chatting with clients while they waited was one of Mia’s favorite parts of her job.
“I’m okay, thank you.” The woman sat in the chair farthest from Mia and pulled out her cell phone.
Guess she wouldn’t be one of the chatty ones, but that was probably best since Mia had to leave, anyway. She picked up her desk phone and hit number one on her speed dial.
“Client’s here?” Noah asked by way of greeting.
“Yep. Should I set her up in the conference room?”
“Not yet. I need a couple of minutes to get her stuff together. I’ll come get her when I’m ready, you need to head out.”
“Relax. I won’t be late.”
“You will be if you don’t leave now.”
“Okay, okay. See you tonight.” She hung up and locked her computer screen. Just as she was about to turn to the woman, she heard Noah’s voice and looked up to see his head poke around the corner.
“Darcy? I’m Noah. I’m just finishing something up, and I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
The woman seemed stunned for a second as she looked at Noah, blinking several times. “Um, sure. Yes, that’s fine. I know I’m a little early.”
Mia smiled to herself. The woman had no idea how much Noah appreciated that. Tardiness drove him crazy.
“I look forward to our meeting.” Noah’s expression was polite and businesslike, and he ducked back into his office.
Mia forwarded her phone to the office manager and gathered her purse. She went around the desk and stopped in front of Darcy. “I have to head out for an appointment, are you sure there’s nothing you need before I go?”
Darcy’s cheeks were flushed. “No, thank you.”
This wasn’t the first time a woman had become flustered around Noah. The firm did mostly commercial design, and the majority of their clients were men. But occasionally women came through, and they’d had several female interns. It was quite clear the effect Noah had on women, even if the man himself was oblivious.
Despite their long-standing friendship, Mia could still admit her best friend was hot.
Allison Ashley is a science geek who enjoys coffee, craft beer, baking, and love stories. When she’s not working at her day job as a clinical oncology pharmacist, she pens contemporary romances, usually with a medical twist. She lives in Oklahoma with her family and beloved rescue dog.
Contemporary romance for fans of Jill Shalvis and Lori Foster, returning to the characters of the Dogwood County series, Book 3 follows Tabitha Steele as she plans to have her best year ever.
Dogwood County series
by Elysia Whisler
Publication Date: August 16, 2022
Publisher: MIRA Books
On her thirtieth birthday, Tabitha realizes she hasn’t much to show for her life since she left military service. Tabitha makes a hasty vow that she will make this the best year of her life, which is a tall order considering her mish-mash of unfulfilling jobs, her stagnant social life, and the crippling PTSD she has to overcome on a near-daily basis. But she thinks she can do it with the help of her beloved service dog, Trinity.
Chris Hobbs, the playful and wild-hearted bad boy of the Semper Fit gym, is Tabitha’s complete opposite. Which is why, despite his habit of dating any woman who bats an eye at him, he’s always steered clear of Tabitha, even though they’ve formed a tight friendship. Especially because of that.
Tabitha’s radar was lit before the woman even entered the store. The way she whipped into the parking space, killed the engine at a crooked angle and jangled the bell over the shop door like it was being throttled. Tabitha had just taken a bite of the Really Big Cookie—a birthday indulgence bought at the community college cafeteria—when the woman marched right up to the front counter and, without so much as hello, slapped down some pictures. “My father’s old Harley has been sitting in the barn for decades,” she declared, out of breath. “And I’m determined to get it going.”
Tabitha closed up her Journal of Invincibility—I am not afraid; I was born to do this. ~Joan of Arc—and tucked it behind the counter, like a mother protecting her young. The woman went on for a bit, while Tabitha tried to chew and swallow her treat. When she was done ranting, she stood there in silence. Eventually, she shook her head. “Don’t you know anything about motorcycles?” Big-breasted, big-hipped, big personality, big, brassy red hair, the customer rested her elbow on the counter and leaned against it, settling in.
