Marrying the Wedding Crasher by Melinda Curtis
This bachelor’s pretend girlfriend just made a shocking discovery--
Although they dated for only a month, Harley O’Hannigan just agreed to be Vince Messina’s plus-one at a Harmony Valley wedding. Big mistake, given her deepening feelings for the tall, dark, unavailable bachelor. And what about Vince’s long-buried family history? Then there’s the growing secret that could transform this pretend relationship into the real thing…
Wonderfully entertaining!" Jayne Ann Krentz, NYT Bestseller (referring to Playing for Love)
"Reading Slade and Christine's story reminded me of why I enjoy romance. SEASON OF CHANGE has found a place on my keeper shelf!" Brenda Novak, NYT Bestseller
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Harley opened the creaky door to her hot truck cab and climbed in. She missed her Lexus. She missed auto-start and powerful air-conditioning.
She turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. Not so much as a tick of the starter.
She missed reliability.
“Not today,” she muttered.
The truck was finicky. It didn’t like to run when the Houston temperature dropped to the thirties or in thunderstorms, but the day had been hot, the skies clear.
“Come on, baby,” she chided the old vehicle. Don’t leave me stranded with Mr. Carrots and that grin.
Vince, aka Mr. Carrots, locked up his tools and leaned on his truck, staring at hers.
Still nothing. Her backside was growing damp with sweat.
Vince walked toward her with the swagger of a man who knew what his purpose was in life. And, right now, that purpose was to rescue a damsel in distress. “Pop the hood.”
She did, hopping out and joining him at the grille. Not that she knew anything about engines. Her mechanical ability stopped at turning power tools off and on.
Vince tsked and gave Harley a look that disapproved and teased at the same time.
“Hey, don’t judge,” she said. “It runs.”
“It’s not running now.” He drew a blue rag from his back pocket. It was the kind of scrap mechanics used to wipe their hands and touch hot engines. “You might want to spray your engine off every once in a while.” He used the rag to check battery connections, hose connections and to prod the engine compartment as if he knew what he was doing.
“I barely clean my apartment. Why would I clean my engine?”
“So a mechanic can see if you’ve got leaks anywhere, for one thing,” Vince said straight-faced. “Why don’t you try it again?”
She hurried back behind the wheel. The truck started right up. “Traitor,” she accused under her breath.
Vince shut the hood and came around to her window, wiping his hands.
“Thanks.” Harley gave him her polite smile, the one she reserved for helpful salesclerks and the receptionist who squeezed her in at the doctor’s office. “I owe you.”
“Yeeeaah.” He wound out the word and ran his fingers through that thatch of midnight hair. “About that. I need a favor.” Those kind black eyes lifted to her face.
Don’t believe in fairy tales... Don’t believe in fairy tales...
Despite their history, despite knowing better, silly fantasies about princely rescues and Mr. Right fluttered about her chest like happy butterflies on a warm spring day.
She should go. Instead she lingered and asked, “So what’s the favor?”
The devilish grin returned, making the butterflies ecstatic. “I need a date to my brother’s wedding.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Melinda Curtis is an award-winning, USA Today Bestseller of over 40 romances. She writes sweet romance for Harlequin Heartwarming, sweet romantic comedies and sexy sports contemporary romances. When not working on DIY projects around their home, Melinda and her college sweetheart enjoy watching Duke mens basketball and visiting their three kids and one grandchild. Sign up for her mailing list to receive two free reads.
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Always the Hero by Anna J. Stewart
He never relied on anyone but himself…but he needs her now!
Butterfly Harbor deputy Matt Knight wants two things: to date Lori Bradley and the chance to adopt Kyle, a troubled teen. Wounded in Afghanistan, Matt knows he can’t move forward anchored to the past. But once he regains the guarded hotel manager’s trust, will his need to protect those he loves cost him a future with this extraordinary woman?
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Praise for Anna J Stewart“The talented Anna J Stewart delivers every time.” ~NYTimes Bestselling Author Brenda Novak
“Anna J. Stewart will tug at your heartstrings more than once while leaving you utterly besotted with her characters.” ~The Romance Reviews
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Matt Knight was all about doing right by people. Especially those he cared about. But there wasn’t any moving forward, not with his life, not with Lori, as long as he was still anchored to the past.
