Man of the Month 10
Hannah Donovan is not my type.
Intellectual and career-focused, she’s a lawyer, and an intimidatingly beautiful one, at that. I’d rather pump iron than open a book, and the only reason I’d go to court would be for a traffic ticket.
She’s the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. So how can I turn down her plea that I pretend to be her fiancé for one weekend?
But I never expected our pretend kisses to feel so real … or for it to lead to a wild night in bed that will forever stand out as the highlight of my sex life.
Our performance convinces everyone, but it was never meant to be more than a fantasy. A short term gig before reality sets back in.
I can’t imagine ever being good enough for her, but I’m hooked. And now I’m determined to do whatever it takes to make this fake engagement real.
Each novel in the series is a STANDALONE romance with a guaranteed HEA!
And don’t miss Bar Bites: A Man of the Month cookbook featuring recipes, slices of life, and an all new short story!
In Too Deep is Story # 10 in the Man of the Month series.
In Too Deep - Buy Now
About this StoryPublication Date 06/12/2018 Story Type Book Series Man of the Month Place in Series Story #10 Genre Contemporary Romance
More About This Story
When a group of fiercely determined friends realize their beloved hang-out is in danger of closing, they take matters into their own hands to bring back customers lost to a competing bar. Fighting fire with a heat of their own, they double down with the broad shoulders, six-pack abs, and bare chests of dozens of hot, local guys who they cajole, prod, and coerce into auditioning for a Man of the Month calendar.
But it’s not just the fate of the bar that’s at stake. Because as things heat up, each of the men meets his match in this sexy, flirty, and compelling binge-read romance series of twelve novels releasing every other week from New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner.
“With each novel featuring a favorite romance trope—beauty and the beast, billionaire bad boys, friends to lovers, second chance romance, secret baby, and more—this series hits the heart and soul of romance.” —New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips
“Well?” Easton asked. “What do you think?”
Hannah Donovan turned a slow circle in the sunlit reception area that took up one corner of the seventeenth floor of the Bank of America tower at the corner of Sixth and Congress. Her soon-to-be law partner, Easton Wallace, stood in front of her, a wide grin playing across his classically handsome face. Behind him, Selma Herrington, Easton’s girlfriend who had fast become a close friend of Hannah’s, stood with her back to them in cut-off shorts and spiky blue hair, her hands pressed to the glass overlooking Austin’s famous Sixth Street.
“It’s amazing,” Hannah said, still having a hard time believing this was real. Were they actually looking at property to lease? For that matter, were they actually opening their own law firm?
She grimaced. Apparently they were. After all, she’d already given notice at Brandywine Consulting where, until yesterday, she’d been gainfully employed as in-house counsel. But as soon as she gave notice, her prick of a boss had suggested that she go ahead and take her accrued vacation. Basically kicking her out the door without even time for cupcakes in the break room.
But that was okay. Because now she was free as a bird. A somewhat terrified bird, facing a brand new adventure.
A bird who didn’t have the money she’d counted on to fund this little venture. Because her pig of a former boss had managed to trigger a clause in her retirement plan, leaving Hannah with a retirement nest egg that she was absolutely forbidden to borrow from. And if she closed it out completely and took the money, the penalty was so stiff that she’d barely have enough to buy the whiskey in which to drown her sorrows.
Which meant she was looking at this fabulous office space without her share of the money for their new law firm’s start-up capital. Which, of course, included the down payment for this lease.
And that was a fact she hadn’t yet shared with Easton.
Now his brow furrowed as he peered at her. “You’re way too quiet. Do you not like it?”
Selma turned, her eyes wide. “Of course she likes it. She’d be an idiot not to like it.”
“If I didn’t, I’d hardly admit it now,” Hannah said, amusement overcoming her worries. Selma—in typical Selma fashion—merely shrugged. “And to be clear,” Hannah continued, “I do love it. I was—” She cut herself off with a shrug. “I just can’t believe it’s happening so fast.”
That, of course, was the understatement of the year. And she didn’t have a clue how to tell Easton that she had to scrape up another source of funds. How horrible to disappoint him that way, especially since she was the one who’d had the original idea for the two of them to form a partnership.
Not only that, but she knew him well, and it was obvious that he’d fallen in love with this space. Hell, she had, too. Just this quick look around and she was convinced that this suite was as perfect for their venture as they’d ever find.
