Man Candy: A Real Love Novel, page 1
Man Candy is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept Ebook Original
Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Lemmon
Excerpt from Fake Wife by Stacey Lynn copyright © 2018 by Stacey Lynn
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
LOVESWEPT is a registered trademark and the LOVESWEPT colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
Ebook ISBN 9781101969397
Cover design: Diane Luger
Cover photograph: CURAphotography/Shutterstock
By Jessica Lemmon
About the Author
Excerpt from Fake Wife
“You are fired!” My brother’s neck is beet red, his nostrils flared. He’s the picture of incensed at the moment. But. He loves me. I excel at finding Tad’s heart.
“The traffic on the way in—” I start.
“I’m not joking, Becca.” His eyebrows go higher, his mouth half open for a beat before he finishes his thought. “I can’t deal with this right now.”
I’m at the entrance of Grand Lark Retreat, where the unmanned front desk sits empty but the bar-slash-restaurant beyond holds a total of seven human beings—including the staff: my brother and Dominic, who’s busy holding up a wall.
Every pair of eyes is on me, but I walk in, head held high after being called out in the least subtle way ever.
“Can’t deal with what?” I ask Tad when I reach the far, unpopulated end of the bar. “This rush you and Dominic can’t handle without me?” I rest my bag on an empty barstool and swipe my hands over my soaking-wet arms. “I swam here. It took extra time. Sue me.”
“I’m not suing you, Bec.” He washes a glass in the angriest way possible. “I’m firing you.” He dries it in the same manner.
I flick my eyes around the room. A couple sits at the bar, ignoring my drama. An older guy occupies a booth in the corner, also ignoring me. The single woman at the bar watches me unabashedly and I pull my eyes from her judgy ones and reroute to the only patron left—an incredibly attractive guy who narrows his focus on me before returning it to the screen of his phone.
I have a whole-body oomph like someone knocked the wind out of me. My gaze snags on his broad shoulders and square jaw a little longer than appropriate before I force myself to deal with my brother.
“You don’t want to fire me. You need me!” I try grinning. Tad glares.
“You were supposed to be here twenty minutes ago.” He snaps his arm straight and points at the office where our shared desk sits. “Any phone calls that come in are supposed to be answered by you. Not by me. Not by Dominic. That’s why I pay you.”
“Which I totally appreciate and need,” I chime. My brother is a taller, angrier version of me. Darker blond hair that’s much, much shorter than my own. Flat line of a mouth where I mostly show off my smile. I’m chipper; he’s more of a wood chipper.
Grand Lark Retreat’s phones weren’t exactly ringing off the hook until recently. Forest fires damaged a portion of Gatlinburg’s rental properties, which made vacationers venture away from the familiar and give us smaller outfits a try. We’re grateful for the bump in popularity, but we all wish it hadn’t come as a result of someone else’s nightmare come true.
“I grabbed the phone a few times. It was no big deal,” Dominic mutters in the soft-spoken way he has. He pushes off the wall where he was leaning. He’s been my brother’s best friend for most of my life, so I know him well.
“Hey, Bec.” He shoves his hands in his pockets.
“Hi, Dom. I appreciate it.”
“Regardless.” Tad marches out from behind the bar and I follow. He clears off an empty table with angry, jerky motions and then points at me with a spoon and a fork. “It’s not like this is your first warning.”
I wince because it’s totally not my first warning. It’s not my second, either. It’s not even my third. I know. I know. But believe me when I say I’m doing my best.
I came back to Tennessee to lay low for a while. My brother and his wife (and my two adorable, angelic nieces) were nice enough to let me move in while I figure a few things out and save some money. I’ve been doing the latter—not so much the former. It’s been more fun lately not figuring things out. Letting myself blow in the breeze. Go where the wind takes me . . .
Tad delivers a bottle of beer to the guy in the corner booth and I smile sweetly at him. He grimaces. Does everyone on the planet think I’m a screwup?
“Not now, Becca.”
With a sigh, I head back in the direction of the office, only to become distracted by the Magic Mike look-alike hunkered over my brother’s bar. I should grab my bag, walk directly to the office, and start returning emails. Instead I grab a discarded towel and surreptitiously check him out while pretending to wipe down the barstools.
At second sight, I reconsider the Magic Mike comparison. He’s not quite pretty enough to be a stripper. He’s rugged. Has a presence. Everything around him suggests he’s not only strong but also warm. Kind.
I pull in a deep breath as I consider that tantalizing possibility. Kindness is a dwindling resource. Sure, Dominic is nice to me, but he has to be. He’s known me forever.
