Author: Elle Aycart
Series: Bowen #3
Published by Loose Id LLC
Release Date February 10, 2015
Genres: Erotic Romance
More Info: Goodreads
Purchase From: Amazon US
Purchase From: Amazon UK
Forensic accountant Annie Griffin has always suspected she's a bit jinxed, so when she finds herself 35, single, temporarily homeless, and pregnant on a technicality by a gigolo, her fears are confirmed.
Adrenaline junkie and professional stuntman Max Bowen needs a house-sitter to watch after his pets while he's out of town. Annie needs a place to stay. Standard quid pro quo. No biggie. She can handle that, whatever hellhounds he owns. Until Max, the most sought-after bachelor in the county, comes back ahead of schedule and suddenly she's roommates with a 27-year old sex God who turns out to be so much more than what she expected.
Max might have had the attention span of a humming bird on crack when it comes to women, but that was before Annie. Her quirkiness and sweet contradictions soon captivate him, not that she's inclined to give him the time of the day. With his reputation preceding him, he knows the odds are badly stacked against him, but he will do his best to prove her that he's what she needs, stuck-up socialite grandmothers, doomsday preppers, groupies, pregnancy hormones, and repentant biological dads be damned.
Happy Release to Elle Aycart!
To The Max is now live!
“You know, if the idea behind a midnight wedding was to discourage people from attending, I think we can fairly say it hasn’t worked,” Annie Griffin heard from behind her.
She whirled around so fast, she not only got a dizzy spell but almost fell from the hammock she was sitting on. Thank God someone with a very strong grip reached out and steadied her.
“Wow, careful there.”
As she regained her balance, Annie lifted her gaze to find Max Bowen, the groom’s younger brother, smirking at her. She brought her hand to her thumping heart. “Jeez, you scared me, Max.”
“Sorry,” he said, his light eyes sparkling with amusement. “What are you doing here?”
They were in the unlit part of the backyard, as far away from the wedding reception as possible without actually leaving the Bowens’ property.
“I’m in hiding. Go away.” She shooed him, peeking around to make sure no one had followed him. “You always have a string of girls attached to your hip. Soon they’re all going to be gathered here giggling, drawing attention, and I don’t want to be found.”
Her duties as bridesmaid were done. Tate and James were already on their way to their honeymoon; she could disappear in good conscience.
“Hey,” he complained, sounding offended. “I may need to go into hiding for a while too.”
She gave him a disbelieving look. “You? Why?”
Max loosened his tie and, unfastening the first button of his shirt, sat beside her on the hammock. “Why? Because my ass has been pinched so many times tonight, I swear I can barely feel it anymore.”
Annie stifled a giggle. “Your ass is sore?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” he said, breathing out slowly and running his hand through his shoulder-length hair.
She locked eyes with him, realizing too late he was smiling less than three inches away from her face. The sight of him all but knocked the wind out of her. Max in faded old jeans and a tee was breathtaking. In a tuxedo? A total heart-stopper.
She wasn’t too fond of blond men, but Max was in a league all his own. With model-perfect masculine features, wicked blue-green eyes, and his usual weeklong golden stubble, Max was sexy as hell. Add to his Hollywood looks his laid-back disposition, kick-ass body, and roguish smile, and, well, it was almost impossible not to drool in his presence. A fact the charming devil knew very well and played to his full advantage.
Annie wasn’t sure how, but she managed to break eye contact. “I think the senior contingent from Eternal Sun Resort might be the ones primarily responsible for your ass condition.” She got it that both Mr. Bowen and Tate’s mom lived down there—were neighbors, in fact—but they should never have told the other residents about the wedding. The Bowen brothers were popular enough in the greater Boston area. No need to bring reinforcements from the South.
“Probably.” Max pondered for a second and then grinned at her. “I should just count my lucky stars those ladies are on the short side and can’t reach my nipples, huh?”