A truly breathtaking space, the suite formed a U that took up half of the east wall, all of the north wall, and the entire west wall. The tiny bit of remaining space was used as storage for the bank that owned the building—which meant that only the employees and clients of Wallace & Donovan, Attorneys At Law, needed to get off at this floor.
A set of double glass doors opened onto the luxurious reception area that faced east and looked out over Sixth Street. But right beside reception was a large conference room—also with glass walls—that faced north and looked down on the historic Driskill Hotel and a tiny hint of the Texas Capitol building. Because of the glass, the room was bright and airy and full of light. But the conference room was designed with automatic blinds, so clients and counsel could work in privacy if necessary.
Offices for associate attorneys—when they hired some—lined the north and west walls, and would also be used for the legal assistants. The northwest corner office boasted a stunning view straight down Congress Avenue, and the southwest corner had a view of the river in the distance. All in all, the space was incredible.
“Nothing wrong with fast when it’s right,” Easton said to her, though he added a wink to Selma, obviously in honor of their whirlwind romance. “And I really do think it’s right. This whole idea is right. This space. Our firm. You and me as partners.” He crossed to her and gave her a one-armed hug, the same way he used to congratulate her in law school whenever she got an A or nailed a particularly tricky concept during one of their study sessions. “I’ve had a good feeling since we took the leap and agreed to do this. Even my crazy notoriety has played into our favor. I’m getting all sorts of calls about folks wanting to talk about representation.”
Easton and Selma had been caught with their pants down—or, more specifically, Selma had been caught with her skirt up—not too long ago. The scandal had cost Easton his chance at a judgeship, but as it turned out, he was okay with that. What he really wanted was to practice law—and he’d pulled his name from the race and taken Hannah up on her suggestion that they both quit and open a firm. A suggestion that had been absolutely seaworthy at the time she’d made it, but which had recently begun to spring a few leaks.
“I have a good feeling, too,” she assured him. “I swear, I’m not bailing.” She wouldn’t do that to him. This was too important to them both. This firm was their future. And it represented the kind of law career she wanted. A vibrant practice doing interesting work with a partner she trusted. She’d loved the people at her old job, and she was going to miss seeing her friends everyday. But she’d been about to rot in that environment and had been bored to tears with the actual work.
The in-house job at Brandywine Finance and Consulting had been her second law job. The first had been at a giant law firm where she’d worked for years on cases so huge that she was often only aware of one legal issue—the big picture of the overall litigation wasn’t even shared with her.
Some of the work was interesting, but she’d had little client contact, and even less contact with the overall battle plan. She knew she was paying her dues, but after a while she couldn’t take it anymore, and she’d accepted the in-house position at Brandywine.
That was better for a while, but after time, the work became rote, and it was no longer about the job but about a steady paycheck. She’d realized almost too late how much she wanted to be out there handling actual cases. Writing detailed briefs that argued real law. Building a practice and making a reputation.
Fortunately, Easton wanted the same thing.
Unfortunately, she’d lost time—most attorneys her age who went out on their own already had a handful of clients in their pocket. Which meant that if she wanted to build the firm up into something successful, she had to put all her focus and energy into this firm. Into making certain that she and Easton succeeded.
“I know you’re not bailing,” Easton assured her. “But we need to lock this down. If we take too much time, someone will snatch it out from under us. I got first look because the guy who handles leasing for this building owes me a favor. But he’ll only hold it open for us to Monday morning. After that, we won’t be the only interested parties. Besides, the sooner we commit to this place, the sooner we can start meeting with clients.”
Hannah turned in a slow circle, taking it all in. And, yes, coveting this suite. “This place will definitely wow them.” The space had previously housed a defunct law firm, and they had even left their law library behind, a spacious room filled with all the necessary resources, nestled in the interior of the building.
“And you can have your pick of corner offices,” Easton said. “Capitol or river view. No drawing straws.”
“Really?” She shot a quick glance at her friend.
“Of course you get first dibs. Without you, this wouldn’t be happening. ”
Her stomach twisted. Because the truth was that even with her it might not be happening. Not unless she could come up with her share of the money.
She drew in a breath and was gathering the courage to tell Easton the hard, cold truth, when Selma threw her hands out to her sides and twirled her way over to Easton in that vivacious Selma way she had. “Well, I love it. But darling, can you afford it?”
“We,” he said, smiling at Hannah as he brushed his thumb over Selma’s lips and pulled her close. “And of course we can. Yes?”