Tad, on the other hand, has been so short fused lately that “kind” isn’t in his vocabulary. I suppose that’s deserved. I’m not exactly a shining example of a woman who has her life figured out. I truly have been trying, but I don’t fit into his mold . . . or any.
It’s still not a good reason to fire me.
I’ll talk him out of it.
I wiggle my shoulders and straighten my spine. No one is better at faking it until making it than I am . . . even if I haven’t “made it” anywhere yet.
I wipe the seat of a barstool and peek through my lashes at the stranger at the bar. I wonder where he’s from. No wedding band on his left finger. His attention has been glued to his phone, so other than the brief glance at me a few minutes ago, his head’s been down.
A loud laugh burbles out of a drunk-and-getting-drunker woman at the bar, and the stranger’s eyebrows crash down over a strong nose as he drags his eyes up at the sound. Strong nose below a strong brow and a firm, strong jaw to match.
Holy . . .
He’s freakin’ hot.
I move toward him a few steps and polish the shiny wood of the bar and take him in below th
But this guy? His width is as impressive as his height. Round, strong shoulders testing the seams in his T-shirt. Back bent, his phone dwarfed in one large hand. He’s almost slouching but there’s nothing weak about his posture. His back is as wide and sturdy as a support beam.
I work in the office most of the time, but I take breaks and wander out here to people-watch. I’ve witnessed plenty of guys checking their phones at this bar. Some of them have been attractive guys—but no one has ever snagged my unwavering attention. Not until tonight.
I’m not lonely. Not desperate. I don’t make a habit of approaching men I don’t know in bars. And yet that’s exactly where my mind goes. Approaching him. Finding out how his jeans became ragged at the bottoms and worn at his heavy thighs. Finding out if he owns a motorcycle. He’s wearing a pair of motorcycle boots with buckles on the sides, one foot on the floor, the other hooked by the heel on the lower rung of the stool.
I automatically cast my eyes to the parking area out front. Only two trucks and a Jeep sit in the lot. No bike. That’s his Jeep, I’d bet. It’s deep gray, hardtop attached to thwart the never-ending rain. I imagine him in it. It suits him, top on or off. My imagination supplies a visual of him with his top off and that’s even better. In the sun or the rain. Oh, the rain.
My teeth stab my bottom lip as the images come without my trying—a welcome reprieve from the here and now.
The stranger. The rain. His shirt’s off as he twists the bolts off a flat tire. I’m about to cast myself as a passerby who’s going to offer help when my brother’s voice crashes into my awareness like thunder.
I jerk out of my fantasy to find the stranger looking right at me. He meets my gaze and holds it, and heat licks up my thighs and teases there so intensely, I almost forget why Tad is pissed at me.
“Becca,” he repeats, minus the exclamation point.
“Yes, Chosen One?” I ask, my nickname for him since I discovered he was our parents’ favorite.
He frowns and sneers—a typical Tad combo—and tosses a bar towel over his shoulder.
“Why are you cleaning if I fired your ass?” he asks. Loudly.
Okay, that’s embarrassing. I sneak a glance at the stranger to find he’s still looking in my direction. His brow crashes down again and his curved back goes straight, like he’s ready to speak out in my defense. Interesting. Nay . . . intriguing. With an audience, I can’t resist being cheeky.
“Is that what I’m doing?” I regard the cloth in my hand in faux shock. “I must’ve been sleep-dusting again.”
Tad snarls a few sentences. It’s not that I’m ignoring him so much as that what he’s saying is zapped from my head by two heat-seeking silver-blue irises that vanish beneath narrowed lids.
The stranger’s not only watching me now. He’s smiling at me.
It’s brief, but I’m rewarded by the flash of white teeth before they vanish behind full lips. He snaps those gorgeous eyes away from me and back to his phone.
I hope he’s not texting his girlfriend.
I’m struck with the overwhelming need to approach him. If I don’t, I’ll forever regret not seizing the moment—a moment that could result in finding out if Magic Mike has anything to offer other than an amazing physique. Is he kind? Is he smart? Is he willing to give his phone number to a virtual stranger?
Sky’s the limit, really. I’ll never know unless I approach him.
There’s a ping in the center of my chest telling me that’s exactly what I need to do. I’ve followed that ping to several states. Into several jobs. Except when I returned home. That wasn’t a ping so much as a deflating balloon. It felt like giving up but I was unmotivated and out of money. At least I followed my gut to New York in the first place, and made amazing friends as a result.
The ping happens again and my gut resonates with certainty. I have to approach him. I’ll forever kick my own ass if I don’t.
I drop the cloth back onto the bar top and have taken two steps in his direction when he asks Tad for another beer. My next step falters. His voice is rich. As thick as honey. Heavy, dark, amber-colored honey that takes its time sliding out of the jar while you anticipate the first taste.