Annie burst into laughter. God, Max was such a clown. Although on that one he might be right. “I hear they chartered a bus and made regular stops along the way from Florida to Boston to pick up their granddaughters and nieces.”
And who could blame them? It was not every day that one of the Bowen brothers tied the knot. The standard guest plus one had transformed into guest plus ten. Not to mention the groom’s wedding party, which alone was a sight to behold. All those hunks in tailored tuxedos, standing tall and proud and yummy. Talk about eye candy. She must have gotten a couple of extra cavities tonight just from staring.
Max smiled. “That would explain it. This is the first wedding I’ve attended where there are more people crashing the damn event than actual guests. James should’ve hired his own security company to guard the place.”
He should have, but judging by the way he’d looked, he’d been so over the moon lately that he probably hadn’t thought about anything besides putting his ring on Tate’s finger.
Max seemed to be able to read her mind. “Yeah, I know my brother is in married-man bliss, but there is Cole and me to think about. Well, okay, just me now that Cole is engaged,” he conceded with a rueful grin. “But seriously, with how fiercely protective Cole is of Christy, and the mean right hook she’s developed, I’d say some guests would have thanked him for the extra protection too.”
“Please. Christy is a pussycat.” Nevertheless, Annie sure relished the yellowish remnants of the black eye Rose was still sporting, which, by the way, she’d totally deserved. A real pity no one had gotten that on video. “And you, mister, don’t need protection from women.”
If anything, it was the other way around. He was the ultimate ladies’ man. He’d never hurt for female attention before, but now with James married and Cole engaged, Max was getting so much action he was gorging on it.
His cheeky grin lit his face. “True, under normal circumstances, but that back there is a bit overwhelming, even for me.”
Annie was about to answer, when suddenly Max moved, making the hammock rock like crazy. “What are you doing?” she squeaked, gripping the net hard.
“Lying down. I need to give my poor, abused ass a respite. Come on,” he said, patting the spot near him. “Lie down with me. I don’t bite.”
Oh, she wouldn’t bet on that.
She warily eyed the net. Forget the spiky high heels she was wearing and the skintight bridesmaid’s dress, which was the shit but didn’t allow for much movement. She’d spent three hours in the beauty salon getting her unruly mop of hair pinned up and adorned with dozens of tiny white flowers. “If my hairdo gets tangled in that, I won’t be able to yank it free without looking like the modern version of Medusa.”
“Here.” He stretched out his arm and offered it as a pillow.
Annie doubted this was a good idea, but she was so tired. “I’m not that great with hammocks. I may roll us both over.”
“I’m a professional stuntman. I think I can handle a hammock.”
Well, he had a point there. She’d seen him on the big screen doing the craziest things. Not to mention his fondness for extreme sports.
“I’ll keep us steady,” he insisted. “Come on. You’re messing with the center of gravity by sitting there.”
She hesitated for just a second, then shrugged. “Fine. But I’m not too coordinated. Don’t come crying to me when we find ourselves on the grass, Mr. Hotshot Stuntman.” She slowly moved to lie beside him.
It was a two-person hammock, but he was so big and his shoulders were so damn broad, he took more than his fair share of space. She rested her head on his arm and tried to keep her body at a distance from his, but he was much heavier and her whole left side ended up glued to his right.
“Comfy?” he asked.
Actually, yes, but that was beside the point.
She tried separating herself from him, but gravity and his massive body worked against her. The more she moved away, the more the net bounced her right back against Max.
“Not that I’m complaining, but you’re rubbing against me. Anything you want to tell me, Miss Griffin?” he asked, his words laced with laughter.
This was the closest she’d ever been to Max. She could feel every flex of his muscles, his warm breath tickling her face. In spite of herself, his low, deep rumble and hard body had all her girlie parts tingling, which was so inappropriate on so many levels, she refused to even think about it.
She cleared her throat, trying to sound outraged. “Of course not. Besides, you’re way too young for me.” Eight years younger. Not to mention that at thirty-five, Annie was a good decade older than the women Max usually dated.