“Absolutely,” Hannah said, aiming her smile at both of them and taking a great deal of pride in the fact that her voice didn’t crack. Because, dammit, she’d figure out a way. “We’d be crazy not to grab it,” she added, as much to convey her enthusiasm as to convince herself. Because it really would be nuts to walk away from such a fabulous deal. Especially when the only tiny stumbling block was Hannah’s own lack of funds.
At least the lease had a two-week escape clause, or so Easton had said. Which meant that she had two weeks to either get the money or fess up to Easton.
Surely she could get the money. It wasn’t as if she was entirely out of options, after all. There was always her mother and the money that Mom used to call The Hannah Fund. It was out of reach now, true. But maybe, just maybe, she could change that.
She was pondering how to approach her mom—and, more importantly, her stepfather—when she felt the weight of Selma’s eyes on her. She glanced up, only to see a glimmer of curiosity cross Selma’s face before she turned to Easton and gave him a little shove. “Okay, mister, we’re all done here. Go. Do manly things.”
His eyes widened, and his lips twitched with obvious amusement. “Trying to get rid of me?”
“Um, duh. Hannah and I have plans,” she announced, which was total news to Hannah. “We’re off to drink cocktails and ogle hot men. Or women,” she added with a glance toward Hannah. “If you’d rather.”
Hannah lifted a shoulder, forcing herself not to smile. “Either way, I’m good.”
Selma laughed, as Easton cocked one brow. “Just ogling?”
“Don’t worry,” Selma assured him. “With other men, I only look.” She pressed herself against him, her arms going around his waist. “But sometimes that makes the touching later all the more fun. And in case you need it, here’s a preview. So you can remember why it’s me you come home to.” She kissed him—hot and deep and so slow that Hannah was starting to feel like she’d fallen down the rabbit hall into an NC-17 movie.
But when Selma grabbed Easton’s ass, it was time to cut the show short. “Okay, you two. Get a room.”
As Selma backed away, her expression smug, Easton held his hands out to his sides and indicated the huge, empty reception area. “A room?” he repeated. “Isn’t that why we’re here?”
Hannah parked one hand on her hip and cocked her head. “There will be no wild sex on the desks in our law office. Especially since one of us doesn’t have anyone to have wild sex with.”
On top of everything else, Hannah had been single—and sadly hook-up free—for well over six months now.
Sadly, that state of affairs showed no signs of changing any time soon. A particularly unfortunate fact since an upstanding boyfriend with a good job and decent manners might be the key to solving her current financial crisis.
And, honestly, she missed the fringe benefits, too.
“Over six months?” Selma looked so shocked that Hannah almost sank off the stool so she could hide under the long oak bar at The Fix on Sixth. The local Austin bar was not only full of atmosphere, but it also happened to be conveniently located just a few blocks down from what would soon—hopefully, maybe—be Hannah’s brand new office.
Coming to the bar had been Selma’s idea. Not only did she patronize the place, but Selma’s company, Austin Free-Tail Distillery, supplied a variety of whiskeys to the popular bar. Now the women were sitting at a two-top in the smaller back section of the bar, Selma drinking her own whiskey straight-up, and Hannah sipping a Loaded Corona.
“Six months,” Selma repeated, studying Hannah’s face. “Good God, you’re serious.”
Hannah felt her ears turn pink. “That’s hardly a lifetime.”
“I just haven’t met anyone I like, and I got tired of doing the hook-up thing, then wasting all that emotional energy wondering if he or she was going to call again.”
“I get that,” Selma admitted. “But it doesn’t explain the weirdness.”
Hannah blinked, trying to follow the thread of conversation. “What weirdness?”
“You. In the office. I may not know you as well as Easton does, but I can spot obfuscation a mile away.”
“Good God, can you really?” Hannah teased. “Because I can’t even spell it.”
“Hannah.” Selma’s voice was flat. Almost parental. “Just spill it, okay? What’s going on?”
That was one of the things that Hannah had found so refreshing about Selma the first time they’d met—the fact that she didn’t pull any punches. She said what she meant, and she meant what she said. With Selma, what you saw was what you got.
Usually, that was an amazing trait.
Right now, it was more than a little unnerving.
“Do not even think about dodging the question,” Selma said. “Come on. Tell me.” She reached out and put her hand over Hannah’s, warm and reassuring. “If it’s something you don’t want Easton to know, I can keep a secret. Or you can talk to someone else. But you need to talk. I see it all over you.”
