Excerpt Reveal: The Summer Proposal by Vi Keeland

Title: The Summer Proposal
Author: Vi Keeland
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: January 10, 2022
Excited about Vi Keeland’s upcoming release, 
The Summer Proposal? 
Check out this SNEAK PEEK of CHAPTER 1!
CHAPTER 1

Georgia
“What can I get you?” The bartender set a napkin down in front of me.

“Ummm… I’m meeting someone, so maybe I should wait.”
He rapped his knuckles against the bar. “Good enough. I’ll keep my eye out and stop back over when I see someone join you.”
But as he started to walk away, I reconsidered. “Actually!” I raised my hand like I was in school.
He turned around with a smile and arched a brow. “Change your mind?”
I nodded. “I’m about to meet a blind date, so I wanted to be polite, but I think I could use something to take the edge off.”
“Probably a good idea. What are you drinking?”
“A pinot grigio would be great. Thank you.”
He came back a few minutes later with a hefty pour and leaned his elbow on the bar. “So, blind date, huh?”
I sipped my wine and let out a sigh as I nodded. “I let my mom’s seventy-four-year-old friend Frannie set me up with her grandnephew to make my mom happy. She described him as ‘a smidge ordinary, but nice’. We’re supposed to meet here at five thirty. I’m a few minutes early.”
“First time letting someone fix you up?”
“Second, actually. The first was seven years ago. It took me this long to recover from it, if that tells you anything.”
The bartender laughed. “That bad?”
“I was told he was a comedian. So I figured, how terrible could it be going out with someone who makes people laugh for a living? The guy showed up with a puppet. Apparently his comedy act was as a ventriloquist. He refused to speak to me directly—wanted me to talk only to his dummy. Who, by the way, was named Dirty Dave, and every other comment out of its mouth was obscene. Oh, and my date’s mouth moved the entire time, so he wasn’t even a very good ventriloquist.”
“Damn.” The bartender chuckled. “Not sure I’d give another blind date a chance after that, even after a few years.”
I sighed. “I’m sort of regretting it already.”
“Well, if anyone comes in with a puppet, I got you covered.” He gestured toward a hallway behind him. “I know where all the emergency exits are, and I can sneak you out.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
A couple sat down on the other end of the bar, so the bartender went to help them while I continued to stare at the entrance. I’d purposely taken a seat in the back corner so I could watch the front door, hoping to get a look at my date before he saw me. Not that I planned to ditch if he wasn’t handsome, but I didn’t want him to read disappointment on my face if I felt any. I’d always been terrible at masking my feelings.
A few minutes later, the restaurant’s door opened and a drop-dead gorgeous guy walked in. He looked like he belonged on a men’s cologne ad, probably emerging from crystal blue Caribbean water. I got excited, until I realized he couldn’t be my date.
Frannie had described Adam as a computer nerd. And pretty much any question I’d asked her about him, she’d answered, “About average.”

How tall is he? About average.
Is he handsome? About average.
Body type? About average.

This guy was tall, with broad shoulders, big, blue bedroom eyes, a chiseled jawline, dark hair that was sort of messy, but totally worked for him, and even though he was wearing a simple dress shirt and slacks, I could tell he was buff underneath. Frannie would have to be crazy to think anything about him was average.
Oh.

Oh!

Well, she was a little…different. Last time I went to Florida to see Mom, we went to lunch with Frannie, and she’d glowed orange from an excessive amount of self-tanner she’d bought on the Home Shopping Network. She also spent all afternoon telling us about her recent road trip to New Mexico to attend a UFO convention in Roswell.
But even with that factored in, this guy didn’t look like a computer nerd. Nevertheless, his eyes scanned the room, and when they met mine, he smiled.

Dimples.

Deep ones.
Oh, Lord. My heart did a little pitter-patter.

Could I be this lucky?