“Sure, you’re ancient. Now stop squirming, Ace. You’ll break your femur, and at your age any fracture could be fatal.”
She saw the smirk on his face and went to elbow him, but there was not enough space between them to get a good jab in.
“Watch it. You could easily dislocate a shoulder. I hear all you have to do is sneeze, and there goes the hip.”
“Oh please. Just shut up,” she said, unable to contain her laughter.
Annie hadn’t had much contact with Max before. But since Tate and Holly had started to hang out together, and Christy and Cole had become an item, the Bowen brothers and their crew had ceased to be a bunch of gorgeous guys she admired from afar and had become permanent fixtures in her life. It was hard to get used to such an overabundance of panty creamers, but she was coping. With the occasional panic attack, but she was coping.
Chuckling himself, he pinned her by his side and turned his gaze to the sky. “Settle down and look up, Ace.”
Bossy guy, she thought, but she found herself obliging him. “Wow,” she whispered as she took in the view.
“Everything looks better from a hammock, doesn’t it?”
It sure did. “I’m going to take one to the Friday-night outdoor movie instead of sitting on those wooden chairs. The Arnie marathon they’re running won’t be better, but at least the hammock will improve my viewing experience.”
“I hear they’re preparing a Mel Gibson marathon for next year.”
“That’s marginally better.”
His low voice rumbled in the night. “How do you figure that?”
“More rom-coms, less commando crap. Plus, I could stand to see his milky-white ass again in Braveheart.”
She felt him turn to her and shake his head.
Max lowered a foot to the ground and kicked, gently rocking the hammock. They lay there in silence for a long while, enjoying the view. She should have been more freaked about being there with Max Bowen, but the truth of the matter was she didn’t have the energy to get herself worked up.
It had been a very hectic day. The wedding had been beautiful, and everything had gone according to plan—more or less—but it had been taxing. For a while she’d felt dizzy and out of breath from the excitement and the place being packed. And then there had been the cake. Annie loved cake, even risqué ones, but she must have eaten the poisoned piece intended for Tate—or Christy—because, boy, the little sucker had repeated on her. Now though, away from the crowd, her gaze on the black sky, gently rocking, she felt totally relaxed and at ease.
“The wedding was beautiful,” she said.
“Aunt Maggie and Tate’s mom really thought of everything.”
“Except for the electrified fence around the yard.”
Max chuckled. “Yes, except for that. I could have done without the impromptu conga line during the reception too.”
“Come on, Max, you rocked the conga line.”
It had been one of the highlights of the night, second only to seeing Tate all but run down the aisle and kiss the living daylights out of James before the priest had gotten a word in, that amazing green dragon tattoo swirling on the small of her totally exposed back. Ah, and the dance of the best man and the maid of honor. There had been so much tension rolling off Jack and Elle, it was palpable.
“Did you see Elle’s face when the bouquet hit her on the head?” Annie asked.
Max nodded. “Epic. I hope the photographer got it. That picture is so going to the wall of fame in Rosita’s.”
Elle hadn’t looked happy the bouquet had defied physics, changed trajectory in midair, and landed on her head while she’d been standing beside her date—Kai, a gorgeous Japanese American full of tattoos. Jack hadn’t looked much happier either. It wasn’t clear if his displeasure had to do with Kai or the bouquet. Both, probably. Not that Jack himself could talk, considering the exuberant blonde he’d had perched on his arm.
“So, why are you in hiding?” Max asked, turning his captivating gaze on her and disrupting all her thoughts. God, the guy was stunning. And this close, there was all the olfactory and tactile data to deal with. Even in his relaxed position, Max oozed masculinity and testosterone. His smell, a mixture of aftershave, clean sweat, and a hint of tobacco from the cigar James had given him, was so male it gave her goose bumps. She couldn’t explain it, but to her, Max smelled like summer and sunshine. Even now, in the middle of the night.
She sighed and turned her face up to the sky. “I’ve been in the dating arena long enough to know that when your date starts talking about himself in the third person, it’s time to hide.”
