Man of the Month 3
Charming smile. Wicked skills.
Meet Mr. March.
With his tousled hair, cocky grin, and surprising abs hidden under a conservative button-down, bartender Cameron Reed is no stranger to the attention of women.
He dates, but never gets serious, claiming that he’s too focused on his studies. But it’s not really school that preoccupies him; it’s sensual fantasies of his best friend’s sister.
Mina Silver might be absolutely off-limits because of her overprotective brother and father, but that doesn’t stop Cam from imagining the feel of her in his arms, the brush of his lips over her soft skin, or the sparks that would fly between them if he ever got her into bed.
But for Cam, the bonds of family and friendship are sacrosanct, and there is no way that he’d ever violate his friend’s trust. Or would he?
Because with love on the line, maybe it’s time for Cam to break a few rules.
Taking a risk never felt so right.
Need You Now is the third in a binge-read series by New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and #1 International bestselling author of the million copy Stark series, J. Kenner.
Each novel in the series is a STANDALONE romance with a guaranteed HEA!
But even so, you won’t want to miss any in the series. Because then you can answer the question…
Who’s Your Man of the Month?
Need You Now is Story # 3 in the Man of the Month series.
Need You Now - Buy Now
About this StoryPublication Date 02/13/2018 Story Type Book Series Man of the Month Place in Series Story #3 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
“You, my friend, have got some big, sparkly balls.”
Cameron Reed took a long, satisfied swallow of beer as he stared at the finger pointing straight at his face. He was seated at a four-top near the front window of The Fix on Sixth, a popular Austin bar where he worked as a bartender when he wasn’t at the University or, like today, enjoying a day off.
The finger in question belonged to Nolan Wood, a local radio personality and frequent customer at The Fix.
Darryl Silver sat in the only other occupied chair. Cam’s best friend since before puberty, Darryl had just arrived back in town after graduating from law school. “Someone going to tell me why we’re praising my buddy’s cojones?” Darryl asked.
“Duh,” Cam said scooting his chair back and cupping his package. “Because they are worthy of some serious praise, didn’t you know?”
Darryl snorted, then turned to look at Nolan. “How about you tell me? Our boy’s ego’s getting in the way of my edification.”
“There he goes again, talking like a baby lawyer,” Cam quipped as Darryl shot him the finger.
Nolan ignored the jibes, his attention on Darryl. “Because even though Cam didn’t win the contest for Mr. February, he and his cojones definitely made a splash.”
Cam grabbed a Loaded Hush Puppy out of a paper-lined plastic basket and popped it in his mouth. It might be Cam’s day off, but The Fix was as much a home as his room near campus or the tiny South Austin house where he and his sister had grown up, and he’d come here to hang out, have lunch, and enjoy life in front of the bar.
A few tables over, Tiffany, one of the waitresses caught his eye. He lifted his beer to signal for another, and she gave him a nod in acknowledgment as she delivered drinks and burgers. Even though the crowds were the biggest at night, The Fix had a steady lunchtime clientele.
Cam leaned back again, mimicking Nolan’s relaxed posture. “You know,” he said, “I don’t think I made a splash. More like a statement.”
“Ha!” Nolan practically barked the word. “That’s the truth. Comic relief,” he said, shaking his head as if reliving a happy memory. “I mean, you gotta love it.”
“Maybe you do,” Darryl said, putting down his rum and Coke. “But I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Comic relief? Mr. February? What does—Oh, wait.” He turned to Cameron. “This has something to do with that Calendar Guy contest, doesn’t it? Mina told me a little about that.”
At the mention of Darryl’s twin sister, Cam felt the familiar tightening in his gut, as well as parts further south. He’d had a crush on Mina Silver for half his life, and he’d known her longer than that. She was his best friend’s twin sister, after all, so she’d been a constant presence. The girl they teased, the pest they shooed away.
Or she had been, until Cam had begun to notice her sweet smile, her quirky sense of humor. Until he realized that half the time when he went to Darryl’s house during summer break, his motive was less about playing video games with his buddy and more about catching a glimpse of Mina.
And then one day, he’d seen her at the mall making out with Tony Renfroe, a high school quarterback whose picture was all over the local paper.
That’s when the monster had stirred inside Cameron. A wild, craving beast that had wanted to lash out and knock Tony right off his pedestal—and out of Mina’s arms.
Except he hadn’t given in to that monster. Not then. Not later.
And Mina had dated Tony. Then Alex. Then Roger. And God only knew who else.
