She wants the full fairy tale. He’s no prince offering a happily ever after. True love may have met its match this time.
True love… Happily ever after… The full meal-deal fairy tale… Glamour girl Gia Hellman almost had it all until death stole the love of her life. Two years and a string of dead-end hook-ups later, she’s through fooling around. Love will be hers again, but sexy, one-night-only lawyer Ian O’Connor doesn’t fit into the equation. No matter how charming or tempting, he’s neither knight nor prince, and she’s done kissing frogs.
Prestige… Power… A pristine reputation… Ian O’Connor allows nothing to derail his goal of becoming the next partner in the most distinguished firm in town, not even Gia, the curvy vixen in sparkles and pink stilettos who haunts his fantasies. With a past full of long-buried secrets, he never breaks his rule of only one night with any woman. But when the case to propel Ian to the top requires working with Gia, and a slip-up results in a fake engagement, keeping his distance may be the trial of his life.
As the passion between them builds and rules break one by one, Ian must decide between protecting a secret that could destroy him or risking it all for Gia’s dream of happily ever after. If only Ian believed in fairy-tale endings…
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of physical assault, kidnap, attempted murder and references to parental abuse and stillbirth as a consequence of domestic violence.
General Release Date: 25th February 2020
Weddings suck. Gia Hellman trailed her finger around the rim of her second-round wine glass and tried not to feel jealous or sorry for herself.
Endless strings of twinkling white lights peppered the country club’s vaulted ceiling with imitation starlight. Soft, sublime, romantic music performed by professional musicians, all friends of the groom, blended perfectly with the sweet scent of roses lacing the summer air. The food made her wish she had an appetite instead of the twisting pit in her stomach.
In the center of the dance floor, her best friend Adara melted into her new husband. She’d never seen Dar so happy. The fact that anti-romance Dar had followed through with a formal wedding ceremony and until-death vows should’ve made Gia all weepy in a good way.
It should be me.
She slouched in the cushioned chair and rested her chin in her hand. It wasn’t that she wanted Dar’s husband, Garret. It was the ‘happily ever after’ fantasy she wanted, would have had by now if fate hadn’t been an unfeeling witch. But her ‘happily ever after’ had vanished a little over two years before, when the love of her life had been ripped from the world too soon.
Joey. He was irreplaceable.
“Dance with me, Ms. Hellman.” The smooth, low voice brushed her ear and sent tendrils of warmth through her, more intoxicating than the wine in her bloodstream.
Gia twisted in her seat and lifted her gaze to the ridiculously sexy man standing behind her, his hand out, waiting with annoying confidence. He knew she wouldn’t say no, even though she absolutely should. Ian O’Connor was her co-worker and the off-limits man of her darkest fantasies—breaker of hearts, hater of love, lawyer for the right price. And the groom’s oldest friend. Avoiding him was impossible, resisting him a full-time pursuit.
“Have you already made your way through the throngs of willing women?” She batted her eyelashes. “Must be a new record.”
“I strive for perfection.” Ian’s cool, blue eyes gleamed, his hand still out, expectant. The lights danced in his dark hair and gave his every line a magical edge. He always looked good, but in a tuxedo, the tie loosened at a rakish angle? Devastating. “You can’t blame me, Princess. I had to do something to make the time pass while you made your own, more elegant way through the ranks of men slavering on your heels, waiting their turn to cop a feel.”
“Classy.” She set her glass on the table and stood, facing him. “All my dance partners tonight have been nothing but respectful.” Gia planted a hand on her cocked hip and lifted an eyebrow. “Not all guys are like you, Sugarpop.”
His smile was pure wolf. “No wonder you look bored out of your mind.”
She sighed and slipped her hand into his, ignoring the tingles that ran up her arm at the contact. Dwelling on them would only bring trouble, and she’d had enough man trouble for a lifetime. “One dance. That’s it.”
“One is perfect,” he murmured, pulling her close to his side as he led her onto the dance floor.
One. She repeated the word in her head instead of dragging in a full breath of Ian’s spicy cologne. One was his rule. One night, no more. One night of fun, then on to the next woman who wanted nothing more than casual. There seemed to be an endless supply of women who’d settle for a single hookup with Ian O’Connor.
But she wasn’t fling material, not anymore. Still, as he slid his arms around her and pulled her tight against his solid heat, it was hard to remember why.
“Nice dress.” His breath caressed her earlobe as he skimmed his fingers over her bare shoulders, drifting all the way to the base of her spine. “At least Adara and I agree on one thing—this dress, on you. Off would be even better.”
The responsive shiver was impossible to hide, so she narrowed her eyes at him. “Careful, O’Connor. She hasn’t officially lifted the ban on you.”
Nearly a year and a half before, Gia had drunk one too many margaritas at the annual law firm Christmas party, and in her state of missing-Joey inebriation, she’d been too weak to resist Ian’s charms. Adara had come to her rescue, ripped Ian a new one, reminded Gia why she should stop at two margaritas and the Ian Threat Act had been established.
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take.” His focus flicked to where Adara slow-danced with Garret, oblivious to the outside world.