Apparently it was possible. Because the guy headed right toward me. I probably should’ve played it cool and looked away, but it was impossible not to stare.
“Adam?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
I thought that was a bit of an odd response, but his smile widened, and those cavernous dimples seemed to turn my brain to mush.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Frannie. My mom is friends with Georgia.” I shook my head. “Sorry. I mean, I’m Georgia. My mom is friends with Frannie.”
“Nice to meet you, Georgia.”
He extended his hand, and when I placed mine in it, mine felt really…small.
“I have to say, you are definitely not what I was expecting. Frannie didn’t describe you very accurately.”
“Better or worse?”
Was he joking? “She may have described you as a nerd.”
He sat down on the stool next to me. “I usually don’t admit this when I first meet a woman, but I do have a Star Wars action figure collection.” He reached into his pocket and pulled something out. “In fact, I almost always have one on me. I’m a bit superstitious, and they bring me luck.”
Adam unfolded his big hand to reveal a tiny Yoda. He leaned over and set it on the bar in front of me, and a hint of cologne wafted through the air. Smells as good as he looks. There had to be something majorly wrong with him.
“Women tend to not like Star Wars for some reason,” he said. “Or a grown man carrying around an action figure.”
“I actually like Star Wars.”
He put his hand over his heart. “A beautiful woman who likes Star Wars? Should we skip the formalities and just grab a flight to Vegas to get married?”
I laughed. “Maybe, but first promise me you aren’t into ventriloquism.”
He crossed his heart. “Star Wars is as bad as it gets.”
The bartender came over to take Adam’s drink order. I was surprised when he asked for a Diet Coke.
“You’re not going to join me for a cocktail or a glass of wine?”
He shook his head. “Wish I could, but I have to work later.”
“Tonight?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I wish I didn’t. But I actually need to get out of here in a little while.”
I’d thought we were meeting for drinks and dinner, but perhaps Frannie had gotten that wrong.
“Oh, okay.” I forced a smile.
Apparently Adam saw right through it.
“I swear I’m not making that up. I do have to work. But I definitely would love to stay. Since I can’t, is it too early to say I’d love to see you again?”
I sipped my wine. “Hmmm… I’m not sure about that. Normally, I get to know someone on a first date, so I can weed out the serial killers and nutjobs. How am I supposed to know you’re not the next Ted Bundy if you’re running out of here?”
Adam stroked the scruff on his chin and looked at his watch. “I have about fifteen minutes. Why don’t we cut the small talk and you can ask me anything?”
“Anything?”
He shrugged. “I’m an open book. Take your best shot.”
I gulped my wine and turned in my seat to face him. “Alright. But I want to watch your face as I grill you. I’m terrible at hiding lies on mine but great at reading others.”
He smiled and turned, giving me his full attention. “Go for it.”
“Okay. Do you live with your mother?”
“No, ma’am. She doesn’t even live in the same state. But I do call home every Sunday.”
“Have you ever been arrested?”
“Public indecency in college. I was pledging a fraternity, and me and a bunch of other guys had to walk through the center of town naked. A group of girls stopped us and asked if any of us could hula hoop. Everyone else kept walking. I figured they were all too chicken, so I stopped. Apparently, the guys weren’t afraid; I was just the only one who didn’t see the cop coming out of a store a couple of doors down.”
I laughed. “Can you actually hula hoop?”
He winked. “Only naked. You wanna see?”
The smile on my face widened. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“Shame.”
“When was the last time you had sex?”
For the first time, the smile on his face wilted. “Two weeks ago. Are you gonna hold that against me?”
I shook my head. “Not necessarily. I appreciate the honesty. You could have lied and said a while ago.”
“Okay, good. What else you got?”
“Have you ever been in a relationship?”
“Twice. Once in college for a year, and then I dated a woman for eighteen months, and that ended two years ago.”
“Why did they end?”
“College, because I was twenty and…it was a crazy time in my life. And the woman I dated a few years back, because she wanted to get married and start a family, and I wasn’t ready.”
I tapped my pointer to my bottom lip. “Hmm… Yet you just asked me to go to Vegas and marry you.”
He grinned. “She didn’t like Star Wars.”
We were both too busy laughing to notice a guy walk up to us. I figured he must have known Adam, so I politely smiled and looked to him. But the guy spoke to me.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you Georgia Delaney?”
“Yes?”
He smiled. “I’m Adam Foster. Frannie showed me a picture of you, but it was from a costume party.” He motioned to the side of his head, twirling his hand around in a circle. “You were dressed as Princess Leia, with your hair all pinned up on the sides, so you looked a little different than you do now.”
I furrowed my brow. “You’re…Adam?”
The guy seemed just as confused as I was. “Yes.”
Now this man looked like what I’d been expecting: worn, brown tweed jacket, cropped hair parted to one side—sort of the average Joe that worked in the IT department at your office. But…
If he was Adam, then who was this?
I looked at the guy sitting next to me for an answer. Though that’s not what I got.
“Did you really dress as Princess Leia for a Halloween party?”
“Yes, but…”
Adam, or whoever the hell the guy sitting next to me was, put his finger over my lips and turned to the man who was apparently my date. “Can you just give us a minute?” he asked.
“Umm…sure.”
As soon as average Adam walked away, I laid into hot Adam. “Who the hell are you?”
“Sorry. My name is Max.”
“Do you make a habit of pretending to be someone else?”
He shook his head. “I just…I saw you sitting at the bar through the window when I was passing by, and you had such a pretty smile. I came over to introduce myself, and it was clear you were here to meet someone else. I guess I sort of panicked that you weren’t going to talk to me since I wasn’t Adam. So I went with it.”
“And what if my date hadn’t showed up? Would you have pretended to be Adam on a second date?”
Max dragged a hand through his hair. “I didn’t think that far ahead.”
Normally catching a date in a lie would make me angry, but finding out Max wasn’t Adam was more disappointing than anything. We’d had great chemistry, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so much meeting someone new.
“Was every answer a lie? Do you even like Star Wars?”
He held up both hands. “I swear. The only thing that wasn’t the truth was my name.”
I sighed. “Well, Max, thanks for the entertainment. But I don’t want to keep my real date waiting.”
He frowned, but nodded and stood. “It was nice meeting you. I guess asking for your number would be stupid right about now?”
I gave him a look. “Yes, it would. Have a good night, Max.”
He looked at me for a few seconds, then slipped a bill out of his wallet and tossed a hundred on the counter. “You, too, Georgia. I really enjoyed meeting you.”
Max took a few steps away, but then stopped and walked back. He again took out his billfold, only this time he peeled off what looked like a ticket of some sort and placed it on the bar in front of me. “I’d really love to see you again. If your real date turns out to be a dud or you change your mind, I promise I will never tell you another lie.” He pointed to the ticket. “I’ll be at the hockey game over at the Garden at seven thirty, if you would consider giving me another shot.”
What he said seemed heartfelt, but I was here to meet another man. Not to mention, I was really disappointed. I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”
With a sullen face, Max nodded one last time before walking away. I didn’t have time to process everything, but I felt a strange sense of loss when I watched him walk out the door. Though as soon as he disappeared from sight, my real date was next to me.
I had to force a smile. “Sorry about that. We, um, just had some business to wrap up.”
“No problem.” He smiled. “I’m just glad that guy wasn’t hitting on you, and I didn’t have to defend your honor. He was a tank.” Real Adam sat down. “Can I order you another wine?”
“That would be great. Thank you.”
“So…I take it you’re a big Star Wars fan?”
“Hmm? Oh, because of the costume.”
Adam pointed to the bar. “And the little Yoda.”
I looked down. Max had left his Yoda figurine behind. I guess he hadn’t been lying about being a Star Wars fan, considering he carried an action figure in his pocket. At least I hoped it wasn’t just a prop he used when he told strangers tall tales at bars and lied about his name.
***