The phone rang. Before Matt could reach for the receiver, Jasper answered.
“It’s for you, Matt. A Chris Walters?”
“That’s Kyle’s caseworker,” Matt said as he picked up his extension.
“Chris? Kyle okay?”
“Doing well, actually.” The social worker’s encouraging words belied the tension in his voice. “We’re still on track for an early release. For now at least.”
“What’s that mean?” Matt squeezed the receiver so hard his fingers
tingled. “What’s going on?”
“The judge in charge of Kyle’s case is retiring. His replacement is
reviewing all the cases ahead of time and, well, since we’re jumping beyond fosterage to adoption, she has some concerns about your living situation.”
“What’s wrong with my living situation?” Matt asked. “I’ve got a room
ready for him, he’ll have a part-time job with the sheriff’s department, and most importantly he’ll have more stability than he’s known in years.”
“I’m on your side, remember? You don’t have to convince me. She’s not denying your petition, Matt, but she has suggested a female influence in the house wouldn’t be a bad thing for Kyle. And given your marital status...”
“That’s about to be resolved.” Matt looked down at the papers on his desk. “I filed the divorce papers and am getting ready to sign them as we speak.”
“Okay. We’ll have to see how that plays with the judge.”
“Given Kyle’s last female influence was too hopped-up on prescription meds to give him a second thought, I wouldn’t think this would be any judge’s first concern.” Matt hated to speak ill of Kyle’s mother, but the truth was the truth.
“It’s a concern, Matt. And the judge only suggested it would be in your and Kyle’s best interest if there was someone in your life to help bring a bit of balance. Even if it’s just a girlfriend, which brings me to what we talked about before. She’s going to want to call Lori as a character witness.”
“Lori? How does she know about Lori?” The last time his heart had pounded this hard he’d been dodging bullets.
“Because I listed her in my report. You said you were dating her, that you thought it was getting serious. Are you telling me something’s changed?”
Changed? Other than Matt all but ignoring her the last few weeks while he got his head on straight and cleared the emotional deck? “No, nothing’s changed,” Matt blurted before his brain could catch up with the panic seizing his chest. He’d made a promise to Kyle, and Matt Knight never made a promise he couldn’t keep. “We’ve been seeing each other for a while, off and on.” Most recently off. All the more reason to remedy that.
“She’s completely on board with me taking Kyle in.”
“So you’re okay with her listed as a character witness? She’ll back up your statement should the judge want to call her in during Kyle’s hearing?”
“Yeah, of course.” Matt swallowed the lie. Well, it wasn’t a lie exactly. Lori did know about Kyle but Matt’s current relationship with her might be a bit, well, up in the air. “Have they set a date yet for the hearing?”
“Um, yeah. Hang on, I’ve got that right...” The sound of shuffling papers scraped against Matt’s ear. “Three weeks from Monday. Looks like the judge has us penciled in for two in the afternoon.”
Matt scribbled the date on his calendar, noting that was the same day as the big welcome dinner that opened the Butterfly Festival. That would take some juggling given it was all hands on deck in town for the department. “I’ll be there.” Somehow. “I thought I’d come up and see him in a couple of weeks. Need to figure out my days off.”
“You’re on the visitor’s list for anytime,” Chris said. “I’m glad you told me about Lori. This will go a long way with this judge in approving Kyle’s placement.”
“I hope so.” With Kyle’s troubled past, the only other placement option for him would be a group foster home or to extend his stint in the detention center he currently resided in. “Let me know if there are any more changes.”
“You got it.”
Matt hung up. Why was it, even when he had the best of intentions, he ended up messing things up? At least now he had even more of a reason to apologize to Lori. As much as he wanted her back in his life, he needed her.
Kyle needed her. Unease settled in his gut like a stone. He hated lying. To anyone.
But especially to Lori Bradley.
“Everything okay?” Jasper asked. “Is Kyle still getting out?”
“He sure is.” Matt picked up his pen, clicked it open and scratched his name on the divorce degree. A few seconds later, he set the sealed envelope on the counter, where it would go out in the afternoon mail.
“What’s wrong?” Matt rested his arms on the table and leaned in. She could feel the warmth of his breath, feel the heat of his concerned gaze.
