Man of the Month 12
Elena is too young for me, not to mention she’s my boss’s daughter, and she babysits my kid.
That’s beyond complicated. Especially since I’m not in the market for a relationship—but I can’t deny the attraction that sizzles between us.
I need to ignore it. A single dad, all I want is to take care of my little girl, do my job, and enjoy my friends. Anything more is asking for complications I can’t afford. Asking to be hurt again.
Trouble is, I want her, too. And when our flirty sparks turn to flames, I give in to temptation. Our secret fling is scorching hot, better than I’d even imagined.
But secrets get out, and I could lose my job and my reputation.
And I’m starting to realize she’s the one thing I’m not willing to lose.
Walk The Line is the twelfth 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?
Walk The Line is Story # 12 in the Man of the Month series.
Walk The Line - Buy Now
About this StoryPublication Date 07/10/2018 Story Type Book Series Man of the Month Place in Series Story #12 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
➜ Don’t miss JK’s interview in USA Today about the creation of the series and the calendar!
➜ Read an exclusive series excerpt!
➜ Add the series on Goodreads!
Elena Anderson hurried up Austin’s Congress Avenue on autopilot, dodging pedestrians, street musicians, and a cluster of middle school kids being herded by a harried looking teacher and a few stressed-out chaperones.
She swerved in and out of the post-lunch crowds, then breathed a sigh of relief when she finally turned east on Sixth Street. Just a few more blocks and she could deliver her news. Though she still wasn’t certain if it was the good news or the bad news that was driving her forward motion.
With a sigh, she slowed her pace slightly, thinking about what had happened—and what she’d learned. An opportunity for her dad and his bar, The Fix on Sixth. And a missed opportunity for her.
Wasn’t there some saying about life being a teeter-totter? Her dad was going up, but her boss had just sent her crashing down.
“Get over it, girl,” she told herself, too loudly apparently, since a nearby woman in killer heels eyed her curiously.
She flashed the woman a smile and stepped up her pace again, so that she was breathless when she tugged open the heavy oak door that led into The Fix on Sixth.
Hard to believe that it had only been a few months since she’d left San Diego to come to Austin and find her father. Harder still to believe that for most of her twenty-three years she and her mother had believed him to be dead, the result of a horrible deception played out by Elena’s grandfather who hadn’t thought that Tyree was good enough for his daughter, Eva.
Elena had been so angry when she’d learned the truth. Angry at her grandfather. Angry at the world. And, yes, even angry at her mother and Tyree for not somehow magically discovering the truth and overcoming all the barriers that had been tossed between them.
She’d wallowed in that anger for a while, but it was uncomfortable and constraining, like wearing a dress that fit too tight. On the whole, she was an upbeat person, and that anger bubbling up from the past fizzled quickly away, replaced by what her mother always called her indelible optimism.
Back then, she’d known little more than Tyree Johnson’s name and the fact that he’d served in the Navy. But the Internet is a wondrous thing, and she’d lost herself in search engines, following rabbit trail after rabbit trail until she’d finally found an article about a Tyree Johnson opening a bar in Austin, Texas. There’d been a picture, and she’d recognized him right away from the tattered snapshot she’d had from birth. A picture of her father that Eva had kept in Elena’s crib, ensuring that she’d always be close to the father she could never know.
Except she could know him.
And now, thanks to the Internet and persistence, she did know him.
She’d come to Austin with the dream of finding her father and getting to know him. And, yes, she’d hoped that romance would brew again between Tyree and Eva. She believed in happily ever afters, after all. But she hadn’t held her breath, and she’d told herself that all she wanted was a chance to know her father.
Now here she was. Her dad and mom were engaged, Elena had a half-brother who was a great kid, and she’d already become close with her dad, so much so that it felt like they had years of history and not just months.
So, yeah. Things worked out. She just needed to remember that. She’d find a better job; this wasn’t a crisis, it was an opportunity. And she was going to help Tyree do everything necessary to solidify The Fix as Austin’s premier local bar.
At two in the afternoon, the bar wasn’t very crowded. A few customers were scattered at tables, but she barely noticed them as she stepped inside.
She did, however, immediately notice Brent. How could she not? He was, hands down, the most handsome man she’d ever seen. He had an athlete’s body—tall and lean, with broad shoulders and chiseled arms. She’d never seen his bare chest, but she’d seen him enough in the black The Fix on Sixth logo t-shirt to imagine the taut muscles of his chest and abs. He had a strong face and whiskey-brown eyes that were quick to laugh, and the depth of love that she saw on his face when he looked at his five-year-old daughter always gave Elena butterflies.
She wanted him to look at her that way.
But no. That was not the direction she needed her thoughts to go. She hadn’t even launched into her career, and she had no interest in getting tied down. Especially not with a single dad. He was settled. She craved adventures. She had two years of grad school in Austin in front of her, and then who knew where she might land? With the career she’d chosen—urban planning—she could work almost anywhere. Even Europe, and wouldn’t that be exciting?