Never Cam, though. And over the years his crush had ramped up, escalating past the warm, gooey thoughts he’d had as a teenager to the current line-up of full-color, X-rated dreams that had him waking up twined in his sheets with the kind of painful boner that even a cold shower couldn’t tame.
“Yeah,” Nolan said, in response to Darryl’s question. “The Mr. February contest was this past Wednesday. I gotta say, The Fix has only had two contests so far, but I’m already hearing a lot of buzz around town. I think they really have something here.”
Darryl opened his mouth, apparently to point out that he still wasn’t entirely up to speed, but Cam jumped in first, explaining about the contest and the other changes being implemented at The Fix, all designed to up the bar’s revenue.
As a bartender, Cam only knew the high points that Tyree, the bar’s owner, had told him. The bottom line being that The Fix had run into some financial trouble—mostly because of competing corporate chain bars that had moved in, offering discounted drinks and scantily clad waitresses.
The bottom line? If the bar’s revenue didn’t increase significantly by the end of the calendar year, then The Fix would have to close its doors.
That situation had been spelled out to Cam and the other employees at a staff meeting, along with the fact that Tyree had partnered with Reece Walker, Brent Sinclair, and Jenna Montgomery to make it happen.
Reece, the bar’s manager, had been Cam’s immediate boss since he’d signed on. A former cop, Brent was in charge of all the security. Jenna hadn’t been an employee before coming on board, but she had a marketing background and had implemented a whole slew of changes and promotions designed to increase revenue, the customer base, and the bar’s overall reputation around town.
From Cam’s perspective, the biggest coup for the bar was the fact that it was home base for The Business Plan, a remodeling reality show that was focusing solely on scaling up The Fix on Sixth. Not only did Cam think that was a freaking brilliant way to get free publicity, but the very existence of the program meant that Mina, who’d wheedled her way into an internship on the show, was in the bar almost every day, her bright smile and just-tight-enough jeans right there in front of his eyes.
The show hadn’t aired yet—it was stockpiling episodes before the six-episode run launched. But one of the reasons that the producers had been keen on The Fix was the chance to include the calendar contest as a kind of backdrop to the ongoing renovation project. And, frankly, the contest had been going over like gangbusters with the regulars.
Not only were several of the male customers signing up to compete, but local fitness gurus, actors, and models were jumping on the bandwagon, too. And for the first two contests, the women had come in droves to fill the tables, drink, and cheer on the contestants.
In fact, the contest was so popular that there’d been a line around the block, and Cam had never worked so hard at his job than when he’d been behind the bar on both those Wednesdays. Honestly, he was tempted to make another more serious go at the contest, just because last Wednesday’s run got him away from the bar for a solid hour during the actual competition.
“You really did that?” The shock in Darryl’s voice was genuine. Prancing shirtless across a stage might be in Darryl’s repertoire, but until last Wednesday, Cam had never thought it was in his. “You?” Darryl repeated. He cleared his throat, then continued in a low, booming voice. “Cameron Reed. Mild-mannered librarian by day. Internet porn star by night.”
“Porn star?” Cam repeated, nodding sagely. “You know, I think it’s my sparkly balls that bring in the viewers.”
Nolan laughed so hard he almost spewed beer over all of them. “Librarian?”
It was Darryl’s turn to laugh. “Oh, that’s not part of the joke. Well, maybe the mild-mannered part.”
Cam rolled his eyes. “Rare books and manuscripts,” he explained to Nolan. “And Darryl loves to give me shit about it.”
Like most of their friends, Darryl had assumed that Cam would take the LSAT and follow Darryl into the land of objections and depositions. But instead, Cam and his shiny, new degree in history had taken the GRE, then applied for graduate school, working toward a dual Masters in history and library science. Maybe not as sexy as trial work, but he loved the detail of it, not to mention the smell of the past, all leather and dust and paper. He’d finish at the end of the summer, and he’d already been accepted into a Ph.D. program on a really sweet scholarship.
“—can’t picture you in a calendar guy contest.”
Cam looked at his friend. “Sorry, what?”
“I mean the walking across the stage part. You I can picture,” Darryl continued, obviously not realizing that Cam had lost the thread of the conversation. “Because we both know you’re hot.”
He swiveled to face Nolan. “Cam’s my best friend—and we have a strict hands-off policy ever since I told him that I’m an equal opportunity kinda guy—but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to comment on the quality of the merchandise. I mean, those broad shoulders? And his ridiculously tight abs? Not to mention that ass? Am I right?”
“Can’t argue,” Nolan said. “And I say that with a lifelong hetero record, and a tight grip on my Man Card.”