Real Adam talked about artificial intelligence—a lot.
I tried to get my head back in the game after the Max letdown, but I knew before my actual date and I had finished a drink at the bar that this would be our only date. Adam was a nice-enough guy; there was just no connection, physical or mental. I wasn’t into computers or Bitcoin, which seemed to be a big thing for him, and he wasn’t into any of my hobbies, such as hiking, traveling, and watching old black-and-white movies. He didn’t even enjoy going to the movies. Who doesn’t love bingeing on popcorn and a gallon of soda while watching a big screen? Not to mention, when I told him about my work, he said he was allergic to flowers.
So when the waitress came by with a dessert menu, I politely declined.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a coffee or something?” Adam asked.
I shook my head. “I have to work in the morning. Having caffeine after noon keeps me up all night. But thank you.”
He nodded, though I could tell he was disappointed.
Outside the restaurant, he offered to share a cab, but I only lived eight blocks away. So I extended my hand to set the tone for the end of the evening.
“It was very nice to meet you, Adam.”
“You, too. Maybe we can…do this again sometime?”
It was so much easier to be upfront and tell a guy there wouldn’t be a second date when he was a jerk. But I always struggled with the nice ones. I shrugged. “Yeah, maybe. Take care, Adam.”
It was late April, but the cold weather just wouldn’t relent and allow spring to start this year, and a gust of wind blew while I waited at the intersection at the corner of the restaurant. I shoved my hands into my pockets for some warmth, and inside, something pointy pricked at my fingers. I slipped it out to see what it was.
Yoda.
His plastic ears were tapered to points, and there was a tiny chip on the left one. I’d forgotten I’d stuck him in my pocket when Adam and I had moved from the bar to a table. Looking down at him, I sighed. God, why couldn’t your owner have been my actual date tonight?
It had been a very long time since a man gave me the warm fuzzies in the pit of my belly—not since the day I’d met Gabriel. So maybe finding Yoda in my pocket was a sign? The light changed, and I walked a few more blocks, lost in thought.
Did it really matter that he’d pretended to be Adam? I mean, if he was telling the truth, he only did it so I’d talk to him. Let’s face it, if he had walked over and introduced himself as Max, I wouldn’t have invited him to sit down. I would have been polite and told him I was waiting for my date, no matter how gorgeous the man was. So, I couldn’t really say I blamed him…I guess.
I stopped for another red light at the crosswalk on 29th Street, this time at the corner of 7th as I made my way down to 2nd Avenue where I lived. While I waited, I looked to my right, and the neon lights of a sign hit me. Madison Square Garden. Now that was definitely a sign—quite literally. Between Yoda and walking right past the place Fake Adam had said he’d be…perhaps it was more than that.
I checked the time on my phone. Twenty after eight. He’d said he would be there at seven thirty, but I was sure the game took a few hours. Should I?
I nibbled on my lip as the light in front of me turned green. People on both sides of me started to walk…but I just stood there, staring down at Yoda.

Screw it.
Why not?
What do I have to lose?