And while she couldn’t deny that a fling with that man would be amazing, she knew damn well that wouldn’t happen. For one, although she felt all kinds of sparks when she was near him, he’d shown no interest in her except as a friend. For another, he was a full ten years older than her. Or, nine, actually, since she’d turn twenty-four next week. But that was still a big gap, especially since Brent was one of Tyree’s closest friends, and how awkward was that?
No. She needed to keep her distance and her wits. A crush was okay, so long as he didn’t realize she had one. Which he wouldn’t, because she could hide her feelings just fine.
“What’s wrong?” Brent asked, looking up as she hurried into The Fix.
Then again, maybe she couldn’t hide her feelings at all.
Her stomach did a flip-flop simply from the sound of his voice, but she ignored it, her attention going first to her father. “I need to talk to you. And to you,” she added to Brent, hoping she seemed casual and business-like. “It’s about the bar and the historical commission, and it’s important.” She rattled off the words, looking at both their faces.
“Of course,” Brent said, shooting a glance toward Tyree. “We can talk right now.”
He signaled for Jenna and Reece to follow, and Elena gave herself a mental whack on the head. She’d zeroed in on Brent so quickly she hadn’t even noticed his two best friends.
She didn’t know the whole story, of course, but apparently Jenna and Reece and Brent had been friends since they were kids. Only it turned out that Reece and Jenna had secret crushes on each other—crushes that weren’t so secret now that Jenna’s pregnancy was showing.
Elena also hadn’t noticed Griffin and Beverly when she’d hurried into the bar, but now she saw them sitting together, half-watching her, but mostly looking at each other. They looked surprisingly cozy, which made her smile—she knew that Bev had been attracted to Griffin for months, but Griffin did a good job of keeping his emotions to himself.
A burn victim, Griffin had been horribly scarred as a child. Elena had learned as much not long after she’d come to The Fix. She’d also learned how much he closed himself off and kept his scars covered.
Beverly, on the other hand, was a movie star, and absolutely gorgeous. Elena had to admit that she’d been doubtful that the two would ever get together. And although she’d never been happier to be wrong, she couldn’t deny the unwelcome twinge of envy that cut through her—because she was damn sure that Brent would never surprise her in the same way.
She shook her head, banishing the thoughts, then shot Beverly a quick smile as she followed the men and Jenna into the back office.
“All right, mon bijou,” Tyree said, his Cajon roots showing in the nickname he’d recently started calling her. He was leaning against his desk, his brow furrowed with worry. He was a big man, his skin as dark as hers, though that’s about all she inherited from him. She had her mother’s build and high cheekbones, not to mention her wide eyes. And now that Elena wore her hair short, mother and daughter looked almost like sisters.
Tyree had never said as much, but she knew that he’d been doubtful when she’d stepped into The Fix. He probably assumed she was David’s kid. But David Anderson had married Eva after Tyree was killed in action. Or, at least, after Eva had believed as much.
Elena didn’t remember David—the marriage had been arranged by Elena’s grandfather, and Eva had finally divorced him when Elena was four—so Tyree was the only father she knew. She’d missed a lot, but it made this new time between them extra special.
And she really loved the nickname.
“What’s going on?” Tyree continued. “You look about to burst with news, but I can’t tell if it’s good or bad.”
“Mostly bad for me,” Elena said. “But good for you. Or at least potentially good,” she said with a shrug.
She saw Brent and Reece exchange quick glances as Tyree pushed off from the desk, the furrows deepening. “Bad for you how?”
“It’s okay,” she said, regretting that she’d spoken out of turn. “Really, I shouldn’t have said anything. What I came to talk to you about is what I overheard.”
Tyree looked like he was going to press the point, but Brent nodded to one of the chairs, indicating that she should sit. “Go ahead and tell us,” he said. “You said it involved The Fix and the historical commission?”
“Right.” She sat, her hands on her knees as she gathered her thoughts. “Okay, so you know I was working for the Austin Center for Downtown Conservation and Revitalization, right?”
“Was?” Brent repeated, because the man never missed a beat.
A second later Tyree took a step toward her, concern etched in his kind eyes. “Elena? What happened?”
She looked pointedly at them both. “Hold on. I’m getting there.” She saw Brent’s mouth twitch with amusement and told herself that she needed to not look at him if she was going to get through the story. The man was far too distracting.
“They called me in this morning—well, Cecily did. She’s the woman I’ve been reporting to, and she said that they were so impressed with my work and that she thinks I’ll go far in the business. Which was great to hear, but I could tell the meeting wasn’t just about complimenting me.”
She broke her own rule and glanced at Brent, who was looking at her intently. “Anyway,” she continued, “after a few minutes of that, she told me that their board of directors had met recently and that times being what they were, that they were going to have to cut my position.”