“Nothing.” She shifted in her seat. “It’s...nothing.”
“Now who’s lying?”
Her chin shot up at his accusation but it was then she saw he was teasing her.
“Come on, Lori. Tell me what’s bothering you. You’ve been acting weird since before we came in here. Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?”
“Why on earth would I—” She took a deep breath. “You’re making fun of me.”
“How else am I going to disarm you enough to tell me what’s going on in here.” He reached up and tapped a finger against the side of her head.
“It’s not important.” Darn it, why did she always let this get to her? Why hadn’t she just been honest and told him she didn’t want to go to breakfast?
“Given we’ve spent the last couple of minutes debating that fact, I’ll say you’re wrong. What is it?”
“I just...” Could her face feel any hotter? “I don’t like eating out, okay? There. You got me to confess, copper. Take me to jail.” She held out her wrists, palms up.
“Why don’t you like to eat out?”
“Oh, for...” She tucked her hair behind her ears and sighed. “It’s silly.
“Clearly, it’s not. Tell me.”
Tell him? Tell him one of her most embarrassing secrets? Tell him about how even her own parents were disgusted by her? Yeah, that should kill off any residual feelings he might have for her. “When I was a little girl and we went out to eat, my mother would constantly criticize me. I shouldn’t have that or what will people think, a chubby girl like you eating that. I embarrassed her. And she made sure everyone knew it.” All these years later and it still messed with her head. “I told you it was stupid.”
“It’s not stupid. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.” He reached over and held out a hand. She stared at his open palm, heart pounding as she realized how much she wanted to take it. Instead, she pulled her hands into her lap and locked her fingers together. “No child should ever be made to feel less than. For any reason.”
“I totally agree. Which is why I haven’t talked to her in about a gazillion years.” That neither of her parents seemed interested in reaching out to her—or Fletcher—didn’t help the situation. It was one thing to be a child and suspect your parents didn’t like you; it was another to be an adult and know it to be true. “So, there you go. I don’t like to eat out because my mother used to make fun of me for being fat. Bring on the chocolate pudding.”
“Have I mentioned how much I loathe self-deprecating humor?” He sat back and pinned her with a stare that made her shiver. “We’re being honest with each other now, yeah? Stop making fun of yourself. I don’t find the jokes funny and I don’t agree with them. What on earth does your dress size have to do with the type of person you are? I like who you are, Lori. I have from the first time I saw you, so suck it up and deal with it. And while you’re at it, stop making light of things that cause you pain. It’s irritating.”
“Yes, it is.” She didn’t want to take what he said to heart. She didn’t want to believe he meant what she’d always wanted someone to say to her; someone who might actually care for her, love her. “It’s also the one defense mechanism that’s worked for me, so forgive me if I don’t bow to your lack of expertise in this matter.” She meant for the comment to tick him off, drive him away. Offend him to the point he’d settle her firmly in the friends column. Instead, she watched the anger lines around his eyes ease and the
corners of his mouth flicker.
“You’d be surprised what I know about parental disapproval, but that’s a conversation for another time. Look at us, getting to know each other. Being honest with one another. It’s almost like we’re starting a new relationship or something.”
Lori shook her head, wanting nothing more than to walk away and forget that whenever she was with him she didn’t want to be without him. He had a way of making her forget everything that shouldn’t be important. “What’s wrong with you? Everything that should make you angry makes you laugh.”
“And sometimes vice versa,” he confirmed with a shrug. “You have your coping mechanisms, I have mine. And for the record, I’ll give you time to work on that bad habit of yours. Not a lot, but some.”
ABOUT the AUTHOR:
USA Today and national bestselling author Anna J. Stewart writes sweet to sexy romance for Harlequin’s Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense lines. Early obsessions with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Wonder Woman set her on the path to creating fun, funny, and family-centric romances with happily ever afters for her independent heroines. Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with a serious Supernatural & Sherlock addiction, surrounds herself with friends and family and tolerates an overly affectionate cat named Snickers (or perhaps it’s Snickers who tolerates her). When she’s not writing books or her monthly blog for USA Today’s Happy Ever After, you can find her at fan conventions or at her local movie theater, or building her client list for her content editing services.
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