For a moment, Hannah considered telling Selma that she’d find someone else to talk to. But why? Selma was there. Selma would undoubtedly understand.
And most of all, Selma thought outside the box. If anyone would have a creative solution, it would be Selma.
“Right. Well, I’m kind of having a cash flow issue.”
Selma leaned back in her chair, nodding slowly. “I thought it might be something like that. What happened?”
Once again, Hannah almost diverted the conversation. After all, talking about money—or at least the lack thereof—ranked way up there on the scale of mortifying topics. But saying nothing wasn’t gong to help her. Better to just go for it.
“It’s my fault. I thought I’d be able to borrow from my retirement account. You know, for the money that Easton and I are both contributing as operating capital.”
“Sure. I’m guessing you can’t?”
“Have I mentioned my old boss was a prick?”
Selma laughed. “Once or twice.”
“Well, if I’d waited another couple of weeks to quit I would have been fine. But because of the timing—about which I wasn’t told in advance—I can’t access any of my pension funds. At least not until I actually retire. And I figure Easton doesn’t want to wait that long.”
“You don’t have anything else squirreled away?”
“I did. Then I bought my condo and my car.”
“Can you get an equity loan?”
Hannah shook her head. “I got a great deal on my condo, but the previous owner had trashed it. So I used an equity loan to pay for the repairs and remodel. I told you. I’m screwed. But I don’t want to give this up. I mean, I want it. I want the law firm. I want the partnership. And I really don’t want to let Easton down.” The idea of disappointing her best friend in such a massive way clawed at Hannah’s gut. Not only that, but she knew that Easton was relying on their new practice just as she was. Neither of them currently had jobs. This was it. This was their future.
And unless she could figure out a solution, Hannah was going to be the one to make it all go to hell.
“You’re going to hate this idea, but Easton’s done really well. And not to brag, but Austin Free-Tail is definitely on the rise, too. Either Easton or I could lend you the money. It’s not like you’re a risky investment.”
Hannah shook her head. “Borrowing money from friends means that at the end of the day you have money, but no friends. Not happening.”
Selma made a face, but didn’t argue. “What other option do you have?”
Hannah sucked in a breath. She had only one other option—and it was a little dicey. Worth it, but dicey.
“What?” Selma prodded. “You’re thinking about something. Just spit it out.”
“Right. Okay. Here’s the thing. This isn’t a new idea between Easton and me—the partnership, I mean. I first suggested it years ago, not long after I signed on at Brandywine and realized the work wasn’t for me.” She rolled her eyes. “I always told everyone I loved it, but the truth was … well, not so much.”
“You’re saying you had the money then, but not now. So this was before you bought your condo?”
Hannah shook her head. “No, I already had the condo, and I had my equity loan. But back then, my parents were willing to fund me if I went out on my own.”
“Were willing,” Selma repeated. “But they’re not now?”
“Pretty much.” She drained the last of her Loaded Corona, then signaled to Eric, the bartender, to make her another. She loved the simple drink—a bottle of Corona with the neck poured off and filled with rum, then topped with a slice of lime—but right now it wasn’t about taste. If she was going to talk about her mother and Ernest, she wanted the fortification of a good, old-fashioned buzz.
Across the table, Selma was sitting patiently, but Hannah could see the questions brewing in her eyes. Time to dive in. And why not? Maybe Selma would have a solution.
“Did Easton ever tell you about my dad?”
Selma’s brow furrowed; clearly that wasn’t the lead-in to the conversation that she’d expected. “I don’t think so.”
“He died when I was little. Just a toddler, really. He was a cop, and he was killed in the line of duty. It was—well, it was rough. Especially for my mom. Honestly, I don’t remember my dad all that well, but my mom really had to scramble. She’d been a housewife, and after he passed, money was really tight. She’d dropped out of school, but she went back, got her degree, and ended up working as a teacher. She was determined to pay my way through college.”
“Good for her.”
“I know. She was amazing. But money was still tight, and she always told me to be smart. To pick a career where I could make money and always support myself. And she put aside fifty grand of the money from one of my dad’s life insurance policies in a savings account. She told me that he’d gotten the policy with me in mind, and she said that she would give the money to me when I was settled with a good job and a solid career, but needed a little extra cash to help me get even farther.”
Selma leaned back, her head tilted slightly with obvious confusion.
“Yeah,” Hannah said. “I know.”