The hammock shook with his muffled laughter. His hard body too.
“Not to mention the more he drinks, the more arms he grows. And the more his eyes bulge every time he sees a pair of boobs. It’s bad enough that he’s spent the last two hours talking to my nipples, but ogling other women’s goodies on top of that? Gross.”
Steven was a coworker from her office. She’d gone out with him once this past month. The first date hadn’t turned out too horribly, so she’d given it a second try. Bad, bad idea.
He tsked. “Moron. Doesn’t he know your goodies are the best?”
She felt her face flame. Then she realized what he was probably referring to. “You’re talking about the candy basket from the fund-raiser, right?” A couple of weeks ago, for the annual town fund-raising dinner, her candy shop had donated a basket of gourmet candy, which Max had bid on and won.
“Those goodies too.”
God, he was such a shameless flirt. Gorgeous, charming, easygoing. Pity when it came to women, he had the attention span of a hummingbird on crack. Which was irrelevant, really. Not only was he totally out of her league, but there was the age difference to contend with. Eight years might not seem like much, but in mind-sets, they were light years apart. Annie was ready to settle and marry, and Max was… Well, Max was most definitely not. He wasn’t playing the field; he owned the damned field.
“Behave,” she admonished him.
“I am, Ace. I am,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve been meaning to tell you those chocolate things were fantastic.”
“You liked them?”
He nodded. “Don’t misunderstand me; traditional candy is great, but this new shit you’re bringing…mouthwatering.”
Annie smiled, pleased as all hell. She’d inherited the little candy shop in Alden five years ago, when her mom remarried and moved to Ohio. Annie already had an office job in Boston, but she hadn’t wanted to close the place down. So she’d hired a girl to run it during the week, and Annie took care of Saturdays and the odd afternoons when the girl couldn’t.
The shop had barely been turning a profit. With the extra salary to foot, Annie had decided to upgrade the whole concept. Along with jelly beans and candy canes, she went for a more sophisticated line, sporting gourmet chocolates and truffles from Brussels, strawberries with champagne and white-chocolate frosting, and all sorts of products for special occasions.
“Remember to come ready to tweet.”
He winked at her. “Don’t worry. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the whole shebang.”
“You have all of those?”
“Actually, no, but I’ll sign up. How did you think of the whole concept?”
“Honestly? I didn’t. Christy did.”
One day, brainstorming while chatting with Christy about how to reach more customers, her friend had come up with the idea of using Twitter. The shop Sweets had become Sweets and Tweets, and clients got a discount if they tweeted on the spot about the goodies they were buying. Word got out about the new products, and in no time they had people coming from Boston to get their sugar fixes or to buy treats for special dates. This past Valentine’s Day had been crazy. The line had gone all the way to the street and around the corner.
Max smiled. “My future sister-in-law is a charming geek.”
“That she is.”
Annie and Christy had met in college and had kept in contact ever since. A bit over six months ago, Christy had taken a sabbatical from her job as a software engineer and moved temporarily from LA to Alden to get away from her ex-fiancé. Now she was engaged to Cole Bowen and ran Alden’s library. Funny how things changed.
They swung in comfortable silence for a while longer.
“So, I have to ask,” he said after a long pause. “How often do you end up in hiding during your dates?”
She snorted. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I’d be hiding in the bathroom right now if I could be sure that the Women Only sign would stop that self-absorbed pompous ass from entering.”
Annie was an active dater—an optimist. Yeah, the world was full of frogs, but there were princes out there. She just had to persevere until she found hers; it was a matter of probabilities, pure and simple. Easier said than done. A romantic at heart, she’d always kept faith that everyone got a happily ever after, but with the luck she’d had lately and all the frogs she’d had to deal with, she’d begun to suspect “everyone” just didn’t include her.
Max barked out a laugh. “Self-absorbed pompous ass?”
Annie nodded. “Aka Steven.”
“You’re dating the wrong guys.”
Didn’t she know it.