The worst that could happen was that our initial connection fizzled or it turned out lying was one of Fake Adam’s hobbies. Or…the spark we’d had might lead to just the distraction I was looking for. I wouldn’t know unless I tried.
For the most part, I was pretty conservative with my choices in men. And look where that had gotten me. I was a twenty-eight-year-old workaholic, going on blind dates with my mom’s friend’s relatives. So screw it—I was going.
Once I made the decision, I couldn’t wait to get there. I practically jogged to Madison Square Garden, even in my heels from work. Inside, I showed my ticket to an usher standing at the entrance to the section listed, and he showed me to my seat.
As I walked down the stadium stairs, I looked around and noticed I was pretty overdressed. Most of the people had on jerseys and jeans. There were even a few shirtless guys with their bodies painted, and here I was wearing a cream silk blouse, red pencil skirt, and my favorite Valentino pumps. At least Max had been pretty dressed up.
I hadn’t noticed the row number on the ticket before handing it over to the usher, but the seats must’ve been decent because we just kept walking down toward the ice. When we hit the very first row, the usher extended his hand. “Here you go. Seat two is the second one in.”
“Wow, first row, directly in the middle on the fifty-yard line.”
The guy smiled. “In hockey we call it center ice.”
“Oh…okay.” But the seat next to the one he’d shown me to was empty, and Max was nowhere in sight. “Did you happen to see the person sitting in the seat at the end?” I asked.
The usher shrugged. “I’m not positive, but I don’t think they’ve arrived yet. Enjoy the game, miss.”
After he walked away, I stood looking down at the two empty seats. This was one outcome I hadn’t thought about: I might get stood up. Actually, would it even be considered standing someone up if the other person didn’t know you were coming? I wasn’t sure. But I was here, so I might as well take a seat and see if Max showed. He’d said he had to work, so perhaps he was running late. Or maybe he was already here, just in the men’s room or in line for a beer.
A woman sat on the other side of me. She smiled as I settled in. “Hi. Are you here to watch Yearwood? He’s on fire tonight, already slashed two in the net. Too bad they’re probably not going to be able to hold onto him for next season.”
I shook my head. “Oh. No, I’m actually meeting someone. I’ve never been to a live hockey game before.” Just as I said it, two guys slammed into the glass wall directly in front of me. I jumped, and the woman next to me laughed as they skated away.
“That happens a lot. You’ll get used to it.” She reached out her hand. “I’m Jenna, by the way. I’m married to Tomasso.” She pointed to the rink. “Number twelve.”
“Oh, wow. I guess I’m sitting next to the right person for my first game.” I put my hand to my chest. “I’m Georgia.”
“Anything you want explained, Georgia, you just let me know.”
For the next twenty minutes, I tried to watch the game. But I kept looking around to see if Max was coming down the stairs. Unfortunately, he never did. By nine o’clock, it was pretty clear I’d wasted my time. Since I had early meetings tomorrow morning, I decided to call it a night. The game clock showed less than a minute until the end of the second period, so I figured I’d wait until then so I wouldn’t be blocking people’s views as I climbed the stairs back up to the exit. These hockey fans seemed pretty into the game.
When the clock hit nine seconds, one of the guys scored a goal, and the place went crazy again. Everyone jumped up, so I did the same, only I used it as an opportunity to slip on my jacket. I leaned to the woman next to me and yelled. “I don’t think my date’s coming, so I’m going to head out. Have a good night.”
But as I turned to leave, something caught my attention on the Jumbotron. The player who’d scored held his stick up in the air celebrating, and a bunch of the guys on his team were whacking him on the head. His helmet covered most of his face, but those eyes… I know those eyes. The player took out his mouth guard, waved it in the air, and smiled right at the camera.

Dimples.

Big ones.
My eyes went wide.
No…it couldn’t be.
I continued to stare at the screen with my mouth hanging open until the guy’s face was no longer on it.
The woman next to me finished cheering. “See? I told you he was on fire. If this is your first game, you’ve picked a good one to watch. You don’t see a lot of hat tricks in a single period. Yearwood is having his best season ever. Too bad the rest of his team isn’t.”
“Yearwood? That’s the name of the guy who just scored?”
Jenna laughed at my question. “Yup. Team captain and arguably the best player in the NHL these days. They call him Pretty Boy for obvious reasons.”
“What’s his first name?”
“Max. I figured you knew him, since those are his seats you’re sitting in.”

★★★ 


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AUTHOR BIO
Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles have appeared in over a hundred Bestseller lists and are currently translated in twenty-five languages. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.
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Chapter Reveal: The Invitation by Vi Keeland

Title: The Invitation
Author: Vi Keeland
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: January 18, 2021
Excited about Vi Keeland’s upcoming release, The Invitation? Check out this SNEAK PEEK of CHAPTER 1!
CHAPTER 1 