“Exactly.” He turned back to Cam, who was shaking his head at the ceiling as if begging help from the gods. “No question that you’ve got the goods. God knows you get hit on enough by customers of the female persuasion. But we both know you don’t have the personality for being Mr. Pageant Guy. So what exactly made you grow those sparkly balls we’ve been talking about?”
“Honestly?” Cam said. “That would be your sister. She kept giving me so much grief about not entering that pretty soon everyone in the bar was asking why I didn’t rip off my shirt and strut across the stage.”
Darryl snorted. “Yeah, Mina can be a force of nature when she sets her mind to it. Damn hard to resist.”
He had that right.
When Mina had first suggested that Cam enter, he’d let himself believe that she was imagining him the way he thought of her—shirtless and sweaty and tangled up in the sheets. Or, at the very least, the way Darryl was describing Cam—the kind of guy that women pinned up on their walls.
But that wasn’t it, and Cam knew it. Mina saw him as a friend—and all she’d been doing was yanking a friend’s chain. Goading him to get out there and go a little wild. But, sadly, not with her.
Once he’d realized that there was nothing personal as far as Mina was concerned, the idea of strutting shirtless across the stage really had seemed daunting. But he couldn’t back out without everyone at The Fix labeling him a damn pussy.
So he’d taken the coward’s way out—and pretended to be a smart ass.
“Strolled down the red carpet just as smooth as you please,” Nolan explained, “and then when he got up on stage, he whipped that shirt off. And there it was, spelled out in what looked like red lipstick all across his chest.”
“Comic relief,” Darryl said, then sat back and clapped his hands together in a long, slow applause. “Fucking brilliant.”
“Hey,” Cam said, more than willing to suck up the praise rather than confess that his balls had shriveled, not sparkled. “Sometimes you gotta go for the laugh.”
“Like I’ve been saying, big, sparkly balls.” Nolan ran a hand through his hair. “And I need you and your balls to come on my show. That is just the kind of thing I can turn into radio gold. Especially since we can also send the show out live on social media. My fans will go nuts.”
“The hell with that.” A significant number of Austinites tuned in to Nolan Wood’s morning drive-time radio show, Mornings With Wood, and Cam wasn’t inclined to share his moment of lust-fueled insanity with each and every one of them.
“Where is Mina, anyway?” Cam asked, as much to change the subject as because he wanted to know. “I thought she was supposed to be running the second camera today while Brooke and Spencer work on the overflow bar.”
He nodded to the far side of the room, past the maze of tables and chairs and customers, to where Brooke Hamlin and Spencer Dean—the two on-camera hosts of The Business Plan—made adjustments to the placement of a free-standing bar they’d finished constructing the previous evening. One of the show’s two cameramen hovered nearby, filming. The second was off today, having flown back to LA to take care of a family emergency.
As the show’s intern, Mina was going to be running that second camera. Except she wasn’t there. And considering how much Mina had wanted this internship and how hard she’d been working, Cam couldn’t quite swallow the knot of worry that had settled at the base of his throat. And when he saw the way Spencer casually stroked the back of Brooke’s neck in a gesture of both affection and possession, Cam’s craving to see Mina increased all the more, even though he had absolutely no right to touch her in that same gentle manner.
“Darryl?” he pressed. “Do you know where she is?”
His friend just shrugged. “I’m lucky if she remembers to send me a Christmas card. We may be twins, but the last time we were attached at the hip was—let me think—never.”
But Cam wasn’t listening any more. Instead, he was looking out the window as the late May sun illuminated the pedestrians hurrying along the street, most of them probably heading back to work after lunch. And there, standing out like a goddess among the peasants, was Mina.
Her creamy skin seemed to glow in the sunlight, giving her an unearthly quality. She wore her dark hair short, in a pixie cut that highlighted those incredible cheekbones, and with her green eyes and long limbs, she reminded him of a young Audrey Hepburn. Growing up, his grandmother’s favorite movie was Sabrina, and he still watched it over and over, only now he imagined himself in the role of Bogart, winning over the woman who—at first—barely even knew he existed.
She walked quickly, her eyes sparkling and a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. She looked vibrant, happy, and Cam wondered what it was that had filled her morning with such joy. Selfishly, he wished that it were him. Even more selfishly, he hoped it wasn’t another guy.
For a second, he was afraid she was going to glide right past The Fix, but then she tugged open the door and practically bounced over the threshold. She paused, glancing around, and his heart did a little flip when she met his eyes and broadened her smile. But her gaze soon traveled on, and she squealed out loud upon finding her brother.