“Not much, no.” A hunk of cookie fell from Tabitha’s lips and landed on the front of her Triple M Classics employee T-shirt. She hastily brushed it away and gestured to the shelves that lined the rear of the shop. “I just ring up the merchandise. Keep tabs on the floor when the mechanics are in the back.” She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, but that just prompted images from school this morning, which she didn’t want in her head. Still, with her eyes closed, Tabitha sensed that this wasn’t really about the motorcycle. The woman was upset, possibly grieving. The motorcycle meant something to her and she wanted quick answers because she was searching for a way to ease her pain. Tabitha opened her eyes again, looked past the woman and settled her gaze on Trinity, the little black rescue pit bull who always made her feel better.
“Then get the mechanic. Or, better yet, get the owner. Where’s Delaney Monroe?”
“She’s on an errand.” Tabitha kept her gaze on Trinity, who lay near the stairs that led to Delaney’s apartment. She was catching some zees in the dog bed intended for Delaney’s dog, Wyatt. For about the third time that day Tabitha thought, What am I doing here? I’m not cut out for this.
“Delaney Monroe is who I came to see,” the woman pressed. “I heard she’s an expert on classic bikes. If you work in a bike shop, you should know about bikes. I don’t have time for this.” She straightened up and planted her hands on her hips.
“Delaney’s out. Maybe I can help.”
Tabitha turned to the sound of Nora’s raspy voice.
“I’m Nora. One of the mechanics.” Delaney’s mom had come out of the back room, wiping grease from her fingers with a shop rag. She had a cigarette tucked behind her ear, right where her temples were starting to gray. The rest of her hair was silky black and tied back in a ponytail. Nora was a small woman with a slight build, but the way she carried herself, she might as well have been six feet tall. She wore blue jeans and the same Triple M Classics T-shirt and she locked her fearless, almond-shaped eyes into the irritated gaze of the customer. “Whatcha got?” She nodded at the photographs.
The woman pushed them across the countertop. “This has been in my father’s barn for ages. He recently passed and I’m not sure if it’s worth fixing up.”
Nora went silent while she leafed through the pictures. “An old Harley Panhead,” she murmured. “Sweet. Do you know the year? Looks like a ’49.”
“Yes. How did you know that?”
Tabitha felt a shift in the air as the woman’s demeanor changed, her anger melting away, relief softening her shoulders and her scrunched-up mouth. Crisis averted.
“The window on a Panhead is only ’48 to ’65. The emblem on the gas tank in this shot tells me it’s a ’49.” Nora tapped the top photo with her grease-stained finger.
The woman stuck out her hand, a huge grin on her face. “Nelly Washington. Nice to meet you.”
“Nora.” Nora glanced at Nelly’s hand but didn’t touch her. “My girl owns this place.”
“I’ve heard good things.”
“Damn straight you heard good things. My girl’s the best.”
Nelly gave off a deep belly laugh and used the humor as an excuse to withdraw her unrequited handshake. “Can she fix it up? Make it run?”
Like a cowgirl walking into a saloon in an old Western, Delaney pushed open the shop door at that moment. The bell jangled as she strode inside, motorcycle boots thunking over the floor, helmet in her gloved hand. Delaney was taller than her mother by several inches, had the same slender build and dark hair, but in a pixie cut. Wyatt, the wandering white pit bull with the brown eye patch, trotted in next to her, still wearing his Doggles. Delaney slipped the eye protection off her motorcycle-riding companion. Wyatt spotted Trinity on his dog bed and raced over to play. He leaned on his front paws, butt in the air, tail wagging, then jumped backward and spun. When that didn’t work, he danced all around her, flipping his head and poking his muzzle in the air. Trinity, unmoved, looked to Tabitha for instruction.
“Break, Trinity,” Tabitha said, and the dogs were soon twining necks like ponies.
Nora waved at her daughter and shrugged at Nelly. “You’ll need to bring the bike in. See what’s up. Is it dry?”
“Been in the shed. Covered up.” Nelly’s gaze went to Delaney as she neared.
“She means did you drain the carburetor and gas tank,” Delaney clarified, settling her helmet on the counter. “Before you stored it.”
“Oh.” Nelly’s face went straight. “I don’t know, actually. My father is the one who stored it. Once his arthritis got too bad for him to ride.”