Not that Max would understand her predicament. The guy went through women like most men went through potato chips, a handful at a time. He charmed girls out of their panties as if it were an Olympic sport. Nevertheless, Annie hadn’t heard a single complaint from the female population. Far from it.
“What about the stud gala? Did you end up in hiding there too?”
Annie stilled. “How did you know about the gala?”
“You kidding me? I heard Cole grumbling about you guys buying the gala invitation for Christy. Then I had to listen Tate complain about not getting one. And then James growling and threatening Elle with bodily harm if she dared to buy one for Tate.”
She cleared her throat. “That wasn’t a date. But, no, I didn’t end up in hiding then.”
No, sir, not at all.
“Guys, what are you doing there?” a woman asked.
Annie turned her head to see Christy and Cole approaching.
“His ass was hurting and he needed to lie down,” Annie blurted, tensing. Under somebody else’s scrutiny, lying there with Max felt suddenly awkward.
Christy looked confused. “What?”
“Never mind,” Annie mumbled, clumsily hauling herself up and out of the hammock. Max followed her much more gracefully, holding her when her wobbly legs and the rocking made falling on her face a very distinct possibility.
“How’s it going?” Max asked his brother. “Is the party winding down already?”
Cole looked toward the reception and grimaced. “Nope,” he muttered. Then he turned to Christy. “We’re eloping.”
She smiled widely. “Sure, let’s elope to Vegas.”
Cole’s expression tightened. “I’m not getting hitched by Elvis,” he warned, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and bringing her front to his side.
“Who said anything about Elvis? I was thinking more along the lines of Captain Kirk.”
“So not happening.”
Christy, bless her heart, ignored him and smiled even wider. “Or Spock. We could book the Star Trek package, marry with a Vulcan and a Klingon as witnesses. And wire the chapel so that our friends could follow the wedding through the Internet. Wouldn’t that be a blast?”
He kissed her hard, then whispered against her lips, “I love you, baby, but no fucking way.” If his expression was anything to go by, it was a good thing Cole loved Christy to pieces, because he sure as hell wasn’t a man to be led by his dick, much less into a Star Trek wedding.
“Elope all you want, but I’m organizing your bachelor party. Imagine all I could do with Vegas as the backdrop,” Max said, to which Cole grimaced even more strongly.
“Here you are,” Annie heard someone say.
Shit. Steven, aka Pompous Ass. Her stomach roiled and realization dawned. Oh God, the spell of sickness she’d experienced during the reception? Apparently it had nothing to do with the crowded yard or the cake. She’d reached a milestone—her dates were physically making her sick. Way to go.
Max came closer and whispered, “Is this the guy?”
She nodded and turned to Steven, who was obnoxiously grinning.
“Ready to dance with the king of the night, darling?”
He was now close enough that his sugary smell reached her. Nausea rose in her belly. Trying not to cringe, she took a step forward, frantic for an excuse.
Suddenly, someone tugged her hand from behind. “Sorry, man,” Max apologized. “The prettiest girl in this wedding owes me a couple of dances, and I’m ready to collect.”
Max twirled her and wound her in, winking. “Let’s give him a show,” he whispered. Before she could react, Max wrapped one hand around her neck, the other around her waist. Exaggeratedly bending her backward, he placed his lips over hers.
She hadn’t regained her breath or her bearings when he pulled her up for another spin.
Oh God, too much movement.
“I’m not feeling good,” she managed to get out. Then she leaned over and threw up all over Max’s shoes.
* * * *
“Okay, spit it out, Annie,” Holly prompted, tapping at the table. “I’m the dispatcher for the sheriff’s department. Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ve heard worse. Although, if memory serves, Ben switching teams on you was a DEFCON3 emergency. I truly have no clue what possible planetary disaster DEFCON1 could refer to.”
Annie glanced around, making sure they were alone in the terrace. Then, trying not to hyperventilate, Annie uttered those two tiny words, the ones that had her freaked out of her ever-loving mind.
