Champion stock car driver Brody Palmer's bad-boy reputation has forced him into early retirement. What no one knows is that his "retirement" is actually a publicity stunt. All Brody has to do is clean up his act and settle down. Unfortunately, every single woman with a pulse is now gunning to become the new Mrs. Palmer.
Hannah Morgan needs to shake things up, and Brody is the best way to do just that. So they strike a deal--a fake relationship...with all of the sexy strings included! Brody gets his improved image, and Hannah gets a whole lot more of Brody's unpredictable wildness.
Hot days, hotter nights--it's the perfect plan! Provided, of course, they don't do something to wreck it, like fall for each other...
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Hannah Morgan sat alone in a dimly lit Atlanta bar, a plate of ribs sitting untouched to her left, a bottle of beer to her right, and her laptop opened directly in front of her. Growling in frustration at the laptop, she pushed it away to grab the ribs and dig in.
Quitting her accounting job had seemed like the right thing to do two months ago, but now she was having serious doubts. At the time, she'd been passed over for yet another promotion and had finally asked her boss why she was always being rejected for promotions at the firm she'd always given her best to.
You play it too safe to handle the bigger clients, Hannah, her boss had told her. They need someone who can think outside the box, find creative solutions.
She hadn't been aware that being sensible or responsible was a bad thing in financial management, she fumed for the thousandth time as she tore into a rib.
Well, she'd shown them. She'd quit. That was hardly playing it safe, right? Neither was taking off around the country to explore her options and try to start a new career. Now she was operating completely outside the box.
Take that, she grumped as she licked the spicy, smoky sauce from her fingers and then took another from the plate. She'd missed lunch while working on her photo blog, Hannah's Great Adventure, which so far hadn't been very adventurous at all.
It wasn't that she hadn't tried, but adventure and risk taking had never come naturally to her.
She eyed the few comments she did have on her blog.
Then there was the one that asked if she had any pictures of herself, and when would she come to his town?
Ugh. That was not the kind of adventure she was looking for.
Unfortunately, though she was active on social media and always posting on her blog, traffic was low. But she was still new at this, right? It would take time to establish and make a name for herself.
Sighing, she pushed the plate aside and bolstered her resolve as she pulled the laptop back, front and center. At least she could finish an assignment for the online writing course she was taking. Years as an accountant had left her writing skills somewhat rusty.
Just as her concentration took hold, someone slid into the seat opposite her.
"You don't like the ribs?"
A gorgeous guy, complete with a sexy Southern accent and a wicked smile, looked at her inquiringly, making her mind stutter for a moment.
"Um, no, they're wonderful," she replied, and then saw the shirt he was wearing had the name of the bar stamped over one well-defined pectoral muscle.
"Well, I thought I should check, as you pushed the plate away. I have to make sure customers are satisfied, especially the pretty ones," he said with a sexy wink, making her laugh.
He was flat-out gorgeous and charming to boot. And flirting with her. Suddenly her blog wasn't all that interesting.
"Thanks," she said, cringing inwardly as she wished she was a better flirt.
"My name's Jarvis," he said, holding his hand out. "You work nearby? Or are you a student at the university?" He looked at the laptop inquiringly.
She took his hand, finding his grasp pleasant and warm, strong but not smothering. Hannah let him hold on for another second or two, and liked the gentle squeeze he offered at the end.
"Neither. I'm a photojournalist. Well, I want to be one. It was something I wanted to do in college, but never followed through on. So I'm taking a year to travel the country to explore, to…blog. Try to develop, you know, a focus…or something," she said, realizing she was babbling and stopping before she made a real fool of herself. This guy wasn't really interested in her life history, she was sure.
"So you're only passing through?" Jarvis asked with even more pronounced interest this time. Clearly not looking for commitment, which was fine with her.
Hannah was about to respond when a sportscast from one of the televisions positioned all around the bar caught her eye, stealing her attention away from her companion.
Supersize on the screen, the stock-car champion's image still made her catch her breath. Well, former racing champion. It seemed as though there was always something around reminding her of him. A magazine cover, a news item or a fan wearing his number on a T-shirt or on a sticker on their car, even after his retirement six months ago.
She couldn't hear the story, but the picture they showed was from a year before, shortly after she'd parted ways with him. The headline noted five drivers who had recently left the track.
"You're into racing?" Jarvis asked, watching her watch Brody.
Hannah tore her gaze from the screen.
"Oh, no, not so much. I… He's a, um…a friend. But we haven't seen each other in a while."
"You keep interesting company."
Once. Once, she'd kept company for a wild month with Brody Palmer, and it was one of the best experiences of her life. Her only true adventure, ever.
She smiled at Jarvis, trying to get Brody out of her mind.
Hannah didn't have a whole lot of experience picking up men in bars, or letting them pick her up—but things were different now. Or at least, she wanted them to be.
She focused on Jarvis. He was real, and right here in front of her. Not an image on TV or a memory from the past. Maybe the sexy bartender was exactly what she needed in order to make some new, adventurous memories.
"I planned to leave tomorrow, but I'm flexible," she said, proud of her own flirtatious innuendo, taking a sip of her beer and peeking at him over the top of her glass.
Fifteen minutes later, they were kissing in his office.