“That’ll make a difference,” Delaney continued, like she’d been in on the conversation from the beginning. “That, and how straight the bike was when it was put up.” She glanced at the photos. “A ’49 Panhead. Cool. Bring it in. We’ll take a look.”
“I will definitely do that. Thank you. My father recently passed away. He used to take me on rides on that bike when I was a little girl.” Nelly’s voice grew faraway, wistful. “We’d go to the general store and he’d buy me a grape soda. I loved feeling the wind in my hair.” Nelly waved a hand. “This was before helmet laws. Anyway.” The reminiscent look in Nelly’s eyes slid away and she sniffed deeply. “Are you Delaney?”
“Yes, ma’am. Don’t worry. I’ve never met a Panhead I can’t get going.”
Tabitha stuffed the rest of the cookie in her mouth and tried to sneak away, her lack of motorcycle knowledge no longer an issue. Her shift was over, she was exhausted and she was ready to go home.
“Get back here, Steele.” Delaney grasped the hem of Tabitha’s shirt and pulled her back gently. “You need to take down this lady’s information. The more you listen, the more you’ll learn. Pretty soon you’ll know a Harley Panhead on sight.” Delaney nodded at Tabitha. “She’s still learning.”
“She seems like a nice young lady.” Nelly was all smiles now, like their earlier interaction had never happened.
After Tabitha filled out a capture sheet with Nelly Washington’s information, and the woman had left the shop in an entirely different mood than the one she’d barged in with, Delaney turned to her and said, “What’s going on, Steele? You look ready to lie on the floor and call your dog for Smoosh Time.”
Smoosh Time was Delaney’s slang for the deep pressure therapy Trinity was trained to provide if Tabitha was having a panic attack. It was affectionate rather than sarcastic. Unused to affection, Tabitha liked it and had taken to calling the therapy Smoosh Time herself. Smoosh Time actually sounded really good about now. But Trinity was still on break, chasing Wyatt around the perimeter of the shop. “It’s been a long day.”
“Massage school getting you down?”
“Old Nelly was kinda rough on her,” Nora offered. She slipped the cigarette from behind her ear and stuck it between her lips.
“That’s why she’s learning as much as she can.” Delaney tapped the capture sheet. “That’s all you can do, Steele. I don’t expect you to become a mechanic, unless you want to, but you soak in everything you can while you’re here.” She glanced at her mother. “Don’t you dare light that in here, Nora.”
Nora pulled it from her lips and rolled her eyes. “I’m not. It’s just a prop, okay?”
“How many days has it been?” After some hemming and hawing Delaney clarified, “For real.”
“Half a day,” Nora admitted. “I’d gone two days and then I caved this morning. It’s so hard not to smoke after I eat. Maybe I need to stop eating.”
Delaney shook her head. “You gotta be tough, Nora. Like Tabitha here.”
“I’m not tough.” Tabitha had been enjoying watching the mother-daughter pair interact, despite how rough her day had been so far. They made her wonder what her relationship with her birth mother would’ve been like, if she’d known her. Tabitha’s relationship with Auntie El—the woman who’d raised her and the only mother Tabitha had ever known—was as old-fashioned as it got. Yes, ma’am, No, ma’am, please and thank you, respect your elders and all boundaries clearly drawn and rarely crossed. There was none of this role reversal or sarcastic banter. Life certainly hadn’t been easy, and Tabitha had been handed absolutely nothing. If that didn’t make her tough, nothing would. “Tough is just not my nature.”
Sensitive was Tabitha’s nature, for good or bad. The armor she lacked had never been very useful, not until she joined the navy and her main job in Afghanistan was to protect her chaplain from harm. She’d been pretty good at smelling trouble, hearing things nobody else heard, seeing things nobody else saw. Some had even jokingly called her Radar, after the character from M*A*S*H. It made her good at her job, despite the fact that she hadn’t been able to prevent the IED that had got her chaplain hurt, and despite the fact that the skill was kind of useless, and often counterintuitive, in everyday life.
“You’re tough-ish, Tabitha,” Nora agreed. “Which means you got potential. Just gotta stand up for yourself with lippy women like Nelly.”
