COMING FRIDAY 7 PM PST. SHIRLEY JUMP AUTHOR OF: THE MILLIONAIRE TEMPTED FATE
7 PM PST. SHIRLEY JUMP
When Angie Wilson realizes her best friend Max is planning on proposing to Miss Wrong on Valentine’s Day, Angie sets out to win his heart in ten days. From showing him her sexy side to a disastrous attempt at cooking dinner, her plan goes awry at every turn. One night, too much rum, and a hot time in Angie’s bed has Max rethinking his logical proposal to a woman who may look good on paper but isn’t the one who captures his heart like Angie does. But is he willing to risk losing his best friend in order to have the happy ending he secretly craves?
Ten days. That's all Angie Wilson had given herself to pull off a miracle.
Well, not a miracle, exactly. More of a diabolical scheme to win the heart of the man she had loved since he gave her his last Starburst in third grade. She'd been too in awe of the fact that Max Blackwell had realized she was alive to do anything more than clutch the wrapped orange square of candy in her palm the whole bus ride home. She'd tucked the softened chewy bite in her ballerina jewelry box, a place of honor given only to the most special mementos.
It was still there, a hard, and now probably a stale reminder of the day she'd met Max and how that one encounter had changed everything.
"What about this one?" Max's deep voice jerked her attention back to the glistening interior of a Boston jewelry store and the reason she was here for this self-flagellation party.
Picking out a ring for the woman Max wanted to marry.
For weeks, Angie had told herself that Max's infatuation would blow over, that his ardor would cool, but if anything his feelings had shrunk for the woman he'd met by the dollar changing machine in the neighborhood Coin Wash Laundromat. That there was still plenty of time for Max to wake up, smell the coffee and realize his perfect woman was already in his life.
That stubborn, deluded thinking had brought her here. To a jewelry store, where Angie was being asked her opinion about a marquis cut versus a princess cut. A ring meant not for Angie, but for her.
Becky Perkins, who was altogether too blonde, too thin and too perky for serious-minded investor Max—a fact that had escaped him.
Across from them, a somber salesman in a dark blue suit waited with patient silence, his hands clasped behind his back, while he did his best to blend into the scenery. For the first time in his life, Max stood indecisive, hemming and hawing over the rings in the velvet lined trays. Max’s strong, thick fingers dwarfed the delicate rings, as he touched one, then another, debating.
Max dwarfed almost everything in the world, as far as Angie was concerned. Six-foot-two, he had maintained his lean, strong quarterback build ever since college. His short dark hair made his blue eyes seem richer, almost like the sapphires propped beside the selection of diamonds. More than that, Max had presence, a way of carrying himself into a boardroom or at a dinner or even, heck, into Starbuck’s. People noticed Max.
He didn’t dress like the millionaire he was, nor did he act like one. He pumped his own gas, trucked his laundry down to the Laundromat when his washer broke, and still went through the drive-thru at McDonald’s. He was the same person he’d always been.
Except for this little detour into Insanity with the engagement ring for Becky. Clearly, Max had had one too many Whoppers.
Angie put her back to the counter. All that bling was blinding, as far as she was concerned, and if the man couldn’t pick a ring, maybe it was a sign he didn’t know his intended all that well. Which gave Angie hope and an anti-engagement argument. "Don't you think you're rushing into this? You've only known her for three months."
Max shrugged. "When you know, you know. Isn't that what you always say?"
She had said that. In a long fumbling conversation where she'd tried to tell Max how she felt and ended up derailing into a discussion about ice cream. "I meant sundae toppings, not wives."
Max chuckled. "Well, the same advice applies." He picked up an intricate princess cut ring offset by an S-shaped coil of stones curling around the main stone. "You should find someone too, Ang. Settle down, have the two kids and the dog. Move to the suburbs."
"What happened to the guy who lives and breathes this city? The guy who once told me that Boston is as necessary to you as your heart?"
She glanced at him, waiting for the punchline, the "just kidding." The Max she'd known for fifteen years was a living life easy kind of guy with a ready smile who rarely took anything seriously. He liked risk, excitement, being on the edge. It was a trait that had served him well in the world of investments and was what had attracted her to him in the first place. She still remembered Max climbing the tallest slide on the playground, the one only the fifth and sixth graders used, and whipping down the silvery surface like a racecar. Now he was going to marry a kindergarten teacher who spent her spare time on Pinterest following boards about craft projects?
"What?” he said. “You're staring at me."
"Because you have been replaced by an alien. This is not the Max I know."
"Meeting Betsy made me realize what I want out of life." He turned the ring toward her. "What about this one?"
The gaudy oversized ring stared back at Angie with a disappointed glare. She had waited too long to act on her feelings. Thought too much, padiddled around, as her grandmother called it. And now she was staring at a ring that she hated, meant for a woman she wished would disappear. Betsy was all wrong for Max. Why didn't he see that?