“Then why? Why are we even having this conversation? You’re each putting fifty into the business, right? If you have fifty just sitting in the bank…”
Hannah took a second to let the familiar bubble of anger settle. “That would be because of Ernest.”
“My stepfather. Once he came on the scene, my mom changed her tune. It wasn’t the business that mattered, it was my life. She told me that it was still my money, but my father wouldn’t have wanted me to fritter my life away working—”
“That’s what she said. And so much more. Bottom line is that I get the money when I’m in a stable relationship. Then, according to my mom, I’ll be using it to support my domestic life, even if I decide to put it into my business.”
“Wow. Why? Where did that come from?”
Hannah shrugged. She had her theories, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was figuring out a way to get the money.
“So basically, we need to hook you up with someone suitable.”
“Who knows? I actually asked for the money about four years ago. I wanted to use it to buy a condo. One that didn’t need all the work mine did. And back then, I was in a relationship.”
“And she said no?”
“Apparently, she and Ernest didn’t like the fact that my partner’s name was Janet. But honestly, even if Janet had been a Jack, maybe there would have been some other excuse. I’m probably stupid to think that I’ll ever get that money, and it’s so frustrating, because I know that Daddy got that second policy so that I’d be taken care of. But he put it in Mom’s name, and now I’m screwed.”
“Well, you’re not with Janet anymore. Maybe your parents could tell it wasn’t a permanent thing.”
Tiffany, one of the servers, dropped off the fresh Loaded Corona along with a basket of Pretzel Bites with Beer Cheese Dip. “On the house. Eric said you two look like you’re doing serious work and needed fuel.”
“Serious scheming, you mean,” Selma said, with a thank you wave toward Eric.
“Scheming?” Hannah repeated after Tiffany had moved to another table.
“Sure. We just need to find you a relationship. And as for permanence, I’m thinking it only has to be true love until the money’s in your hand.”
“Yeah, well, I like the way you think.” And, honestly, she felt no guilt at all about the possibility of pulling a con on her mom and stepdad. After all, Ernest was practically drowning in money, so it wasn’t as if her mom needed the funds. And Hannah’s father’s wish was for her to have the money. As far as she was concerned, her mom had been playing dirty. And if Hannah had to jump in the mud to get what was hers, then that’s what she would do.
Except she needed someone to jump with her, and there wasn’t anyone on the horizon. “The problem is that my only option for a potential fake relationship—one that wasn’t even really a lie—doesn’t work anymore.”
Selma’s eyes went wide and she crossed her arms over her chest. “And it wouldn’t be a lie because why?”
Hannah flashed an impish grin. “Because we’re partners, right?”
Selma snorted. “True that.”
“But seriously, even if I wanted to use Easton as my beard, it wouldn’t work. Ernest comes to Austin pretty frequently, and eventually he’d see you and Easton together. And somehow I don’t think he’d appreciate my man cheating on me.”
“Probably not. Plan B?”
“If I’m going to do this—and I am, because what choice do I have—I need to have a believable relationship, probably an engagement. I can share the wonderful news this weekend at their annual wedding anniversary party. And then later I can call my mom in tears to tell her about our catastrophic breakup. After the money is in my hands, of course.”
“Fair enough. Who?”
She glanced around the bar. Saw a few of her friends who were already paired off as well as several customers she didn’t recognize. “I have no idea. Maybe I need to step into the land of fiction. Jean Paul. And he’s a French archeologist who teaches at Stanford, but we met when he was doing a seminar in Austin, and now he’s on a dig in Africa. But we’re madly in love and we’re planning a wedding in Provence.”
“I thought lawyers were supposed to be better liars.”
“Funny. As far as I’m concerned, Jean Paul is the perfect boyfriend.”
“Not even close. The secret to lying is sticking close to the truth. Everyone knows that.”
“So what are you saying?” Hanna asked.
A wide, slow smile slid across Selma’s face. “I’m saying you need to leave it to me.”
“Come on, Griff,” Matthew Herrington said as he spotted his newest personal training client. “One more, and you’ll hit a personal best.”
“Keep goading me, and I’ll hit you,” Griffin snarled, his arms shaking as he pushed the barbell up higher and higher until Matthew caught it and helped rack the weight.
“That was spectacular,” Matthew said, with genuine enthusiasm.
“No kidding.” Selma’s voice filtered in from across the gym—the locked gym—and she started walking over. “How long have you been training, Griff?”