“Spill it, Steele.” Delaney shot her mother a silencing look. “What’s going on?”
“You were right, Sarge,” Tabitha admitted. She hadn’t planned on discussing her day, but there was just something about Delaney, the woman she’d met at Camp Leatherneck years ago. The woman who’d helped her keep her head straight during that awful day when an IED had taken out her convoy. “It’s massage school.”
“What about it?”
“It’s the student exchanges.” Tabitha drew a deep breath. “We have to swap with our classmates once a week to practice the strokes we learn in class. At first, I was doing really well. Everyone loved my massages and said that I just had that magic touch. But then…well… I’m doing something wrong. I’m not…massaging right.” Tabitha bit down on her lower lip.
“How can you not massage right?” Nora spoke around the unlit cigarette dangling from her lips. “Aren’t you just squirting lotion on each other? How hard can that be?”
“No. We’re not just squirting lotion. It’s a lot more than that.” Tabitha was used to Nora’s directness at this point, and did her best to not let Delaney’s mother get under her skin. “You have to learn all the bones and muscles and physiology. Plus all the strokes. There’s a lot of science. You have to learn about how the body moves and how everything works together. And then you have to massage in such a way that you’re helping people. And right now, I’m not helping anyone.” Just like she hadn’t been able to help Nelly Washington with her Panhead. Tabitha wasn’t helping anyone, anywhere.
She was an impostor in every aspect of her own life.
Nora pulled a Zippo from her pocket and flipped it open. “How do you know?” She ran her thumb over the wheel, making a clicking sound with the lighting mechanism without actually bringing the flame to life.
“I’m…” Tabitha sighed and faced the blank expressions of the women. “I’m giving the men erections.”
A round of silence passed.
“I’ve done it three times now, to three different men. So it’s not like a one-off. I’m doing something wrong.”
“Man,” Delaney said, shaking her head. “It’s always the quiet ones.”
Wyatt gave off a loud woof and everyone burst into laughter.
“Well.” Nora stuck the cigarette behind her ear and jammed the lighter in the front pocket of her jeans. “Au contraire, but I bet those men think you’re doing something right.”
“We’re definitely not supposed to get erections,” Tabitha insisted. All three men had reacted differently. Todd—young, indifferent, thought massage therapy would be an easy career field—had pretended it didn’t happen. Frank—in his forties, quiet, deliberate—had been embarrassed and would no longer make eye contact with Tabitha in class. Corbin—a loud twentysomething who called everyone dude—had eyed his own erection with detached interest and announced, “You’re doing something wrong, dude.”
Delaney shook her head. “Men are just like that. The wind blows and their dicks get hard. I wouldn’t be so down on yourself.”
“I already struggle with the science. Like right now we’re learning all the bones, with all their divots and ridges and stuff. It’s excruciating and not coming easily to me,” Tabitha said. “And now I’m screwing up the massages. I’m starting to think I’m just not cut out for it.” Just like I’m not cut out for this bike shop, she didn’t add. She already knew Delaney had given her the job out of pity. No need to shine a spotlight.
“Sounds like the bones are coming easily to you,” Nora muttered as she collected today’s paperwork from the counter and started to file it away. “You’ll be the most requested massage girl in the county. I don’t see what the big problem is.”
Delaney stifled a laugh. “Don’t listen to her. Ask Red about it later. We have the Halloween party, remember?”
The party. Tabitha died a little inside. “Right. The party. Tonight.” But Delaney was right. Tonight she could ask Constance, “Red” for short, the famous massager of humans and dogs alike, about the erections. See what advice she had to give. She’d been the one to talk Tabitha into massage school in the first place, claiming Tabitha had a gift for connecting with people. She was connecting, all right. Just not in the way she meant to.
Delaney grinned and slapped her on the shoulder. “Go home and get some Smoosh Time with your dog, Steele. Rest up. We’ll figure out the boners later.”
Elysia Whisler is the author of RESCUE YOU and other coming titles in the Dogwood County series. She was raised in Texas, Italy, Alaska, Mississippi, Nebraska, Hawai’i and Virginia, in true military fashion. Her nomadic life made storytelling a compulsion from a young age. Her work as a massage therapist and a CrossFit trainer informs her stories. She lives in Virginia with her family, including her large brood of cat and dog rescues, who vastly outnumber the humans.