“Oh, sugar,” Tyree said. “I’m so sorry.”
“They assured me they wanted to keep me on, but said it just wasn’t possible. But they did write a killer letter of recommendation.” She sighed. All things considered, she’d rather have the job. “At any rate,” she continued before they started throwing pity at her, “while I was clearing out some of my stuff, I overheard the conversation in the next room.”
She glanced around, her eyes bouncing off of Brent and locking on her father. “The Center’s just a nonprofit organization, but they work closely with the city, and apparently there’s a push to raise awareness of the history of Sixth Street. Apparently a lot of folks don’t even know that it used to be called Pecan Street. They’re talking about asking businesses in historic buildings to offer tours and maybe host artifacts or hand out leaflets about the history of the area.”
“That sounds like a good program,” Jenna said. She was already seated in one of the chairs, her hand protectively over her belly.
“I thought so, too,” Elena said, then turned to face Tyree. “And I also thought that we could take a lead. Now that I know it’s coming, if we go ahead and start doing some of that, then not only might it mean extra publicity for the bar, but we’ll end up being leaders in the campaign to increase historical awareness.
“I’m sure they’ll put together some sort of committee,” she added. “We show early that we’re interested in the cause and you’ll probably end up on their radar to be part of the core planning group. You could even approach them and let them know you want to raise awareness. Maybe see if they have some sort of plaque. Just to get the dialogue going, you know?”
She glanced around at all the faces. “I know that this kind of thing is more exciting to me than it is to you. But it’s not just about the planning. I think it could really up The Fix’s reputation in the city.”
Tyree and Reece exchanged glances, then Tyree nodded. “This is all excellent information,” he said. “Considering how much our income has spiked since we started the Man of the Month contest, I think it’s fair to say that we won’t be going out of business any time soon.”
“Which means it makes sense to get involved,” Jenna said. “And tossing historical tidbits into the mix makes a lot of sense. We could ask Spencer and Brooke to throw in a few facts during the last episode of The Business Plan. And we’re already taking a leadership role in the downtown area with the food fair.”
“That’s true,” Elena said. When she’d first arrived in Austin, the bar just launched the Man of the Month contest, a calendar guy contest that had been created in the hopes of drawing more business to The Fix, and thereby keeping it solvent and in business.
The contest had succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, and now there was no question that when Tyree’s December thirty-first deadline came, The Fix would be solidly in the black.
Riding on that success, everyone at the bar had been thinking about how to keep The Fix in the public eye, and the idea of a food fair had come up. Jenna had jumped into planning, and now the date was growing closer, with dozens of Austin’s restaurants and specialty food stores signed up to participate. And since The Fix was the founder and organizer, the bar’s name would be all over the Winston Hotel ballroom the night of the fair.
Tyree moved to stand in front of her. “I appreciate everything you’re suggesting, and I’m sure not disagreeing. But you haven’t mentioned what you’re going to do.” His voice was gentle, but he wore a no-nonsense expression.
“You quit your job here to work at the Center. What are you doing for income?”
Tyree’s serious expression softened, replaced by a wide, shining grin. “I do like the way that sounds.”
She rolled her eyes, but that was only for show. Because she liked the way it sounded, too. And they both knew it.
She reached out, and soon her hand was engulfed in her father’s larger one.
“I’m going to look for something else, of course. And they said they might bring me on as an intern. But I guess that’s something they have to clear with the board, too. So I’m in a holding pattern.”
“An intern,” Tyree repeated. “You mean unpaid.”
“There’s value in the experience,” she said, but he only exhaled. Loudly.
“Why don’t you come back to work here? I don’t have a lot of hours available, but we do have one part-time slot to fill.”
Elena almost sagged with relief. She hadn’t wanted to seem presumptuous and ask, but she really did need the work.
But just as she was about to jump all over Tyree’s offer, Jenna let out a low sigh from behind Elena. “I’m so sorry,” she said, moving to stand by Brent. “I hired someone this morning.”
Tyree’s brow furrowed. “We haven’t even posted the position yet.”
Jenna waved his words away with a curt, “She’d called me last week. I know her. It was one of those things. Anyway,” she continued, rushing on, “just because there’s nothing here doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. After all, you need a babysitter, right?” As she spoke, she nudged Brent with her shoulder. “Didn’t that new girl you’d hired just quit? And now that you have to work weekends, it makes sense. Don’t you think so, Elena?”
Her heart did a back-flip at the prospect, and her head immediately cringed. Honestly, what was she thinking? Work for Brent? Close quarters? Late nights? His house? His daughter?
Granted he’d hardly ever be there, but even so, that was a recipe for disaster. Or, at least, for embarrassing herself.
She had to say no.
“I really could use you,” Brent said, his casual words conjuring all sorts of delicious images.
“Oh,” Elena said, not even sure if he could hear her over the wild pounding of her heart. “In that case, yes.”