Gia kept her gaze on the dancing couple, the pit in her stomach expanding. The last thing she’d expected was Adara dealing with Joey’s death before her, let alone finding her true love and getting hitched. When Joey had fallen sick, he’d made Gia promise to drag Adara out of solitude—a brother’s desperate way of looking out for his introverted older sister when he would no longer be around to do it. Now her vow to Joey and her obligation to Adara were finished, and instead of being happy, a longing for what used to be rose from the deep, unstoppable.
That was why she couldn’t keep up the fling routine. She wanted what she’d had with Joey again—more than a mere physical connection, to be someone else’s favorite person. She wanted to find someone who made her sun shine brighter, even in the rain, to give her heart to the man who deserved it, a man who had enough sense to notice her excellent taste in shoes.
Basically, the full-price fairy tale, with no discounts.
She slid her hand from Ian’s sculpted shoulder to the hard curve of his biceps, a last, torturous hurrah. She was tired of falling for halfway. She wanted it all, and no matter how he made her neurons sing, surrendering to Ian’s charms was another dead-end. She had to escape before his melody became an orchestra her body couldn’t deny.
“Thanks for the dance.” She tried to twirl free of his hold, but he tightened his arms around her. Planting her palms on his firm chest, her push was weak, ineffective. “Gotta go.”
“That was only an eighth of a dance, at best.” His fingers were spread over her bare back, warm skin on skin, holding her gently captive. “Don’t short-change me, Princess.”
“Oh look, it’s Karen from accounting.” She pointed over his shoulder at some random wedding guest who definitely wasn’t Karen. “She’s asking for you.”
“Karen can wait.” Not falling for it, he brought his mouth closer, close enough that his breath mingled with hers. “You pressed against me is all that matters for the next two minutes.”
She couldn’t resist a smile. “Two minutes? That’s it?”
“Two minutes is all I need to convince you that the next twenty-four hours should be spent with me…in bed. On the couch, the stairs, the counter…” He brought his lips dangerously close to her jaw. “I promise my hands are slow, my tongue enchanting and, as for the rest of me”—he brushed her earlobe with his nose—“the best things are only definable through experience.”
She let her eyelids droop as tingles swirled in the emptiness inside. It would be so easy to surrender just for one night, let Ian work his magic, make her forget. Her gaze drifted to the happily married couple. Adara smiled at something Garret whispered in her ear, her smile so much like Joey’s that Gia’s throat closed. She ripped from Ian’s hold.
“Have to pee.” Without looking at him, she escaped the wedding party before she exploded, nabbing her wine glass along the way. She swept through the open double doors and into the hallway, her sparkly silver stilettos clicking a quick cadence on the tile, the raven skirts of her taffeta dress swishing against her legs, while the corseted bodice made it hard for her to breathe. Leave it to Dar to choose black as one of her wedding colors—Gothic matrimony at its finest.
She smiled politely at a wedding guest coming the other way and propelled her feet into the banquet room, where vows had been said and lives forever joined. Red rose petals still flanked the black runner leading to the podium, sweetly infusing the air. She flounced onto a front-row chair and drained her wine.
Joey’s picture stared back at her from where it still sat on the stand from the ceremony, Adara’s way of including her absent brother in her wedding.
“Don’t look at me like that.” She waved her empty glass at him. “It’s only my second.” But if someone happened to overhear her talking to the picture of her dead boyfriend, she’d totally blame it on the wine.
His fierce gray eyes stared back at her, holding a secret smile.
“I know, right? Adara…married. It’s a miracle.” Tears blurred the lines of his handsome face. “I think miracles maybe only happen once in a lifetime. The one we had together turned out to be a complete bust.” Aching emotions clogged her throat. “I miss you, Joey…so much.”
As if a small part of him were there with her, a sense of comfort curled around her and she smiled through the tears. “Don’t worry. Adara reminded me who I am, so you can cross haunting her off your ‘unfinished business’ list. You were right that I’d forget, but when you’re not here to remind me every day how loved I am, it’s hard.” She released a shaky sigh and pointed at his picture. “So, I’m waiting for another you. I get that he won’t be you—no one ever could be—but you promised me he was out there. And I know love slams into you when you’re not looking for it, because that’s what you did to me. So I’m checking out of the dating game. While I’m waiting for my fairy tale, I’ll figure out how to make an impact on the world, like you would have.”
She blew out a long breath, feeling like she’d made a sacred vow of her own. And if she was making vows, she might as well get back up. She lifted her gaze to the rafters. “If I’m on the right track, give me a sign—a clap of thunder or flickering lights. Something. Throw me a bone or even a fingernail. I’m not picky.”
Joey’s picture clattered to the floor, so fast that she didn’t see it, landing face-up.
“Get. Out.” Gia pressed her palm to her hammering heart. “Joey?” She searched for a shimmering phantom or fluttering orb, maybe a ghostly whisper, but only the distant strains of Death of a Bachelor softened the silence. If Joey was there, he didn’t reveal himself.
On wobbling legs, she climbed the two steps to the podium and picked up his picture. “I can take a hint. Let the quest begin.”