I let her go before I enlisted. I left my heart with her.
Now I’m home for good – my world has changed, my sight gone.
Not only do I have to be with her every day as I learn to navigate the world around me, but I have to come face to face with my regrets.
She deserves more than me.
I need her.
I want her.
Will she want me again — the damaged version of the man who broke her heart?
This is a steamy military romance and the first book in my Oakside Military Heroes series. Each book can be read as a standalone but as always better together. Follow these strong possessive heroes as they find their forever girls.
Kaci runs on coffee, chocolate, and Oreos. She loves her book boyfriends with tattoos, muscles, beards, and a little dirty.
Kaci loves romance books and has been jotting down ideas since she was in high school and is now putting the ideas down on paper. She believes in satisfying, happily ever afters with a lot of steam on the way.
She was born and raised in Southwest Florida but is wholeheartedly a mountain girl. She has been reading as many books as she could get her hands on since grade school and loves to travel when she gets the chance.
In the HIDDEN LOVE by RJ Gray, Shannon Callaway’s life became the ultimate challenge the instant her best friend passed away, leaving her to raise a child that wasn’t hers. For Kade Harding it all boils down to deciding if his future is a civilian life he wasn’t expecting, or returning to his unit and leaving his new family behind. Fans of military romances will enjoy this sexy, must-read second chance romance from the Meet Cute Book Club Series.
The Hidden Love
Meet Cute Book Club Series
by RJ Gray
“Oh, God! Did I just fall right into my dead best friend’s ex-boyfriend, secret baby daddy, incredibly sexy, Navy SEAL’s arms?” – Sounds like a line right out of one of my book club’s romance novels.
Except it’s not. It’s real life. My real life.
Grieving the loss of my best friend, and suddenly taking on raising her son, I’m faced with a whole new set of challenges. That includes breaking the news to my brother’s best friend, Kade, that Danny is his son.
As if that’s not enough for one woman to handle. Kade is even hotter than I remember, and navigating all the details of Annabelle’s death and Danny’s future brings us closer than ever, in more ways than one.
And my girls in from book club? They’re all for me finding my happily ever after with the sexy as sin man in uniform.
But Kade has even more on the line without worrying about a relationship. Will he choose a family and life outside of the military, or will he return to his unit and leave it all behind?
“Turns out, I wasn’t ready for the meeting after all,” she said in a whisper.
“With the lawyer? Wasn’t it supposed to be a pretty routine meeting?” Mila asked.
“If only. I don’t even know how to process everything…”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning and I’ll try to help?” Mila suggested.
“Well, you know I’m Danny’s godmother. When Annabelle and Doug asked me to be his godmother, they also asked if I would take custody of Danny if anything happened to them, and I readily agreed. Annabelle, as you know, has no blood family to speak of. My family was the closest thing she had to kin. Doug…” Shannon paused, it wasn’t nice to speak ill of the dead, but did that carry over to his family? She’d tread lightly. “He shrouded his family in a veil of mystery from day one. Even after a decade, I didn’t know them very well. His parents live out of state and they don’t visit too often.”
“He definitely kept to himself,” Mila agreed.
“Taking all the necessary legal precautions, they decided I would be Danny’s guardian if anything happened to them. Of course, the possibility of something happening to both of them at the same time was slim and none of us thought it would ever come down to that… Yet, here we are.”
“Yes, here we are. They couldn’t have chosen a better guardian. You’ve been like a second mom to Danny since the day he was born,” Mila said gently.
“More like the cool aunt,” Shannon countered with a laugh.
“I guess I don’t understand the confusion here? Isn’t this what the lawyer confirmed?” Mila asked.
“Not exactly. Besides the exorbitant amount of money left behind for Danny’s care, which my mind is having a hard time wrapping around… Where did this money come from?” Shannon asked.
“Life insurance?” Mila suggested.