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Candace Woodrow knows it's a recipe for disaster. She has no business even looking at another man--no matter how sinfully sexy he is--much less waking up in Michael Vogler's bed three weeks before she marries Mr. Right. She's determined the wedding will go off without a hitch--as long as she can keep her meddling grandmother, her flighty mother, and her well-meaning friends from interfering with her plans--and pointing out her doubts every time she turns around. And it won't be easy--since Michael's just become Candace's biggest client, with an order for thousands of the Gift Baskets to Die For she creates with her friends. Worse, he wants to work closely with Candace...every step of the way. It's enough to drive a girl to intravenous chocolate consumption, 24/7. And the way Candace's heart flip-flops whenever Michael is around is an industrial-sized clue that keeping a tight rein on her future and her heart might not be such a good idea. But risking it all for a man she barely knows is even crazier, right?
The gnomes inside Candace's head hosted a fiesta worthy of Cinco de Mayo, complete with the flashing red jalapeno lights and a band of hammers pounding out the rhythm to “Celebration” in double-time. The sound waved and rolled with her stomach, increasing in volume every time she moved a fraction of an inch in the bed.
A snippet of advice from Grandma Woodrow floated through her mind. Candace latched onto it with every bit of consciousness she could muster. Put one foot on the floor and you’ll get off the hangover Tilt-a-Whirl.
Candace wasn't sure she could feel her foot, never mind move it.
She pressed her palms against her throbbing temples. Willing the headache away didn't work. Shutting her eyes tighter only made the pounding intensify. She moaned and rolled over, clutching the pillow beside her.
The sheet came loose when she moved and cool air tickled against her skin. Down her spine. Along her belly. Past her legs.
Not against pajamas of any kind.
Candace froze and did a mental inventory. Exquisitely soft bed linens. No gurgle of the fish tank she had in her bedroom. No Trifecta snoring at the end of the bed. No traffic sounds outside the window.
Without opening her eyes, she ran a tentative hand down her body. Her fingers skipped over the soft satin of her bra. Panties.
She bolted from the bed, tripping over some shoes and landing in a heap on the floor. She scrambled to a sitting position, then peeked over the bed at the room. A room she didn't recognize. Her heart thudded in her throat, threatening to suffocate her.
The gnomes kept up their steady hammering. Maybe they were building a condominium in there. Candace closed her eyes again, but that intensified her vertigo. She hoped, no prayed, that she was at a friend's apartment. Yes, that was it. She was at Maria's. Who had—Candace scrambled for an explanation—gone on a major redecorating spree in the last twelve hours.
Yeah. That works. Doesn't it?
A pair of Levi 505s lay in a crumpled heap beside her. Jeans she'd never seen before. Jeans that definitely didn't belong to her. Or a woman, for that matter.
Okay. Take a breath. Try to remember.
Maria. Rebecca. The can't-find-a-dress pity party at the restaurant. A few drinks. Okay, a lot of drinks. And a man.
Oh God, a man. She was pretty damned sure his name wasn't Barry, either.
Candace bit her lip to keep from screaming. Nothing else existed in her memory—no name, no conclusion to the night, and especially no memory of how she'd ended up in someone else's bed wearing nothing more than her underwear.
She clung to the sheet, the one sane thing she had in Wonderland. She cradled her head with her other hand, praying for the throbbing to stop so the fog could clear. “Oh Lord, why can't I remember?”
“Because you had too much to drink,” a deep voice called.
Unless Maria had gotten a sex-change operation last night, that was definitely not her best friend's voice.
Candace ducked down beside the bed like a SEAL commando and peered over the edge for a glimpse of who had spoken.
The blinds were still drawn, but a tiny sliver of sunlight peeked through the slits. Most of the bedroom remained in shadow. Besides the massive four-poster sat a polished mahogany nightstand holding an empty bottle of German beer and a half-dozen books. Plenty of expensive furniture, but nobody to match the voice.
She'd imagined this. A total tequila hallucination.
Behind her, a door creaked open. Candace spun around. Light spilled into the room from a bathroom ten feet away.
A man stood in front of a pedestal sink, shaving.
That was so not Maria.
Candace patted the hardwood floor. No luck. No magic rabbit hole to swallow her up so she wouldn't have to deal with this man and anything that might have happened between them last night.
Oh, God—anything that might have happened?
An ocean of nausea rolled through her, threatening to deposit whatever was left in her stomach onto the Oriental rug.
Who was he? And why was she in his bedroom, doing a private Victoria's Secret runway event? The obvious answer was too horrifying for Candace to consider.
He was definitely not the man she had promised to marry in twenty-one days. No, if today was Sunday, twenty days.