Stella 
“I can’t do this…” I stopped halfway up the marble staircase. 
Fisher paused a few steps ahead of me. He walked back down to where I stood. “Sure you can. Remember the time we were in sixth grade and you had to make that presentation about your favorite president? You were a nervous wreck. You thought you were going to forget everything you’d memorized and be standing there with everyone staring at you.” 
“Yes, what about it?” 
“Well, this is no different. You got through that, didn’t you?” 
Fisher had lost his mind. “My fears all came true that day. I got up in front of the blackboard and started to sweat. I couldn’t remember a single word I’d written. Everyone in the class stared, and then you heckled me.” 
Fisher nodded. “Exactly. Your worst fear came true, and yet you lived to see another day. In fact, that day turned out to be the best day of your life.” 
I shook my head, bewildered. “How so?” 
“That was the first time we’d ever been in the same class. I thought you were just another annoying girl like the rest of them. But after school that day, you ripped into me for teasing you while you were trying to do your presentation. That made me realize you weren’t like the other girls. And that very day I decided we were going to be best friends.” 
I shook my head. “I didn’t speak to you for the rest of the school year.” 
Fisher shrugged. “Yeah, but I won you over the next year, didn’t I? And right now you feel a little calmer than you did two minutes ago, don’t you?” 
I sighed. “I guess I do.” 
He held out his tuxedo-clad elbow. “Shall we go in?” 
I swallowed. As terrified as I was of what we were about to do, I also couldn’t wait to see what the inside of the library looked like all done up for a wedding. I’d spent countless hours sitting on these steps, wondering about the people walking by. 
Fisher waited patiently with his elbow out while I debated another minute. Finally, with another loud sigh, I took his arm. “If we wind up in jail, you’re going to have to come up with the bail money for both of us. I’m way too broke.” 
He flashed his movie-star smile. “Deal.” 
As we climbed the remaining steps to the doors of the New York Public Library, I went over all of the details we’d discussed in the Uber on the way here. Our names for the evening were Evelyn Whitley and Maximilian Reynard. Max was in real estate—his family owned Reynard Properties—and I’d gotten my MBA at Wharton and recently moved back to the City. We both lived on the Upper East Side—at least that part was true. 
Two uniformed waiters wearing white gloves stood at the towering entrance doors. One held a tray of champagne flutes, and the other a clipboard. Though my legs somehow kept going, my heart felt like it was trying to escape from my chest and take off in the opposite direction. 
“Good evening.” The waiter with the clipboard nodded. “May I have your names, please?” 
Fisher didn’t flinch as he doled out the first of what would be a night full of lies. 
The man, who I noticed had an earpiece in, scanned his list and nodded. He held a hand out for us to enter, and his partner handed us each bubbly. “Welcome. The ceremony will take place in the rotunda. Seating for the bride is on your left.” 
“Thank you,” Fisher said. As soon as we were out of earshot, he leaned close. “See? Easy peasy.” He sipped his champagne. “Oooh, this is good.” 
I had no idea how he was so calm. Then again, I also had no idea how he’d managed to talk me into this insanity. Two months ago, I’d come home from work to find Fisher, who was also my neighbor, raiding my refrigerator for leftovers—a common occurrence. As he ate two-day-old chicken Milanese, I’d sat at the kitchen table sorting through my mail and having a glass of wine. While we talked, I’d sliced open the back of an oversized envelope without checking the address on the front. The most stunning wedding invitation had been inside—black and white with raised gold leaf. It was like a gilded work of art. And the wedding was at the New York Public Library, of all places—right near my old office and where I’d often sat and had my lunch on the iconic stairs. I hadn’t visited in at least a year, so I was seriously pumped to get to go to a wedding there. 
Though I’d had no idea whose wedding it was—a distant relative I’d forgotten, maybe? The names weren’t even vaguely familiar. When I turned the envelope over, I quickly realized why. I’d opened my ex-roommate’s mail. Ugh. That figured. It wasn’t me who was invited to a fairytale wedding at one of my favorite places in the world. 
But after a couple of glasses of wine, Fisher had convinced me it should be me going, and not Evelyn. It was the least my deadbeat ex-roommate could do for me, he’d said. After all, she’d snuck out in the middle of the night, taken some of my favorite shoes with her, and the check she’d left behind for the two months of back rent she owed had bounced. At a minimum, I ought to get to attend a ritzy, thousand-dollars-a-plate wedding, rather than her. Lord knew none of my friends were ever getting married at a venue like that. By the time we’d polished off the second bottle of merlot, Fisher had decided we would go in Evelyn’s place—crash the wedding for a fun night out, compliments of my no-good former roomie. Fisher had even filled out the response card, writing that two guests would attend, and slipped it into his back pocket to mail the next day. 
I’d honestly forgotten all about our drunken plans until two weeks ago when Fisher came home with a tuxedo he’d borrowed from a friend for the upcoming nuptials. I’d balked and told him I wasn’t going to crash some expensive wedding for people I didn’t know, and he’d done what he always did: gotten me to think his bad idea wasn’t really that bad. 
Until now. I stood in the middle of the sprawling lobby of what was probably a two-hundred-thousand-dollar wedding and felt like I might literally pee my pants. 
“Drink your champagne,” Fisher said. “It’ll help you relax a bit and put some color back in your cheeks. You look like you’re about to attempt to tell the class why you like John Quincy Adams so much.” 
I squinted at Fisher, though he smiled back, undeterred. I was certain nothing was going to help me loosen up. But nevertheless, I gulped back the contents of my glass. 
Fisher tucked one hand casually into his trouser pocket and looked around with his head held high, like he didn’t have a fear in the world. “I haven’t seen my old friend party animal Stella in a long time,” he said. “Might she come out to play tonight?” 