“No. I mean, they both had life insurance policies, but we haven’t even applied for those yet. This is a fund they’d set up for Danny in case something happened. It’s… bizarre. It’s almost like they knew they were going to die.” Shannon’s skin pricked.
“You can’t predict being hit by a drunk driver, though,” Mila said.
“I know. There’s little about their deaths that makes sense. I’m sure my lack of sleep isn’t helping. Anyway, believe it or not, there’s more. So much more. What I am about to tell you is an absolute secret and you can’t tell anyone. Promise?”
“Not even the girls in our book club?” Mila asked.
“Not even them, not yet. I’ll tell them at the next meeting. Hopefully, by then, I’ll have had time to process all of this.”
“Whatever it is you’re about to tell me must be important. I promise,” Mila said.
“Do you remember Kade Harding from high school?”
“Of course. He’s like some super high-speed Army Ranger or something now, right?”
“Wow. Impressive. I remember him being an immature little brat in middle school. Snapping the girls’ bras and pushing his weight around,” Mila said. Back then, Mila ran with a different crowd than Shannon and Annabelle.
“Yeah, he definitely grew up. He’s no longer twelve.” She chuckled, remembering him as a child. He pulled her pigtails a time or two. “Anyway, do you remember how he and Annabelle were high school sweethearts?” Shannon asked.
“Yeah. We all thought they’d get married and have a couple of kids running around and show up at our twentieth reunion looking exactly as they did in high school with their perfect genes. But they broke up right after he left town for the military, right?” Mila answered.
“Something like that.” After Kade finished the grueling process of becoming a Navy SEAL, he deployed for the first time. He lost one of his close friends during that deployment. Kade came back a different person. In one year’s time, he matured more than most of the men she knew did in ten years.
Deciding he couldn’t put Annabelle through the heartbreak of losing him to death, Kade broke up with her. Shannon held Annabelle as she cried, reading the letter he’d sent her. She’d thought he’d been a coward, ending things with her best friend via a letter. It wasn’t until he called to talk with Blaze and unloaded the details on her that she understood his reasoning, even if she didn’t agree with it. She still told him it was a punk thing to do, sending a letter instead of delivering the news in person, or at the very least, over the phone.
Shannon acted just as cowardly, sending him an email requesting he return home instead of calling him.
“What’s Kade have to do with your meeting with the lawyer?”
“Ten years ago, he came home on leave to bury his grandfather. Doug and Annabelle got into a huge fight. They weren’t married yet. In fact, they were on a short relationship break. It’s not like she cheated on him or anything when she and Kade had sex–”
“Wait. What?” Mila asked, shocked. “Ten years ago?”
“Yeah, ten years ago. Kade is Danny’s biological father.”
Copyright 2022 @ RJ Gray
RJ Gray is a USA TODAY, Amazon & International Bestselling author of Explosively Hot Romance. Writing military romance comes second nature to RJ. After serving in the military herself, she married her very own hero, an active duty Army EOD technician. In the last seventeen years, they’ve lived in Illinois, DC, Missouri, Alabama, Florida, Washington State, Colorado, Virginia and Hawaii. Recently, RJ moved to the great state of South Carolina with her husband, two young sons, their rescue pup, and two adopted kittens. RJ lives an active life. When not writing, her hobbies include whipping up delicious meals, capturing life’s beauty with her camera and attending her children’s multiple sporting events. Find out more about RJ by following her on social media or dropping her an email.
Escape with the Meet Cute Book Club where meet-cutes don’t only happen between the pages of romance novels and members find their own happily ever afters.
Eight single women bound by their love of books take a monthly break from real life to lose themselves in the chapters of romantic fiction. From friends to lovers to fake relationships and more, each story features a brand new couple and their journey to find love from an amazing lineup of authors including Louise Lennox, Tracy Broemmer, A.M. Williams, Mel Walker, RJ Gray, Rebecca Wilder, Julie Archer, and Kate Stacy.
These eight standalone romances are packed with meet-cutes, heat, and of course a happily ever after!
This promotional event is brought to you by TheIndie Pen PR
She drives him crazy and he’s falling crazy in love.