“You’re here! Why didn’t you text me?” She sprinted across the bar and wrapped her brother in a hug, then yanked over an empty chair and squeezed in between Darryl and Cam.
“Because then it wouldn’t be a surprise, doofus.”
“Um, hello? Dad and I have known you’re coming since, oh, the beginning of last semester. Not really much of a surprise.”
Darryl pointed toward the doorway and then to her. “And yet may I present Exhibit A, which I like to call, A Girl: Surprised.”
Mina shook her head, feigning exasperation. “Whoever decided he should go to law school has a lot to answer for.”
“That would be me,” Darryl said.
She smiled sweetly. “I know. Beware my unexpected wrath.”
Before Darryl could continue the banter—that was, frankly, making Cam a little dizzy—she shifted in her chair to include Cam and Nolan in the conversation. “Okay, quickly, quickly, because I need to get over there and help Brooke and Spencer. But tell me what you guys are talking about. I mean, right now the testosterone is so thick I can practically inhale it.”
“Nosy, much?” Darryl said. “You tell us what’s got you floating on clouds first.”
“You look like you’ve won the lottery,” Cam said.
“I have.” She laughed, then hugged herself. “You know that production studio in South Austin? The one that produces Griffin’s web series?” she asked, referring to another regular at The Fix, who’d written and produced a popular podcast that had gone on to become a successful web series.
“Sure,” both Darryl and Cam said in unison.
“Well, they’re diving into features—Beverly Martin starred in their first one, and it’s winning all sorts of awards.”
“We know,” Cam said. “That’s why Brooke went nuts when Beverly offered to emcee the calendar contest. That’s a hell of a coup having an actual movie star on the stage.”
“I know,” Mina continued. “And they’ll be doing more movies and television. And guess who their newest assistant to the vice-president in charge of development will be.”
“Seriously?” Darryl pulled his sister into a hug. “That’s fabulous.”
“I know, right? And the company is small enough I’m going to have a ton of responsibility.”
“Does that mean you’re not thinking about moving to LA anymore?” Darryl asked.
“Are you kidding? Hollywood’s the cherry on the sundae, and I’m going to make such a splash when I get there. Especially now that I’ll be going with a real resume. Not just school projects and a few internships. I mean, this job is the perfect stepping stone. A couple of years under my belt, and I’ll take Hollywood by storm!”
“Congratulations,” Cam said, with enough genuine enthusiasm that he didn’t think twice about also engulfing her in a hug. At least not until his arms were around her, and her small breasts were pressed against his chest. He felt the shock of connection ricochet through him, and pushed away a little too fast, terrified that all that energy was about to coalesce in his cock, and give him the kind of hard on that his Wranglers really couldn’t hide.
Mina, thank goodness, was still too giddy to notice his awkwardness. “I know, it’s amazing. I start in a couple of weeks.”
“Why not right away,” Darryl asked, and Mina sighed, as if he’d asked a totally foolish question.
“Because, hello? I want a break. And because I’m writing that article on lighting techniques with my advisor for one of the cinematography magazines, and we still have a few tweaks. But that’s outside of my coursework.” She leaned back, looking smug. “I’m officially all done with school and have my MFA in film and media production to prove it.”
She sighed happily as the guys applauded her. “So, what’s up with y’all? Sitting over here in the corner sharing secrets?”
“More like telling stories,” Darryl said. “And praising Cameron’s testicles.”
“Dammit, Darryl—” Cam began as he felt his face start to burn. Shit.
“Well, I think they must be seriously awesome,” Mina said, with a wink at Cam that made the parts in question tighten pleasantly. “Is this typical guy talk? Because if it is, I don’t want to ever hear another word about me discussing concealers and exfoliating scrubs with my girlfriends.”
“I’m trying to convince him to come on Mornings With Wood to talk about his stunt last Wednesday during the contest.”
“Brilliant,” Mina said. “Because, personally, I’m certain there’s more to the story.”
“What is the story?” Darryl asked.
“He told me that he just wanted to do something different,” Mina said. “But I think there’s a woman involved.” She leaned over, her hand resting on his thigh as she shoulder-bumped him. “Am I right?”
“Not even close,” he lied, surprised his voice sounded normal despite the fact that his entire body felt hotter than the sun and every cell was vibrating wildly.
“I don’t believe it.” She leaned back, lifting her hand so she could signal for Tiffany to bring her a water. Cam drew a deep breath, grateful for the reprieve, yet frustrated by the broken contact. “I think it was all about reverse psychology.”