I bet his laugh is phenomenal. I bet if he let loose that chuckle into my ear—complete with warm exhale—I’d go up in flames.
Only one way to find out.
The rain started when I crossed the Ohio border into Kentucky. Light at first, then heavy and pelting, accompanying some wind that at one point had me wondering if I’d make it down here at all. I did, but the storm followed me to Tennessee.
Some vacation weather.
I rented a cabin, but I also brought my tent and camping gear. I’m planning to find a nice spot under the stars in the woods to sleep for a night or two. I need a break from . . . everything.
From my buddy Barrett, who’s staying at my apartment thanks to a messy breakup with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, and from my mother’s constantly asking me if I’m hungry or if she can make me something to eat.
My dad died recently. I spent early spring living back home, helping her clean out the shed and the garage. A task I thought would take two weeks but ended up taking two months.
Barrett’s timing wasn’t the best—he asked if he could crash on my couch for a week or so. I’d just returned home from my mother’s house and was looking forward to peace and quiet.
My friend is still bunking on my couch and watching countless hours of television. It was either blow my stack and kick him out on his sorry ass or take myself on a much-needed vacation.
So here I am.
The bartender, a slight guy in his late thirties, brings me another beer. I started a tab. As ready as I thought I was to have solitude, postdrive beers taste better in public. Probably because I’m a bar owner. Drinking in public feels normal.
I remember my dad as I sip my fresh mug of Miller Lite—his beer of choice. My throat tightens with grief and sorrow. The kind that hooks into you and forces you to pay attention to it. There’s no escaping missing him.
Losing him meant losing our weekly phone calls. Football season is really going to suck. We used to watch a lot of games together. Picturing myself alone on the couch with a beer is a sad sight indeed.
Bubbly laughter drifts my way from the girl on my right. She works here—or did until about ten minutes ago when the bartender who refilled my beer fired her. She’s dressed in dark, slim jeans accentuating long legs below a white, flowy top. The second she set one high-heeled sandal in this place, that guy laid into her, much like he did a minute ago when he yelled her name.
He called her Becca.
I wonder if it’s short for Rebecca.
Anyway, I’m not much for disrespecting women, and this jerk seemed to do it no problem, but I didn’t see a reason to intervene. His harsh attitude rolled off Becca’s back like she was coated in oil.
She didn’t stomp out or raise her voice. She handled him respectfully, quietly stating her case. If anything, he was the one stomping around and raising his voice. After he unprofessionally pitched his fit, Becca maintained a bounce in her step and a smile on her pretty face. That made me smile, which is a feat lately, let me tell you. My employees have taken to calling me “Grumpy Dax,” which is not only uninventive but also telling.
Becca is chatting up the other guy who works here. He leans a hip on the bar and sends the stink eye to the bartender who served me—their boss. They don’t seem to like him much.
Boss Man steps in front of me now, cellphone in hand, and informs me of some bad news.
“Mr. Vaughn, I need to swap keys with you.” He pockets his cell and slaps down a key on a red key fob reading grand lark. It’s exactly like the one he gave me earlier, only
The key to cabin 7 is still in my pocket from when I checked in (from this very seat, since the front desk was empty). Not that I’m superstitious, but cabin 7 sounds a hell of a lot luckier than cabin 13.
“Mine’s the Jeep,” I tell him, jerking my chin toward the parking lot. “I can make it up there.”
“I doubt it.” He smiles but there’s no humor there.
“Guess we’ll find out.” I handpicked cabin 7 because of the location. It sits deep in the woods, well off the main road, and the view beyond the balcony is breathtaking. I don’t use that word ever, so it has to be true.
“Sorry.” The bartender shakes his head. “Company policy. If you and your Jeep go sliding off the mountain, we’ll be liable. I’m not only the manager of this fine drinking establishment, but I’m also the owner of Grand Lark.”
With a heavy exhale, I reach into my pocket. I surrender the yellow key fob, laying it on the bar.
“If it opens up . . .”
“We’ll move you immediately,” he finishes for me.
Lightning illuminates the entire bar, a loud crash of thunder following right behind it. Becca lets out a startled yip before settling a hand on her chest and letting out a burst of laughter. The laughter transforms her face, brightens her coloring. I reluctantly tear my eyes off her as Boss Man spouts directions for my new (and unwanted) digs.
I take the red key fob and cram it in my pocket as he slides a map across the bar and points out cabin 13. It’s closer to the main office than I’d like, with other cabins are nearby. I’m not happy about the change, which he must’ve discerned.
Other author's books:
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