Matchmaking a Single Dad, a hilarious, hot single dad romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Denise Grover Swank and USA Today bestselling author Angela Casella writing as Angela Denise, is out now!
Matchmaking a Single Dad
Highland Hills #2
by Angela Denise
They’re all wrong for each other…but sometimes two wrongs do make a right.
The only woman I need in my life is my eight-year-old daughter, Jane. As a widowed brewery owner, I don’t have the time or inclination for anything more serious than a one night stand. Running the brewery is a big job, and being a parent is a bigger one, especially since my in-laws keep trying to prove I’m an unfit guardian.
But there’s no denying Holly Mayberry drives me crazy with her sassy mouth and attitude. I’ve known her most of my life, but I’ve always done a good job of evading her. Until now. She’s teaching Jane’s after-school computer program, and fate keeps throwing us together.
Holly and I are like oil and water, no good for each other. I need to stop thinking about her, so I agree to beta test a new dating app—one that Holly designed, although she’s the last person I’d tell.
My match and I can only DM each other for thirty days. No photos. No real names. No personal information until the end.
If I wanted more with a woman, Cherry Bomb checks all the boxes…so why can’t I stop thinking about Holly?
Cole Garrison is a jerk. Or so I’ve told myself for years. The truth is, he’s a DILF and a half, and bickering with him is better than kissing someone else.
Hopefully, the guy I’m chatting up on my dating app will help me forget him…and take his place in my dirty daydreams.
Download your copy today on Amazon or Free in Kindle Unlimited!
The door opens, and the teacher sponsoring Tech Time, Mrs. Applebaum, comes in, followed by a boy and three little girls. Four. That’s not so bad. That’s two each for Mikey and me. I give him a we can do this look, but his expression has soured like milk left out too long. Mrs. Applebaum takes care of getting the kids into the room, which is its own brand of chaos, and then she claps her hands, her expression changing from frazzled to upbeat, and says, “There. Now I’ll leave them in your capable hands.”
“Wait,” Mikey says with alarm, rocking on his feet, “you’re not staying?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re quite capable of holding down the fort. I’ll check in with you toward the end.”
“Are you sure—” I start, but I’m cut off by the closing of the door.
“Hi, I’m Eloise,” one of the kids says. She’s a little girl in a button-up shirt with pearl buttons that go up so high I’m surprised it’s not choking her.
Oh, yeah. Introductions. “I’m Holly,” I say, gesturing broadly to Mikey, “and this is Mikey. Why don’t you all pick computer stations?”
“Aren’t we supposed to call you Miss Holly and Mr. Mikey? Or by your last names?” Eloise asks as the kids get seated.
They’ve barely had time to introduce themselves before the door bursts open, revealing a newly harried looking Mrs. Applebaum, followed by none other than Cole Garrison himself and his small, dark-haired daughter, Jane.
“No,” I say reflexively.
“No, what?” Jane asks. “Hey, Dad, that’s the woman you always argue with.”
It’s my turn for murder eyes, only I make them at Cole. Cole, who only got better with age, damn him. His wavy dark hair has been joined by a short, trimmed dark beard that perfectly frames his lips, as if saying, “please kiss here.” Those eyes are as puppy doggish as ever, and now he’s both tall and broad, the kind of man any woman would welcome in her bed. To her detriment. Because he’s still a jerk.
I’ve had a somewhat recent refresher course on his jerkitude, actually. Before I left for New York, I made the monumental mistake of trying to be nice to him, and it’s a tactic I’m not about to reprise.
“Will you be joining us, Jane?” I ask, my tone tight.
Cole mustn’t know the no-swearing-in-a-school rule either, because he curses under his breath. “I didn’t know you were teaching this class,” he says to me. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
“Excuse me,” I say. “I’m very qualified to teach a bunch of eight-year-olds Scratch.”
“It’s basic coding,” I say, glancing back at the other kids. “I’m going to teach y’all to make your own games. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
Please God, let them say yes.
There are a few enthusiastic nods, although Eloise instantly raises her hand again. Sighing, I nod at her. “Yes, Eloise?”
“Will there be a test?”
“No,” I say, “but we’ll be giving a presentation to the rest of the school before Christmas break.”