“Not long,” Griffin mumbled, his head ducked as he sat up, then shrugged back into his ever-present hoodie. He zipped the jacket and stood, his back to Selma. “I’m going to go hit the shower. See you around, Selma,” he called over his shoulder as he trotted toward the back of the gym.
As soon as he heard the locker room door snap shut, Matthew rounded on his sister. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“With me? What are you talking about?”
“The man was working out in gym shorts and a tank top. What the hell do you think I’m talking about?”
For a moment, she only looked at him blankly. Then her face cleared, and her eyes widened with horror. “His scars. Oh, shit, Matthew, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I mean, when I talk to him in The Fix, he’s so cool and funny. It didn’t even occur to me.”
Matthew exhaled noisily, then nodded. How could he stay annoyed with a woman like his sister? Someone who understood why Griff would be self-conscious about his scars, but at the same time really didn’t get it at all.
Matthew got it, though. He knew what it was like to have the other kids stare and snicker. Not for his looks—at least, not once he was in high school and started working out—but because of his reading and his grades and his damn stutter. The stutter was long gone, but he was still a slow reader. Still couldn’t force himself though the must-read classic novels. And news magazines made his brain come close to exploding.
Math he got. Numbers settled their little asses into their lines and columns and did what they were told. But words…
Well, words could lead him down all sorts of paths, and those paths inevitably ended up twisted around in his mind. And when he was young and had to stand in front of the class, turning beet-red as he tried to wrap his mind and his tongue around the words and the thoughts…
Yeah, he understood why Griffin was self-conscious. Matthew might not have massive burn scars covering half his body, but he knew what it was like to have an unwelcome spotlight shine on you.
“I really am sorry,” Selma said, as the silence lingered.
“It’ll be okay. But you know, there was a reason I locked the door to the training room.” Matthew had a few clients who came in the evenings for personal training appointments, and since the main part of the gym was available 24/7 to any of his gold-level members, Matthew had set up a private training facility in a back room with its own coded entrance.
“I just assumed that you were training.”
He almost pointed out that he didn’t want to be interrupted while training any more than his clients did, but there came a point with his sister when it was best to just back away slowly. “It’ll be fine. Griffin’s cool. He knows you didn’t mean to embarrass him.”
“Do you need to go clear the air with him now?”
Matthew shook his head. “Nah. Chances are he left through the locker room.” He sat down on the padded bench that Griff had vacated. “It’s past nine, anyway. Why aren’t you with Easton? Everything okay?”
“Are you kidding? Everything’s perfect. I’m dying for a juice,” she added, crossing to the refrigerator in the corner. “I told him I needed to see you. By the way, he said you should come over for dinner soon.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
There’d been a moment when Matthew had feared that he’d have to beat the living shit out of the lawyer, but Easton had rallied and done himself proud. As far as Matthew could tell, Easton and Selma were about as happy as a couple could get, and Matthew was thrilled that not only was his sister madly in love, but she’d also calmed her wild child ways. At least in public. But so long as Easton could handle her, that was hardly Matthew’s concern.
He was, however, a tiny bit jealous, an emotion that was all the more potent since he’d never expected her to settle down—at least not anytime soon. Staying in one place—with one person—had always made her antsy, a fact she’d always blamed on their screwed up childhood. Being abandoned in a mall as a pre-teen by your mother would do that to a person, she’d always said.
To him, though it had done the opposite. He craved stability. A home. A family.
He wanted what his parents had—his real parents, not the biological father who’d disappeared or the biological mother who’d left them to fend for themselves in the alcove between Sears and a cookie stand.
For his entire adult life, Matthew had craved a home and a family. And now he was the one living his work, and his ever-wandering sister was the one who’d settled down.
Maybe he shouldn’t complain. After all, he had a thriving business and a fat bank account, and that wasn’t half-bad for a high school dropout.
But he wanted more. He just wasn’t sure how to get it.
“You have that look,” she said, returning and handing him a can of coconut water. “Are you still annoyed with me for interrupting?”
“No. It’s fine. I was just thinking.”
“Yeah? Well, if you’re in the mood to think, I’ll give you something to noodle over.”
“So we’re getting down to it?” he asked. “What you needed to see me about?”
“Pretty much,” she said, then settled cross-legged on the floor and looked up to where he was still seated on the bench. “I want you to do a favor for Hannah.”