Cam knew he’d regret it, but he couldn’t help asking what she meant.
“You know,” she said. “You go write something funny on your abs so that the women in the audience will notice you twice. First, to laugh, and then to say, wow, the words might be funny, but those abs are seriously awesome. I mean, right?”
She leaned toward him again, and this time Cam about leaped out of his chair when she flipped open two of the buttons on his shirt and then slid her hand inside. Her warm palm pressed against his over-heated skin, and Cam’s heart started to pound so hard he was certain that she would ask if he was having a heart attack.
“Honestly, the only thing funny about your performance was you thinking this chest could be comic relief.” She winked at him. “But I assumed you were being ironic.”
For a second their eyes met, and her hand stilled over his heart. Her lips parted, and there was something familiar in her eyes—something hot and needy that called to him, reflecting his own violent craving.
Then she laughed lightly and withdrew her hand, and the moment faded, disappearing like dandelion seeds lost in a windstorm, and Cam was left to wonder if he’d only imagined it.
Probably so, especially since Mina was stealing a hush puppy and laughing with Darryl and Nolan and displaying absolutely no indication whatsoever that she’d felt anything real at all when she’d stroked his skin.
To Cam, though, her touch had been about as real as it gets.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” she continued after she’d swallowed the hush puppy. “Cam’s abs should have taken the crown.” She turned to Cam, all traces of the earlier moment completely erased. “I mean, you only lost to that dude because he’s a superstar reality TV show guy.”
As she spoke, she grinned mischievously and hooked a thumb over her shoulder to indicate Spencer, the recently anointed Mr. February, who was approaching their table with Brooke at his side.
“Um, excuse me?” Brooke said. “Cam’s no slouch, but I’m here to vouch for Spencer’s abs.” She waggled her eyebrows. “And the rest of him, for that matter.”
“I don’t even want to know,” Nolan said, laughing.
“And why are we discussing my guy’s abs, anyway?” Brooke asked Mina. “Especially since I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be silently subservient behind the camera.”
“Subservient?” Darryl chimed in. “My little sister’s never been subservient a day in her life. She wouldn’t even clean her room when ordered.”
“Little sister?” She pushed back from the table. “I’m fifteen minutes younger than you.”
“Like I said. Shrimp.”
Mina made a face, and everyone laughed. Everyone except Cam whose body was still vibrating from the contact.
“Come on,” Spencer said. “We’re going to anchor the new bar to the floor and the wall. Can you work the second camera?”
“Hell, yeah,” Mina said, then gave a parting wave to the guys as she followed Brooke and Spencer.
“Hey, Meanie,” Darryl called, using the nickname Cam knew she hated. “I’m bringing Zachary with me to my surprise party.”
“You jerk. Can’t you even pretend to be surprised? And who’s Zachary?”
“He graduated with me, and he’s doing a year with the Fifth Circuit, too, before he moves on to some humongous firm in Los Angeles. He told me his uncle’s a big shot at one of the studios, and he’s going to do entertainment law. He’s a great guy. I think you’ll like him.”
Darryl had recently accepted a prestigious position as a clerk, which basically meant that he would be a Federal judge’s right-hand briefing attorney for a year. Where he’d go after that, Cam knew he hadn’t decided. But apparently, his friend Zach had his career path all sketched out.
“Yeah? Well, you’re still a jerk. Just because he has industry access does not mean I’m going to put on a white veil and the shackles of matrimony.”
Darryl held up his hands in a defensive gesture. “Not matchmaking, I swear. But the best relationships have a business bond at the core. That’s what Dad always says.”
“Like I’m going to take relationship advice from a guy whose marriage failed. And Mom didn’t—”
“Guys,” Cam interrupted, “can we agree that your dad has serious fucking clout and move on? Because I’m pretty sure Brooke and Spencer are going to fire your ass if you don’t catch up with them.” Probably not true, but it sounded persuasive. “And Tyree will fire me if I let my customers scare away the other customers.”
“You’re not on the clock,” Darryl pointed out.
Cam stared him down. “I’ll grab a shift if that’s what it takes to stop you two bickering.”
“Fair enough,” Mina said, then lifted her hand, her thumb, forefinger, and pinkie on display in the sign for I love you.
Darryl shook his head, but flashed the sign back as she hurried across the rest of the room to help Spencer and Brooke.
Cam watched her go, thinking how easy it was to talk to her—hell, to take charge—when they were just bullshitting or talking about work. But the second he shifted his perspective and thought of her as a woman and not simply as Mina … well, those were the times when it wasn’t easy at all.