Holly, Christy, and Sophie gaped at her, totally shocked. Thank God they’d been sitting; otherwise her friends’ behinds would have had very close encounters with the floor.
“Definitely DEFCON1,” Christy mumbled and Sophie assented.
“Pregnant? What do you mean pregnant?” Holly asked, sounding stupefied.
“Pregnant,” Annie choked out. “As in knocked up.”
“How? When? Who?” Then, before Annie could answer, not that she was too eager to answer anyway, Holly continued, “Please don’t tell me it’s Steven’s.”
At least there was that: a positive side of this whole mess she hadn’t thought of. “Eww. You nuts? I didn’t have sex with Steven.”
Her friends let out a collective sigh of relief. “Thank God,” Holly muttered.
Annie had been about to chide them for even thinking she’d had sex with Steven after just two dates, but she saw the irony in her predicament and decided to bite her tongue.
“If it isn’t his, then…?” Christy asked, motioning with her hand for Annie to go on.
Annie cleared her throat. “Remember the StudsRus.com gala a while back?” she said with a grimace. “The nice Italian escort I met there? Luigi?”
Annie had attended the yearly gala in Christy’s place. The most prestigious escort agency in Boston had hosted it a month ago at the Ritz Carlton downtown. The girls had managed to buy an invitation for Christy’s birthday, after her vow to get professionally laid, but once Cole had heard about it, he’d put a damper to the whole plan. So they had drawn straws, and surprise, surprise, Annie had won.
“You’re shitting us,” Sophie said.
Annie shook her head. No, she wasn’t shitting them. She wished she were, but she wasn’t.
It had been a great night. Magical, with all the candlelight, the unending flow of expensive champagne, and the great company. That it was a masquerade ball had also added an extra layer of magic and privacy that had been exhilarating.
Apparently StudsRus.com’s escorts were highly sought after. They traveled all over the country accompanying clients, some of them very powerful people, to high-profile events. They were not only gorgeous; they were extremely well educated and charming. One of the escorts she’d met that night was a dark-haired, handsome man by the name of Luigi. One thing led to another, and she most definitely had not ended up hiding in the bathroom.
Holly cursed. “What about the whole stash of condoms I put in your purse? Didn’t you think of using them?”
“I used condoms; I swear I did.”
“How exactly did you use them, sweetheart?”
“What do you mean, how did I use them? How does anyone use condoms? Are there so many different ways of using them?” Annie asked, out of breath, her tone of voice rising. She was freaking out. Big-time. But all in all, she thought she was entitled to. “I certainly didn’t put them on my head as new-age hats.”
“Did it break?”
She shook her head. If it had, she would have gotten the morning-after pill, and she wouldn’t currently be about to pass out.
“Are you sure it’s not a false alarm?” Sophie asked, trying to calm her down.
“No false alarm. Five peed-on sticks and two blood tests confirm it. I’m pregnant up to my eyeballs,” Annie said as she, very ineffectively, fanned herself with a napkin. Damn hot flashes. Before she found out about the pregnancy, she’d been having so many of them, she’d even considered going to the doctor to make sure she hadn’t entered some sort of freaky early menopause. Wouldn’t that have been a laugh.
“How did this happen?” Holly asked.
Sophie waved at her. “The usual way?”
“Not helping, sweetie.” Holly chastised Sophie with a look and then turned to Annie. “If you used condoms, how did you get pregnant?”
And here was where it got embarrassing. “It seems there’s an infinitesimal chance of getting knocked up if you start rolling the condom on, realize it’s inside out, and then turn it the right way. Drops of precum get onto the outside of the condom, and voilà, if the semen is of quality and has great mobility, you’re in deep shit.” Annie looked at them, fidgeting. “I was a bit nervous, and there wasn’t too much light…”
She should have left the logistical details to the pro.
All the head shaking she’d done when women in her office got pregnant out of carelessness, and look at her: knocked up on a technicality.
Sophie whistled. “Wow, some super-duper power sperm those studs have, huh?”