It turned out Jarvis owned the bar, which was an added bonus, since he had a very nice office with a delicious leather couch and a large desk. Hannah had a feeling they might make use of both. Right now, he was wrapped around her with his warm, strong hands finding their way up to her bra strap.
Jarvis moved fast, and Hannah let him, trying to enjoy what this hot guy was doing to her and not letting the image of Brody's face on the TV screen—and the memories of his kiss, and his touch—ruin her fun.
But it was too late.
All she could think of was Brody. What was he doing since he retired? She'd considered contacting him, but it didn't seem wise.
As Jarvis was trailing his lips lower, her mind wandered.
Maybe Brody would like to see an old friend? Maybe…he could help her out? Be her first real, exciting story for her blog?
Why not? She was trying to write about something exciting—and the most exciting person she'd ever known was only about eight hours away.
Would he see her? Would he talk to her?
What if he said no?
"Hannah?" Jarvis's sexy voice broke through her thoughts.
He pulled back and looked at her questioningly, aware she had gone elsewhere, at least in her head. She backed away.
"I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have done this. We have to stop."
"What?" He seemed more disconcerted than angry, but Hannah couldn't go through with this. "Did I do something—"
"No, I promise, it's totally me. I'm too distracted. It's not your fault at all, I just. I have to go."
Jarvis's arms loosened and she apologized again, barely taking in his dazed look as she pictured meeting up with Brody. If she could take some pictures of him for her blog, that would put her on the map. He was retired. What was he up to? That was a blog she could write that would get some attention.
If he would agree. And why wouldn't he? They'd parted on good terms, and they were friends, right? If she wanted to make this work, she had to be bold.
Hannah tugged her clothes straight before she went out into the kitchen and then the bar, convincing herself that this was the right thing to do, and that Brody would want to see her again, as much as she wanted to see him.
Brody jerked awake, suddenly alert as he peered around his room. Sunlight peeked through a crack in the curtains, making him squint as he checked the clock. It was just past nine. He didn't even recall when he'd gone to bed, though it had been late. The days all seemed to slide by recently, one blurring into the other. He peered at the half-empty bottle of Scotch on the dresser, and the glass by his bed.
That reminded him that his shoulder had been hurting like hell last night, and the alcohol was better than the pain pills the doctor prescribed. Well, somewhat anyway.
His shoulder was dislocated and sprained when his horse had thrown him. Luckily, nothing was broken. Some luck.
If he'd been driving his stock car instead of riding Zip—the Thoroughbred colt he'd adopted from a rescue organization—none of this would have happened.
Racing might be dangerous, but the "quiet" life might kill him yet. Brody wasn't built for quiet.
At least he was getting back to where he could do some light work with the horses and drive. For several weeks after he'd been thrown, he thought he would go out of his mind with boredom. He was counting the days until his mandatory "retirement" was over; it couldn't happen soon enough.
Then he realized what had awakened him as the aroma of coffee drifted through the open door.
Someone was downstairs.
Was he with a woman last night? He didn't think he'd had so much to drink that he wouldn't remember. Though his sponsor had told him to behave, Brody wasn't much good at that, either. There had been a few women since he'd left the track. He had to have something to do.
He'd had contractors in for several months, renovating the old farm house from top to bottom, and he'd adopted some new horses, but apart from all that, sex was at least a temporary reprieve. Though, since that news item appeared saying he was looking to settle down he couldn't bring a girl home without her wanting to stay for good.
Now he tended to not go out. It was like being in prison. Walking to the window, he groaned when he saw a familiar car parked out front.
He must have drunk more than he usually did to have Jackie over. What a mess.
"Hey, sexy. Hungry?"
Jackie stood smiling inside his bedroom door, then she crossed the room to link her arms around his neck and kiss him before he could say anything. He turned his head, breaking the kiss and loosening her hold.
"Jackie, what are you doing here?"
She shrugged, pouting.
"I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd come over and surprise you with breakfast."
Brody brightened slightly. "So you just got here?"
"About an hour ago. I brought some muffins from the bakery you like, made coffee and I could put on some eggs, too. I thought you might like to work up more of an appetite first, though."
He stepped away, putting some distance between them—he'd been trying to put a lot of distance between himself and Jackie. He'd explained it to her several times, but she was more persistent than he'd expected. She'd been a high school girlfriend and more recently…an impulse. A mistake.
He was thankful that at least he hadn't made it worse. She knew where he left his extra key, and had let herself in, obviously.
Grabbing some jeans from the chair, he pulled them on.
"Don't get dressed on my account."
Brody's only response was a withering look as he left the room. He could hear her heels on the hardwood stairs close behind as he went to the front door.
"Jackie, I appreciate your making breakfast—"
"Then show me," she said, sidling up to him again and putting her arm through his.
Brody sighed, stepping back and putting her away from him, his patience threading thin. He wasn't interested.
"You need to go," he said bluntly. "We've already talked about this."
Her eyes turned diamond-chip hard as she set her hands on her hips, ready to argue. A knock at the door startled them both, and Brody almost groaned aloud. Who else was here this early in the morning? He was relatively private about where he lived, but still, fans and reporters seemed to find him more often than he liked.
"Hold on," he said, turning away from Jackie to see who it was.
When he swung open the door, though, he couldn't have been more shocked to see a familiar pair of blue eyes staring back at him.