Her mouth went dry as she considered the possibilities of who he might be. Serial rapist. Psychotic killer. Deranged kidnapper. Right-wing Republican.
Using the bed as a crutch, she pulled herself to a standing position, ignoring the sudden blast of pain in her head and fighting with the sheet that had tangled around her feet. With a solid yank, she tugged it out from under her and lost her balance. She tumbled to the floor again, losing her grip on the cloth.
She staggered to her feet and prayed the light-colored sheet covered her. It didn't. A quick glance down confirmed the outline of black lace and a Wonderbra.
She didn't even want to think about how—or with whose hands—she had gotten undressed.
Her navy sundress sat a few feet away, draped over the arm of a wingback chair. Candace bent to grab it. But she didn't move fast enough.
“Nice view,” said a voice from behind her.
She spun around, at the same time wrapping the sheet tighter.
He held a foot's height advantage over her. His hair, still wet from the shower, was slicked back in a dark wave. Deep blue eyes that appeared almost black in the half-light of the room studied her with clear amusement.
Her gaze traveled down, past his bare muscular chest, following the vee of dark hairs to the waistband of a pair of checkered silk boxer shorts. The satiny material stopped mid-thigh along his lean, tanned and—okay, she had to admit it—inordinately interesting legs. She jerked her attention back to his face.
And he knows it.
In her experience, which could fit on the head of a pin and still have room left over—men with that self-satisfied grin used their looks like shark hunters used chum. Bait, hook, use up the good parts, then toss the useless carcass to the seagulls.
“I take it you don't remember anything that happened last night?” He wiped his chin with a hand towel, then sent it sailing into a corner hamper.
She shook her head, wishing she were anywhere but here, standing in front of a short-haired Adrian Paul doppelganger wearing little more than thousand-count sheets.
He took a step closer, fingering the tip of the sheet. Even his eyes were rich, flecked with tiny bits of gold among the sapphire. He grinned again, either as a tease or a suggestion, Candace didn't know. Didn't want to know. “You had a wonderful time, I can assure you.”
The room swayed. Her stomach lurched. Candace smacked his hand away. “That's a matter of opinion.”
“Perhaps.” He sat on the bed and began to pull on the jeans. “In my opinion, we enjoyed ourselves fully.”
She ignored the implications, hoping that's all they were. “But... where ... I mean, how ...”
“How did you get here?” he finished for her.
She nodded her cheeks warming.
“In my car, of course.”
“And who are you?”
He grinned. “Think of me as your knight in shining armor.”
Candace let out a few curses even Grandma had never heard. “I mean, what is your name?”
“Last night, you were content to call me Romeo.” A smirk played at his lips, displaying a crescent indent on the right side of his smile. He had a dimple. That caused a whole other kind of lurch in her stomach. “I kind of liked it.”
“I'm not kidding. Who are you?”
He rubbed his chin, ignoring her question. “Of course, you also called me Loverboy. Oh, and—”
Candace held up her hand. “Stop! Just stop. I get the idea. Forget I even asked.” She drew in a deep breath and knew she had to ask the question, even if she didn't want to know the answer. “Did I, I mean, did we ...” Her gaze dropped to the floor. Amidst the plush fibers of the carpet, she saw her shiny red toenails—the pedicure she'd gotten because Barry had this thing about her toes. She gulped. “Did anything happen?”
“Well, that depends on how you define the word 'anything.' "
“Since I'm not packing a dictionary in my back pocket, I'd say anything beyond a handshake.”
He got to his feet, which placed him closer, within touching distance. “I was a gentleman, more or less. Your reputation, if you had a good one,” he added with a grin, “is still intact.”
She didn't rise to the bait. “Who undressed me?”
His gaze swept the room. “There are only two people in this apartment and one of them was a little too drunk last night to do, I mean undo, anything.”
Heat flooded her face when his gaze settled on the sheet. She clutched it tighter. “I'd like to get dressed now, please.”
“Go right ahead.” He zipped his fly. The vrrpp sound seemed as loud as a bullhorn in the heavy quiet.
“Would you mind leaving the room?”
“It's my room,” he pointed out. “I don't have to leave.”
Romeo/Loverboy had no intentions of making this easy for her. With a frustrated huff, she reached for her dress. He reached out at the same time, his hands closing over the garment, and over her fingers before she could get away.
When she’s not writing books, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump competes in triathlons, mostly because all that training lets her justify mid-day naps and a second slice of chocolate cake. She’s published more than 60 books in 24 languages, although she’s too geographically challenged to find any of those countries on a map. Visit her website at www.ShirleyJump.com for author news and a booklist and follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/shirleyjump.author for giveaways and deep discussions about important things like chocolate and shoes.
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