Man of the month willowd.., p.1

Man of the Month (Willowdale Romance Novel), page 1

 

Man of the Month (Willowdale Romance Novel)
 


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Man of the Month (Willowdale Romance Novel)


  Table of Contents

  Other Bell Bridge books by Lisa Scott

  Man of the Month

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Acknowledgements

  About Lisa Scott

  Other Bell Bridge books by Lisa Scott

  No Foolin’

  Man of the Month

  by

  Lisa Scott

  Bell Bridge Books

  Copyright

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.

  Bell Bridge Books

  PO BOX 300921

  Memphis, TN 38130

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-301-6

  Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-281-1

  Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.

  Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Scott

  Printed and bound in the United States of America.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

  We at BelleBooks enjoy hearing from readers.

  Visit our websites – www.BelleBooks.com and www.BellBridgeBooks.com.

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  Cover design: Debra Dixon

  Interior design: Hank Smith

  Photo credits:

  Woman (manipulated) © Dreamstime.com Agency | Dreamstime.com

  :Momm:01:

  Dedication

  My perpetually single friend—let’s call her Gigi—has inspired many of my stories. She’s beautiful inside and out. The kind of woman men always ask me about. The kind of woman who doesn’t realize when men are throwing themselves at her. Unfortunately, she hasn’t been so lucky in love. Once, when she was feeling down about her single-girl status, I came up with a great idea. I’d set her up with a blind date every month. She agreed, but two months in, the plan fizzled out. However, it gave me the idea for this story. Only, a friend setting up her friend on dates wasn’t that interesting. But what if you were in love with that friend?

  That’s the story you’ll read here. I’m still waiting for Gigi’s happily ever after, and I’m confident it will happen one day.

  Chapter 1

  JEANNE’S CHAMPAGNE sloshed over her glass as she tried to find it with her lips. Lordy, was this her third … or fifth? She’d never been much of a drinker, but it was the only way she was going to get through this night. Either that, or one of her pecan praline pies. Not just a nibble, either—the whole dang thing. In the end, the champagne would do less damage to her hips, so here she was, drowning in the bubbly.

  As she aimed the flute toward her mouth, it disappeared when someone plucked it from her sticky fingertips.

  “Hey!” she protested, grasping at the air.

  Brad towered over her, frowning as he snatched the glass. “Jeanne, what’s gotten into you? Tonight of all nights?”

  A few people turned to stare.

  She hiccupped. Covering her mouth, she shot Brad her nastiest glare, but ugh! The man, with those chiseled cheekbones and that pitch-black hair falling in his eyes, was handsome even when he was mad.

  “Shoot, Brad!” She stamped her stiletto and wobbled, grabbing his arm for balance. Her hand locked onto rock-hard muscle, and she nearly whimpered. Instead, she lied. “I’m fine! I need that drink to ring in the New Year.” She shouted over the music and laughter at the party and plastered on a great big smile.

  Seemed like everyone in Willowdale, North Carolina had turned out for the bash, even old Chester Miller. He hadn’t left his house since 1998, and here he was chasing the old Mercer twins around the living room—and they were enjoying it. Was she the only one here faking the fun?

  Brad’s stern look disappeared, and out came a smile that could blind the sun. “You don’t need any more. Not tonight. Now, get over here, girl. The ball’s dropping.”

  He linked his fingers with hers, pulling her through the crowd until they had a good view of Times Square on the giant flat screen TV. Couples bunched up together in the crowd preparing for the countdown. Brad snaked his arm around her waist, his thumb stroking her black satin dress. The warm feeling coursing through her body had nothing to do with the all those glasses of pink bubbly.

  They counted down together. “Three … two … one!”

  Horns blared, confetti flew, and it felt like a slow-motion movie scene. She turned to him, fixing her eyes on his, bright blue and smoldering under a lock of hair. His eyebrow hitched while his mouth formed a perfect pucker. A shiver shimmied down her spine then back up again. With a swipe of her tongue across her lips, she sucked in a breath, closed her eyes—

  And Brad planted a big kiss on her cheek. “Happy New Year, kiddo,” he whispered in her ear.

  Her heart sank faster than the ball they’d just watched. Just like it did every time she realized her perfect guy could never be more than a friend. Dang. She swallowed back the sob crawling up her throat. Didn’t go down as easy without the champagne.

  She forced a smile. “Happy New Year, Bradley.”

  Then she grabbed her glass, slurped the last of her drink, and pushed away from him. Stumbling through the crowd, she made her way toward the back deck of her friend Kate’s enormous house. The damn place was probably bigger than the Smart Mart over in Whitesville.

  After indulging a few of the regulars from the Jelly Jar diner with celebratory hugs and kisses, she finally slipped outside, relieved to drop the fake smile. Pulling her wrap tight around her bare shoulders, she leaned against the railing and let out the tears she’d been holding back. The champagne glass slipped from her grasp and crashed onto the patio below. That only made her cry harder—like she needed more proof she really didn’t have a grip on things and hadn’t for a long time.