“Sounds like a test,” Jane mutters.
There’s probably no getting rid of her, and it’s not her fault that I have an issue with her father, so I say, “Why don’t you take a seat?”
She does, choosing the open seat near Mikey.
Cole scratches the back of his neck, looking at her. I guess Mrs. Applebaum is satisfied to have done her part, because she nods and says, “All right. That’s settled then. I’m going to my classroom. I’ll be back at the end of class.”
Does she have a flask in there or something? She seems suspiciously eager to get back to her desk.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” Cole asks. It takes me a second to realize he’s addressing me.
I gesture toward the children. Mikey is regarding them with escalating terror, probably because if I step out, he’ll be left in charge. “Not a great time, to state the obvious.” “Why are you doing that?” Jane asks Mikey, who’s tapping the side of her monitor agitatedly. “Do you have a nervous tic, or is there something wrong with the screen? If there’s something wrong with the screen, you probably shouldn’t have let me sit here.”
He mutters something about this being just like middle school.
“It’ll only take a second,” Cole says, his eyes burning into me. Despite myself, I feel a not unpleasant sense of awareness.
“Fine,” I say begrudgingly. “Mikey, get them to turn on their computers and draw up the program.” It’ll be easier for him to step up if there’s a concrete task to focus on.
I step out into the hall, and Cole takes several steps back, as if he feels the need to constantly keep a minimum distance between us. Fine by me. “What is it?” I ask tersely, shutting the door.
For a second, he just looks at me, and I’m about to lose patience when he finally says, “I know you don’t like me, Holly. But don’t take it out on my daughter.”
He might as well have punched me in the gut.
“Is that what you think of me? You think I’d be a creep to a little girl because she has the misfortune of being related to you? If anything, I’ll be nicer to her to make up for it.”
His expression suggests my shot has landed too, and I’m glad, but only temporarily.
The corner of his lips tip up in a self-deprecating smile that lacks any mirth. “You’re hardly the only person to think it’s her misfortune. I had to say it.”
“Did you?” I ask, tilting my head.
He takes a slight step toward me, as if preparing to tell me off, then says, “Goodbye, Holly.”
In my mind, I think of another day, of a young boy, still on his way toward becoming a man, saying, “I’ll be seeing you, Holly Mayberry.”
How the hell has it come to this?
I watch him go, partly because I want to make sure he really leaves and partly because he does, damn him, have a fine butt. No harm in looking, ladies.
I highly recommend anything written under the Angela Denise name. The characters are always interesting, things are never boring, and there’s a good mixture of humor and heat. Matchmaking the Single Dad holds true. The daughter is adorable, the heroine is sassy, and the hero is hunky – all combining to make a fun, and funny, read.
Holly and Cole have been picking at each other for years. Of course, we know it’s because they are perfect for each other but misunderstandings and missteps over the years have led them to this point. A place where spending time together because of Cole’s daughter means that they are going to have to address their feelings for each other. It’s definitely not smooth sailing – both of them are stubborn to say the least – but with the help of friends and family maybe they can finally find that HEA they’ve been waiting for.
Witty banter, tender moments, a spunky 7 year old, and a good amount steam kept me turning the pages and coming back for more. I can’t wait to see what comes next for the Mayberry siblings 🙂
(Part of a series but pretty easily stands on its own.)
About New York Times bestselling author Denise Grover Swank and USA Today bestselling author Angela Casella writing as Angela Denise
ANGELA DENISE is the pen name for the writing duo Angela Casella and Denise Grover Swank.
ANGELA CASELLA loves writing romcoms, particularly with the lovely Denise Grover Swank. She lives in Asheville, NC with her husband, daughter, and two geriatric dogs. Her hobbies include herding her daughter toward less dangerous activities, stress baking, and marathon watching TV shows.
DENISE GROVER SWANK is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author and has sold over three million books. She indie published her first book, a romance mystery, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes, in 2011. She has since published over fifty novels, multiple novellas and short stories as an indie and with five publishers. She is published in seven languages. She is a single mother to six children and four dogs and hasn’t lost her sanity. Or so she leads you to believe.