“Tell me about it,” Annie muttered.
“Could it be someone else’s?” Christy asked.
“It’s either Luigi’s or an immaculate conception.”
The good thing about getting laid so seldom was that she could pinpoint the conception date with 100 percent accuracy, which meant that if her baby was as anal as she was, he or she should be born in the early hours of March thirty-first.
Holly looked at her, worried. “I hate to say this, honey, and I know these guys are the best of the best, but did you get checked for diseases?”
“Yeah, no STDs.” That was what she’d done first once she’d found out about her pregnancy. And hadn’t that been fun, explaining to Alden’s only doctor, the same one who had treated her all her life, why she needed testing for STDs right after he told her she was pregnant. “All I got from the superstud is a baby.”
“At least you had a valid excuse for throwing up on Max the other night,” Christy said.
Annie cringed at the memory. Talk about making an ass out of herself. The most sought-after bachelor in the whole state was being sweet and offering her a way out so she wouldn’t have to dance with Steven, and what had she done in exchange? She’d puked her brains out all over his shoes, messing his pants too. Well, on the flip side, the second she’d started throwing up, her oh-so-attentive date had all but run in the opposite direction.
Max, on the other hand, had been very nice and understanding. He’d even joked that if he’d been saddled with a date like Steven, he would’ve been puking too.
“Does Luigi know about any of this?”
“Nope. And I never got a last name, so I don’t know how to contact him.” Or even if she wanted to.
Annie had been dazzled by Luigi, who had been so not what she’d expected. He wasn’t a young, buff stud with more muscles than brains. No, he was in his mid-to-late thirties, sophisticated, elegant, and a great conversationalist. She wasn’t a knockout, but she was pretty enough. And so far her body was holding its own against gravity and time, if one could ignore the expansionist tendencies of her ass. Still, Luigi favoring her company had kind of blown her mind. Between that, the alcohol, and the privacy the masks offered, she’d just let go. In the morning, though, she’d panicked and, much to her shame, run out on the guy before he even woke up. How the hell was she supposed to face the proverbial morning after when she had slept with a professional escort in his spare time? At least she thought it had been in his spare time. She didn’t even dare consider he’d been working and she’d stiffed him of his fee. That was just too much.
“It seems Italian escorts are in fashion. StudsRus.com has eight Luigis on staff. I’m going to have to ask them for pictures.”
If the conversation at the doctor’s had been fun, she shuddered to think about the one with the stud-agency receptionist.
She might never find Luigi again, and she couldn’t say she felt particularly sorry about it. After all, she didn’t know the guy. But a man had the right to know he was a father. And although she didn’t need a husband, the thought of raising a kid all by herself sucker punched her. Money was not an issue; she had a good job, the shop was doing well, and she still had the untouched trust fund her paternal grandparents had created for her. They hadn’t trusted her flighty father, and thank God for that, because the man was already on his fifth bimbo wife, who was bleeding him dry like three of her predecessors.
So financially she was more than covered, but there were other things to consider. Some mornings it took her forever to decide whether she wanted to have cornflakes or honey puffs—how the hell was she going to choose a school for the kid? He or she would be old enough for junior high by the time Annie had made up her mind.
“You know, I somehow envisioned embracing motherhood differently. Not at thirty-five, without a partner, and knocked up by a gigolo who might or might not be named Luigi.”
After all, maybe Luigi was just his stage name.
“It beats the hell out of a sperm bank, which is what I can see in my future,” Holly muttered.
They were silent for a while. Then Annie sighed. “I’m so screwed, guys. I’m a forensic accountant. What do I know about kids?”
“You own a candy store. I’d say you’re already ahead,” Christy offered.
Well, there was that.
“I should have never gotten up on that flower pot after you,” Annie said to Christy. “You got the good stuff. I got…backlash.” Annie covered her face with her hands. “This is so unfair. You and Cole are the ones humping like rabbits all the time. Me? It was just once. One little screw. Why me? The universe hates me.”