  Jeanne sniffed, and her bottom lip wobbled like the bumper that was always threatening to tumble off Bill the Barber’s truck. She wasn’t one to fall apart all pretty. When she crumbled, she was a downright mess.

  Soft, downy flakes fell from the sky, tickling her nose. She brushed them away like gnats. That damn kiss on the cheek shouldn’t have been a surprise. She’d known for a couple years now that Brad would always be just a friend, for several very good reasons. And now that they were business partners, becoming a couple would be as stupid as topping their famous rum pound cake with hot bacon drippings. Normally, she could deal with it. Just tuck away that painful longing like a brochure for a month-long cruise you could never afford to take, but still liked to dream about.

  Guess something about the promise of new starts and a new year, and maybe all that champagne, had brought hope rising up inside her. Only to be popped like a silly soap bubble. Of course, the bad memories from that New Year’s Eve so long ago chased away the good feelings, too. She sucked in a shock of cold night air and shivered.

  Folding her
arms on the railing, she rested her chin on top. She shouldn’t have come to this party. She should have volunteered to babysit so her sister, Becca, could’ve gone out. Little Emma was just three months old, and the most beautiful thing Jeanne had ever seen. That was weighing heavy on her heart, too, reminding her how badly she wanted to be a mama. To have the perfect family she never had, and how unlikely that was of happening any time soon.

  The deck door slid open, and the sounds of music and laughter spilled out. She stood up and pressed her fingers under her eyes to catch any dribbles of mascara. Was she the only person in the world sobbing-in the New Year? Taking a deep breath, she turned to see who was coming outside.

  Please don’t be Kate or Tonya.

  She didn’t know if she had the strength to lie to her friends about what was wrong. They could sniff out of a fib faster than Doc Louie’s bloodhounds.

  “Why’d you rush out here?” Brad asked.

  Dang, worse than Kate or Tonya, Jeanne thought, as she turned away. “Guess I don’t feel like celebrating tonight.”

  “Sure looked like you were having fun.” He rubbed his hands together. “It’s freezing.” He took off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. His fingers grazed her arms, and she felt goosebumps answering his touch.

  His big, warm body pressed up next to hers, and he planted his elbows on the railing as he looked out over the yard and the pool tucked away for the winter. “This night’s hard for me too, Jeanne. Eighteen years is a long time, but still … it hurts, I know.”

  She shook her head and shrugged off the idea. She didn’t break down like this every year. Why this one? “No. That’s not it. Your mother died that night, too, and you’re not out here crying.”

  Brad winced and closed his mouth. He was quiet for a spell. “You still upset we didn’t land the catering gig for the Willowdale New Year’s Bash? You know Kate threw this party just to hand us a booking, right? Not a bad consolation prize.”

  She nodded. “I know. Kate’s a great friend. That’s not it. The New Year’s Bash was a long shot. We’re not ready for that yet.”

  He leaned into her, his breath hot on her cheek. “Cheer up, kiddo. It’s a new year. I’ll make you a batch of those rum balls you love so much to start it off right.” He frowned. “No, nothing with alcohol for you. How about chocolate silk pie? You love my chocolate silk pie.”

  She loved his everything. “No thanks.”

  “Damn. You turned down pie. You are upset.” He nudged her with his elbow. “You pouting ‘cause I took away your drink? You’re a lightweight, and you know it. I’ve gotta look out for you.”

  Shaking her head, she sucked in a deep breath. “I’m pouting because … I’m lonely.” She sniffed, her emotions ready to tumble out like a bunch of peaches in those flimsy paper supermarket bags. “I’m sick of being single. I want a family.”

  He looked up at the sky and let out a long sigh. “How can you even think about romance when we just launched Elegant Eats? I sure don’t have time for dating. What makes you think you would?”

  She lifted a shoulder, a strand of hair tickling her skin. “I’d make time. The alarm on my biological clock is blaring.” Cue the dramatic eye roll. “Never mind. I forgot—you don’t have one of those timers.”

  The champagne had loosened her tongue more than she realized. Things always got ugly when their talk turned to babies. That’s what had broken them up the first time.

  Brad’s hands went up and he stepped back, his best cowboy boots thunking on the wooden deck. “Jeanne, you can’t be mad at me for being honest. It would be a mistake for me to have children. But I know that’s what you want, and I respect that. Just don’t look down on me. I’m being responsible, not getting into a situation I don’t want to be in—can’t be in.”

  She nodded, not looking at him. It was the one thing about Brad that made a relationship between the two of them a deal breaker, and they both knew it. Jeanne wanted kids more than a stray dog wanted a warm home. And Brad was a wolf who’d always be on the run.

  The music thumped inside as they stood there, frozen, while a whole world of silent hurts tumbled between them.

  His hand cupped her elbow. “It’s a new year, a new start. Why not resolve to get out there and meet someone?”

  Her soft laugh left a puff in the air between them. “Brad, I know practically everyone in Willowdale. There’s no one here for me to date, unless one of the biddies down at Tonya’s salon has a handsome grandson locked up in her attic. Besides, matchmaking and me just don’t mix. Things got real ugly when Faye Jenkins tried setting up her son Leroy with me—and Tonya and Kate all at the same time.”