I handed him my empty champagne flute. “Shut up and go find me another glass before I bolt.” 
He chuckled. “No problem, Evelyn. You just sit tight and try not to blow our cover before we even get to see the beautiful bride.” 
“Beautiful? You don’t even know what she looks like.” 
“All brides look beautiful. That’s why they wear a veil—so you can’t see the ugly ones, and everything is magical on their special day.” 
“That’s so romantic.” 
Fisher winked. “Not everyone can be as pretty as me.” 
Three glasses of champagne helped calm me enough to sit through the wedding ceremony. And the bride definitely didn’t need a veil. Olivia Rothschild—or Olivia Royce, as she would be now—was gorgeous. I got a little teary eyed watching the groom say his vows. It was a shame the happy couple weren’t really my friends, because one of their groomsmen was insanely attractive. I might’ve daydreamed that Livi—that’s what I called her in my head—would fix me up with her new hubby’s buddy. But alas, tonight was a ruse, and I was no Cinderella story. 
The cocktail hour took place in a beautiful room I’d never been in. I studied the artwork on the ceiling as I waited at the bar for my drink. Fisher had told me he needed to use the restroom, but I had a feeling he’d really snuck off to talk to the handsome waiter who had been eyeing him since we’d walked in. 
“Here you go, miss.” The bartender slid a drink over to me. 
“Thank you.” I took a quick look around to see if anyone was paying attention before dipping my nose inside the glass and taking a deep sniff. Definitely not what I ordered. 
“Ummm, excuse me. Is it possible you made this with Beefeater gin and not Hendricks?” 
The bartender frowned. “I don’t think so.” 
I sniffed a second time, now certain he’d made it wrong. 
A man’s voice to my left caught me off guard. “You didn’t even taste it, yet you think he poured the wrong gin?” 
I smiled politely. “Beefeater is made with juniper, orange peels, bitter almond, and blended teas, which produces a licorice taste. Hendricks is made of juniper, rose, and cucumber. There’s a different smell to each.” 
“Are you drinking it straight or on the rocks?” 
“Neither. It’s a gin martini, so it has vermouth.” 
“But you think you can smell that he used the wrong gin, without even tasting it?” The guy’s voice made it clear he didn’t think I could. 
“I have a very good sense of smell.” 
The man looked over my shoulder. “Hey, Hudson, I got a hundred bucks that says she can’t tell the difference between the two gins if we line them up.” 
A second man’s voice came from my right, this one behind my shoulder a bit. The sound was deep, yet velvety and smooth—sort of like the gin the bartender should’ve used to make my drink. 
“Make it two hundred, and you’re on.” 
Turning to get a look at the man willing to wager on my abilities, I felt my eyes widen. 
Oh. Wow. The gorgeous guy from the bridal party. I’d stared at him during most of the wedding. He was handsome from afar, but up close he was breathtaking in a way that made my belly flutter—dark hair, tanned skin, a chiseled jawline, and luscious, full lips. The way his hair was styled—slicked back and parted to the side—reminded me of an old-time movie star. What I hadn’t been able to see from the back row during the ceremony was the intensity of his ocean blue eyes. Those were currently scanning my face like I was a book. 
I cleared my throat. “You’re going to bet two-hundred dollars that I can identify gin?” 
The gorgeous man stepped forward, and my olfactory sense perked up. Now that smells better than any gin. I wasn’t sure if it was his cologne or some sort of a body wash, but whatever it was, it took everything in my power to not lean toward him and take a deep whiff. The sinfully sexy man smelled as good as he looked. That pairing was my kryptonite. 
There was a hint of amusement in his voice. “Are you telling me it’s a bad bet?” 
I shook my head and turned back to speak to his friend. “I’ll play along with your little bet, but I’m in for two hundred, too.” 
When my eyes returned to the handsome man on my right, the corner of his lip twitched just slightly. “Nice.” He lifted his chin to his friend. “Tell the bartender to pour a shot of Beefeater and a shot of Hendricks. Line ’em up in front of her, and don’t let us know which is which.” 
A minute later, I lifted the first shot glass and sniffed. It honestly wasn’t even necessary for me to smell the other, though I did it anyway, just to be safe. Damn… I should’ve bet more. This was too easy, like taking candy from a baby. I slid one shot glass forward and spoke to the waiting bartender. “This one is the Hendricks.” 
The bartender looked impressed. “She’s right.” 
“Damn it,” the guy who had started this game huffed. He dug into his front pocket, pulled out an impressive billfold, and peeled off four hundred-dollar bills. Tossing them in our direction on top of the bar, he shook his head. “I’ll win it back by Monday.” 
Gorgeous Guy smiled at me as he collected his cash. Once I took mine, he lowered his head to whisper in my ear. 
“Nice job.” 
Oh myHis hot breath sent a shiver down my spine. It had been way too long since I’d had contact with a man. Sadly, my knees felt a little weak. But I forced myself to ignore it. “Thank you.” 
He reached around me to the bar and lifted one of the shots. Bringing it to his nose, he sniffed before setting it back down and smelling the other. 
“I don’t smell anything different.” 
“That just means you have a normal sense of smell.” 
“Ah, I see. And yours is…extraordinary?” 
I smiled. “Why yes, it is.” 
He looked amused as he passed me one of the shots and held the other up in toast. “To being extraordinary,” he said. 
I wasn’t generally a shot drinker, but what the hell? I clinked my glass with his before knocking it back. Maybe the alcohol would help settle the nerves this man seemed to have jolted awake. 
I set my empty shot glass on the bar next to his. “I take it this is something the two of you do on a regular basis, since your friend plans to win it back by Monday?” 
“Jack’s family and mine have been friends since we were kids. But the betting started when we went to the same college. I’m a Notre Dame fan, and he’s a USC fan. We were broke back then, so we used to bet a Taser zap on games.” 
“A Taser zap?” 
“His father was a cop. He gave him a Taser to keep under his car seat just in case. But I don’t think he envisioned his son taking hits of fifty-thousand volts when a last-minute interception made his team lose.” 
I shook my head. “That’s a little crazy.” 