She exhaled noisily, buzzing her lips. “Come on, Matthew. You know Hannah. The lawyer. She’s even worked out here a couple of times with—oh, with the girl we met at The Fix who’s dating Nolan Wood. That drive-time radio guy.”
“Shelby,” Matthew said. “And of course I know Hannah. I was just surprised that you want me to do a favor for her.”
Which was a total lie. He wasn’t surprised about the favor. He wasn’t even thinking about the favor. All he was thinking of was Hannah. Her bright smile and musical laugh. Those wild blond curls and her slim, strong build. She’d come in a couple of times with Shelby to workout, and watching her do squats in those tight black leggings and the pink workout bra had almost been the death of him.
Hannah Donovan was funny, sexy, and smart as hell. And as far as Matthew knew, she’d never paid him the slightest bit of attention.
“Are you even listening?”
His sister’s voice jolted him back from the vivid images of Hannah that had begun to flood his mind.
“What? Yes.” He stood, mostly because he simply needed to move. “You said she needs a favor. What kind?”
“I just told you—I knew you weren’t listening.”
She lifted a hand in a never mind kind of gesture. “She needs you to pretend to be her boyfriend.”
He stopped pacing. “What the hell?”
“Honestly, Matthew, you’d really be helping her out.”
He sat down again, then bent forward as he dragged his fingers through his hair. When he finally sat up straight again, he wasn’t sure if the situation was funny or pathetic. But he’d always prided himself on being an optimistic guy. So he was putting his money on funny. With a splash of pathetic thrown in for good measure. “Listen, Selma. I know you mean well, but fixing me up this way isn’t going to—”
“It’s not about you. I swear. And honestly, I kind of misspoke.”
“What do you mean?”
“She doesn’t need a boyfriend. Or not just any boyfriend. She needs a serious guy. Like, honestly, a fiancé would be perfect.”
He gaped at her. “Are you crazy?”
“A little. Why? Is that a problem? It would all just be pretend.”
He pushed back onto his feet and started pacing. “I swear to God, Selma, I love you to death. But either I’m one hell of a lot slower on the uptake than I like to believe, or you are intentionally messing with me.”
“I’m not. I swear. It’s just—oh, hell. It’s complicated.”
“Then simplify it.”
She blew out a breath. “Fine. Selma’s dad wanted her to have fifty grand in life insurance money. But Selma’s mom has control of the money and she’s not forking it over until Hannah is all set up in the throes of domestic bliss. There.” She lifted a shoulder. “Guess that wasn’t so complicated after all.”
“Complicated? I think you skipped over complicated and moved straight to insane. Not hard to explain, but pretty damn impossible to pull off.”
“Oh, come on,” she urged. “You could totally manage it.”
He stared her down. “And you’re in the middle of this because?”
“Well, duh. Because of Easton.”
He made a whooshing motion over his head. “Can we try that one again?”
She rolled her eyes, looking more like the little sister of their youth than she had in years. “She’s Easton’s best friend. They’re planning to open a law firm together. But she’s strapped for cash, and she’s not comfortable letting Easton finance the whole venture.”
“And if she doesn’t get her inheritance, then she may pull out of the partnership with Easton,” he filled in.
“Which would completely suck for everybody,” she finished for him. “I knew you’d get it. So you’ll help?”
“Please? As a favor to me? Your wonderful sister who loves you? It’s important to Easton. After everything that happened after that fiasco at the Children’s Museum—”
His eyes widened. “You’re laying that at my feet? I wasn’t the one photographed with my skirt up around my ears.”
“It wasn’t that high. And we were behind closed doors. It’s not our fault if no one knows how to knock these days. The point is,” she rushed on, “that getting this law firm off the ground is important to Easton. And it’s important to Hannah, too. And I’ve seen the way you look at her. This won’t exactly be torture for you.”
“I’d have to be dead not to look at her, but she’s not my type.” That was a total lie. But it was close enough, since he was damn sure that he wasn’t her type. “And on top of that, I seriously doubt that I’m the guy who’s going to make her parents leap for joy.”
“You’re a man. Trust me. With Hannah’s family, that’s plenty to make them happy.” She looked at him with wide, puppy dog eyes. “Will you do it?”
As far as Matthew was concerned, the whole thing sounded like a recipe for disaster. But instead of saying no, he waffled. “I’ll think about it.”
Selma’s smile bloomed wider than it should for such a vague response, and Matthew was left with the sinking feeling that he hadn’t heard the last of this. “Thanks, big brother. I can’t ask for more than that.”