She should have suspected there was some mega cosmic catch to it when she’d won that gala invitation. She never won anything. Ever. On the contrary. She was that jinxed.
Holly interrupted her mental rant. “Wait a second. What do you mean, only once? Wasn’t he, you know, up for a rematch?”
“It was good, don’t misunderstand me, but let’s just put it this way: when an overpriced European escort isn’t working, he starts snoring after the deed.”
“Are you sure he was a member of StudsRus.com and not some nutcase impersonating a stud, like in True Lies?” Sophie asked.
Oh crap, she hadn’t thought of that possibility. Annie panicked for a second, then shook her head. “No, can’t be. He knew everyone there.”
“True Lies?” Holly repeated.
“You know, the waiter in that Arnie movie, the one who got chicks by impersonating a spy,” Sophie explained.
Christy frowned. “A waiter? Wasn’t he a car salesman? I—”
“People, people. Concentrate,” Holly interrupted, out of patience. “I told you to quit with the outdoor movies.” She turned to Annie. “Are you going to keep it?”
Annie looked at her friends. “Forget the fact I’m thirty-five and my clock is ticking. What are the chances of getting pregnant like this? One in a frigging billion. This baby hasn’t been born yet, and it’s already a damn superhero. Of course I’m keeping it.”
Wickedly sexy James Bowen is a bad boy of the highest order — tattoos and attitude included — which unfortunately ranks way up on Tate’s not-a-chance-in-hell list, right there along with skydiving naked over Teheran and juggling Ebola vials just for kicks. But what the heck, she’s on holiday, the guy is absolutely irresistible, and she needs to unplug from her life. With her dad and brother gone, Tate is left to deal with the family restaurant, which is fast going down the drain. Her employees are acting out, her boyfriend has bailed out, and her very own private stalker is emailing her to death with lovely threats of doom, fire, and dismemberment. So yeah, maybe a little holiday fling is in order. Strictly sex though, and no follow-up whatsoever once.
She hadn’t counted on her take-charge holiday fling having an opinion of his own and stubbornly sticking around, before and after the sex, making himself at home in her life. There is definitely more to James than meets her prejudiced eye, and even if she’s not ready to look deeper, James isn’t prepared to permit her not to.
Steering clear of relationships has never been difficult for demolitions expert Cole Bowen, but now, with his brother’s engagement sending the female population into full-blown hysterics and the town of Alden’s month-long festivities helping along, he finds himself in hell. When he discovers Alden’s new resident and the object of all his wet dreams, Christine Sheridan, has sworn off relationships and is going to hire a gigolo to get professionally laid, he decides to kill two birds with one stone.
Christy is so not drinking again. Thanks to José Cuervo she has her friends signing her up for stud conventions and Cole frigging Bowen offering sex in exchange of fake dates, which is so out of the question it isn’t even funny. She knows the domineering man will push her boundaries, and after battling all her life with self-esteem issues, she isn’t ready for that. Too bad he won’t take no for an answer.
Cole is determined to strip away all of her defenses but refuses to lower his ever-present walls, so when Christy realizes she wants more, she’s left with only two options; walk away or crack his shield and risk her heart in the process.
Tattooed bad boy James Bowen is about to marry the love of his life. Everything would be perfect if it wasn’t for the tiny detail that his bride-to-be is freaking out big time. And trying to hide it from him.
Tate Cooper is losing it. She loves James with all her heart and wants to be married to him; it’s the getting married that’s killing her. Still grieving the loss of her father and brother,and totally overwhelmed by the wedding arrangements, she’s in full emotional meltdown. But James deserves a happy bride, not a high-maintenance, sorrow-filled, guilt-stricken one, and, by God, she’s going to give him that, even if she has to paste on a smile and fake it till she makes it.
James doesn’t know whether to be amused or pissed. He understands she’s running scared, but there is no way in hell he’s going to allow this to continue; he’s going to push her to confront her fears until she happily embraces their ever after.