“Definitely not our wisest decision. At least I won a lot more than he did. A little brain damage might help explain some of his choices in college.” 
I laughed. “So today was just a continuation of that pattern, then?” 
“Pretty much.” He smiled and extended his hand. “I’m Hudson, by the way.” 
“Nice to meet you. I’m St—” I caught myself in the nick of time. “I’m Evelyn.” 
“So are you a gin aficionado, Evelyn? Is that why I didn’t smell anything different between the two?” 
I smiled. “I wouldn’t consider myself an aficionado of gin, no. To be honest, I mostly drink wine. But did I mention my occupation? I’m a fragrance chemist—a perfumist.” 
“You make perfume?” 
I nodded. “Among other things. I developed scents for a cosmetics and fragrance company for six years. Sometimes it was a new perfume, other times it was the scent for a wipe that removes makeup, or maybe a cosmetic that needs a more pleasant smell.” 
“Pretty sure I never met a perfumist before.” 
I smiled. “Is it as exciting as you’d hoped?” 
He chuckled. “What exactly is the training for a job like that?” 
“Well, I have a chemistry degree. But you can have all the education you want, and you still won’t be able to do the job unless you also have hyperosmia.” 
“And that is…” 
“An enhanced ability to smell odors, an increased olfactory acuity.” 
“So you’re good at smelling shit?” 
I laughed. “Exactly.” 
A lot of people think they have a good sense of smell, but they don’t really understand how heightened the sense is for someone with hyperosmia. Demonstrating always worked best. Plus, I really wanted to know what cologne he was wearing. So, I leaned in and took a deep inhale of Hudson. 
Exhaling, I said, “Dove soap.” 
He didn’t look completely sold. “Yes, but that’s a pretty common soap choice.” 
I smiled. “You didn’t let me finish. Dove Cool Moisture. It’s got cucumber and green tea in it—also a common ingredient in gins, by the way. And you use L’Oreal Elvive shampoo, same as me. I can smell gardenia tahitensis flower extract, rosa canina flower extract, and a slight hint of coconut oil. Oh, and you use Irish Spring deodorant. I don’t think you’re wearing any cologne, actually.” 
Hudson’s brows rose. “Now that’s impressive. The wedding party stayed in a hotel last night, and I forgot to pack my cologne.” 
“Which one do you normally wear?” 
“Ah… I can’t tell you that. What will we do on our second date for entertainment if we don’t play the sniff test?” 
“Our second date? I didn’t realize we were going to have a first.” 
Hudson smiled and held out his hand. “The night’s young, Evelyn. Dance with me?” 
A knot in the pit of my stomach warned me it was a bad idea. Fisher and I were supposed to stick together and limit contact with other people to minimize our chances of getting caught. But glancing around, my date was nowhere in sight. Plus, this man was seriously magnetic. Somehow, before my brain even finished debating the pros and cons, I found myself putting my hand in his. He led me to the dance floor and wrapped one arm around my waist, leading with the other. Not surprisingly, he knew how to dance. 
“So, Evelyn with the extraordinary sense of smell, I’ve never seen you before. Are you a guest or a plus one?” He looked around the room. “Is some guy giving me the evil eye behind my back right now? Am I going to need to get Jack’s Taser from the car to ward off a jealous boyfriend?” 
I laughed. “I am here with someone, but he’s just a friend.” 
“The poor guy…” 
I smiled. Hudson’s flirting was over the top, yet I gobbled it up. “Fisher is more interested in the guy who was passing out champagne than me.” 
Hudson held me a little closer. “I like your date much better than I did thirty seconds ago.” 
Goose bumps prickled my arms as he lowered his head, and his nose briefly brushed against my neck. 
“You smell incredible. Are you wearing one of the perfumes you make?” 
“I am. But it’s not one that can be ordered. I like the idea of having a true signature scent that someone can remember me by.” 
“I don’t think you need the perfume to be remembered.” 
He led me around the dance floor with such grace, I wondered if he had taken professional lessons. Most men his age thought slow dancing meant rocking back and forth and grinding an erection against you. 
“You’re a good dancer,” I said. 
Hudson responded by twirling us around. “My mother was a professional ballroom dancer. Learning wasn’t an option; it was a requirement if I wanted to be fed.” 
I laughed. “That’s really cool. Did you ever consider following in her footsteps?” 
“Absolutely not. I grew up watching her suffer with hip bursitis, stress fractures, torn ligaments—it’s definitely not the glamorous profession they make it out to be on all those dance-contest TV shows. You gotta love what you do for a job like that.” 
“I think you have to love what you do for any job.” 
“That’s a very good point.” 
The song came to an end, and the emcee told everyone to take their seats. 
“Where are you sitting?” Hudson asked. 
I pointed to the side of the room where Fisher and I had been seated. “Somewhere over there. Table Sixteen.” 
He nodded. “I’ll walk you.” 
We approached the table at the same moment as Fisher, who was coming from the other direction. He looked between Hudson and me, and his face asked the question he didn’t say aloud. 
“Umm…this is my friend Fisher. Fisher, this is Hudson.” 
Hudson extended his hand. “Nice to meet you.” 
After shaking with a silent Fisher, who seemed to have forgotten how to speak, he turned to me and took my hand once again. “I should get back to my table with the rest of the wedding party.” 
“Okay.” 
“Save a dance for me later?” 
I smiled. “I’d love to.” 
Hudson turned to walk away and then turned back. As he walked backwards, he called, “In case you pull a Cinderella on me and disappear, what’s your last name, Evelyn?” 
Thankfully, him using my fake name reminded me not to give him my real one as I’d almost done the first time. “It’s Whitley.” 
“Whitley?” 
Oh GodDid he know Evelyn? 
His eyes swept over my face. “Beautiful name. I’ll see you later.” 
“Uhh…okay, sure.” 
When Hudson was barely out of earshot, Fisher leaned close to me. “My name’s supposed to be Maximilian, sweetheart.” 
“Oh my God, Fisher. We have to leave.” 
“Nah.” He shrugged. “It’s no big deal. We made up Maximilian anyway. I’m your plus one. No one knows the name of the person Evelyn brought. Though I still want to play a real estate tycoon.” 
“No, it’s not that.” 
“Then what is it?” 
“We have to leave because he knows…” 
★★★ 