  “Leroy Jenkins is a fool. Course it didn’t work out.” Brad tipped her chin up with one finger, and she swallowed a cry. “I’ve got lots of great friends from here to Asheville. Good men.”

  Sadness tightened her chest, and she brushed off the suggestion with a big wave, stumbling with the gesture. Brad steadied her with his hands on her waist as though he might lift her up and kiss her long, hard, and good.

  Which of course, he wouldn’t. Been there done that, decided it wouldn’t work.

  He pulled his hands away. “No, really. Make it your New Year’s resolution to go out with a new guy every month until you meet Mr. Right.”

  She laughed, in a not-funny-at-all way. “Listen.” Her finger poked his hard chest. “I don’t drink mocha double lattes just to seem trendy, I don’t wear push-up bras just ‘cause I don’t got the goods, and I don’t do blind dates just ‘cause I’m lonely as sin.”

  Brad pushed away her finger and groaned. “But I’ll prescreen all these guys. And who knows you better?”

  The truth of it slapped her heart. The man she loved knew her even better than her sisters or her girlfriends did. “You want to set me up with a guy?”

  He nodded. “One guy every month. The Man of the Month.”

  She hiccupped and pressed her hand to her mouth. “The Man of the Month,” she said through her fingers. “You’re kidding, right?”

  “Nope. There’s your resolution, J.”

  She loved it when he called her that.

  He grinned, looking way too smug. “It’s a brilliant plan.”

  “Good lord.”

  It was so silly she couldn’t even find the words to argue against it. No way, no how was she agreeing to such foolishness. But when she looked up at those take-me-now eyes, his perfect lips, and those big biceps flexing as he leaned against the railing—imagining herself all tucked up in them—she knew she needed to do something to get Brad Larsen out of her system.

  And that’s how she found herself saying, “Okay, Brad. Man of the Month. Sign me up.”

  “YOU DID WHAT?” Tonya choked on her sweet tea at the Jelly Jar diner the next afternoon. Kate whacked her on the back, and two old-timers at the counter turned around from their coffee and pie and squinted in their direction.

  “Shh! And shut those blinds, would you?” Jeanne winced and rubbed her temples. “You heard me. I agreed to let Brad set me up with a different guy every month. It’s my New Year’s resolution. Wasn’t my idea.”

  There had to be some grace period for a do-over on a resolution, right? She could not go through with this. Her mama was probably rolling over in Heaven at the thought of it. At least she thought that’s what her mama would do. Jeanne didn’t remember much about her.

  More heads turned as Tonya, in her tight jeans, popped up to lower the blinds. She planted a hand on her hip. “You mean, Brad-I-love-him-but-won’t-ever-admit-it Brad.”

  She plopped back in her seat, her dark curls bouncing on her shoulders. A week ago, her hair had been straight and red. Tonya thought the best advertising for her salon happened right on her head.

  Jeanne glared at her. “You know which Brad I’m talking about. Business-partner-best-friend-Brad.” She pushed away her burger and fries, realizing her stomach wouldn’t appreciate that.

  Kate wagged a manicured finger at her.
“I saw you tossin’ back the drinks. A bottle of champagne can make a girl agree to all kinds of crazy things.”

  “Especially when that girl is actually in love with the man trying to set her up with his buddies,” Tonya added, dragging a french fry through a puddle of ketchup.

  Kate nodded. “That’s even more powerful than a bottle of bubbly.”

  Jeanne squeezed her eyes shut. “Will you two let up on that? Just because we were a couple a while back does not mean I’m in love with Brad Larsen. That’s when we figured out we were meant to be friends. We want different things. So give up that goose chase, girls. Brad and I were never an item and never will be. We’re friends. And business partners. That’s it.” She sighed. Right. And after my New Year’s resolution, I’ll give up lying for Lent.

  Tonya pretended to zip her lip while Kate nibbled on her own.

  “Yep, that’s what you’ve been telling yourself for a long time, Jeanne,” Kate said.

  “Because that’s the truth.” Jeanne sat up straight, trying to channel a bit of confidence. “And the more I think about it, the better Brad’s idea sounds. He probably does know some very hot men, and I get to go out with one a month.” She crossed her arms and nodded. She had to prove to them she wasn’t in love with Brad—which would be as easy as convincing them she didn’t like chocolate. “It’ll be fun.”

  “You’re right. It does sound like a good plan. Kind of makes me wish I wasn’t married,” Kate said, tucking her silky blonde hair behind her ears.

  Jeanne gave her a look. “Right. You’d give up the hottest guy in Hollywood for a shot at some of Brad’s redneck friends.”

  Kate had married actor Teague Reynolds in the biggest slice of gossip ever served up around these parts. But news of this resolution would get tongues wagging, too. Jeanne rolled her eyes just thinking of it. Maybe she should buy a honkin’ pair of sunglasses and a great big hat to disguise herself on these dates.

 
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