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AUTHOR BIO
Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles have appeared in over a hundred Bestseller lists and are currently translated in twenty-five languages. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.
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Chapter Reveal: A Vow of Hate by Lylah James

A VOW OF HATE by Lylah James
Release Date: January 5th

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Blurb:
“An all-new standalone hate-to-love, arranged marriage romance with a TWIST from Lylah James.”

“Once upon a time…”

Hate consumed him.
Love wrecked me.
That night changed both our lives, turning our beginning into something toxic. We were poison together and there was no antidote.

Our story began like any other fairy tale ended.
With a beautiful wedding.
One kiss.
Two rings.
Three vows.
Killian Spencer became my lawfully wedded husband and I, his dutiful wife.

But he was no Prince Charming. He didn’t come to save me… and he vowed there would be no happily ever after.
And me?
Just like the legends I’d read as a little girl, I always thought I’d be the princess in my fairy tale.
Well, I was the villain of our love story.

“Till death do us part…”

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***********

CHAPTER ONE

Julianna

The ugliness of life is that sometimes we can’t undo what has been done. It doesn’t matter how devastating the outcome is; we can’t turn back time – can’t change the past – can’t fix the future.

“It is what it is,” my father had said that night.

The night I woke up from my coma, bedridden with two broken legs, three fractured ribs, a messed-up spine and a fractured skull… and more scars than I could bear.

One night, four months ago, I made a mistake that ruined more than one life.

Since then, I have learned that grief is just a stage of coming to terms with the situation.

Just like denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Except, I was still on the fourth stage. Depression, my therapist would say with a pitiful sigh.

Misery still choked me every morning as I swallowed down my breakfast and every minute of the day. While it wasn’t as heavy as guilt, the imbedded grief still festered pus like an untreated wound.

But it was the guilt…

Guilt was what killed me everyday.

Pain became my companion; grief was my nightmare and guilt turned out to be my soulmate.

“Julianna, you haven’t had your breakfast yet.”

I could feel her presence behind me but I didn’t turn away from the window. “I’m not hungry.”

Selene, our elderly maid and my only friend, made a sound in the back of her throat. “Your father–”

“He doesn’t need to know,” I said, my nails digging into my palms.

“Your sister–”

My lungs caved in, my body growing cold. “Stop. Don’t even finish that sentence.”

“Julianna.”

“Please, stop. Stop trying. Just take the food and leave.”

My shaky voice was followed by silence and then the door clicked close. Her presence disappeared and I was finally able to wallow in self-pity again.

My window overlooked the stables from behind our mansion. My father’s estate expanded many thousand acres, but this spot used to be my favorite view.

Except now, it was nothing but a bitter reminder.

How could our lives change so quickly in merely four months?

If only we hadn’t sneaked out…

If only I hadn’t been so stubborn…

If only I hadn’t been driving that night…

My hand came up, trembling as I touched the black veil. The thin fabric started from below my eyes and hid the rest of my face. I kept my black hair down, with bangs that I never had before, keeping my forehead covered. Only my eyes were visible.

I hear she’s ugly now, that’s why she hides behind the veil, the whispers would say.

It’s good she keeps it covered. I don’t want her to give me nightmares.

Beasty, some sneered.

The poor girl, others pitied.

The whispers didn’t hurt. In fact, they had little effect on me. I had learned to shut the world out while I surrounded myself with my own misery. Jolie, my therapist, said it wasn’t the right coping mechanism. She said I was making it harder on myself.

She said a lot of things, but none of them mattered.

My sister – Gracelynn – was still dead. Because of me.

And I was still here, alive and breathing when it should had been me in her place.

I still remembered her wide-open, dead eyes. I could still smell the unpleasant odor of metallic copper; our blood and sweat. I still saw her mangled face so vividly in my memories and every time I closed my eyes.

I was in that car with her dead body for three hours.

Three hours that felt like three extremely long days.

I passed out many times, regaining consciousness only to see her bloodied face again and again, while I screamed at her to breathe, to stay alive.

Gracelynn wasn’t wearing her seatbelt that night. The force of the impact, and when our car flipped, sent her flying through the windshield. Her screams still echoed in my ears. Her swollen, mangled face with glass shards lodged in her flesh was still seared in my brain.

Most days, I spent my time like this. Listlessly staring out the window, watching the sun rise and set, watching the day go by, turning into months.

It wasn’t like I could run away from my misery. No, I couldn’t even walk.

That accident took more from me than anyone would ever see.

***

Hours later, the door opened again, bringing me out of my thoughts. I was still rooted in the same spot as Selene left me this morning.

“I’m not hungry,” I said, already knowing who it was. Only two people were allowed in my room. Selene and my father.

My father rarely visited me.

And Selene was the only face I saw everyday. Her presence and the only human contact I had since I woke up from the coma and was brought back to my father’s estate, kept what was left of my sanity intact.

“The room smells like death and despair. Quite frankly, I approve.”

My eyes widened.

No.

My head swam and the collar of my sweater felt too tight.

What was he doing here?

Killian Spencer was the last person I expected to come into my room. The last time we saw each other…

Two months ago, when I visited my sister’s resting place, for the first time. He had been there before me and when I had turned to leave, he didn’t let me go without giving me a piece of his mind.

Cold voice.

Dark eyes.

Cruel words.

That was Killian Spencer. The new him.

Julianna,” he sneered my name. I imagined him curling his lips in distaste.

“Before you say anything,” I started to warn him, but he spoke over me.

“Our fathers have arranged our marriage. It’s being finalized as we speak.”

I shut up and closed my eyes, holding back a desperate cry. He approached me from behind, his footsteps sounding closer. I could feel his body heat. I could smell his strong, spicy cologne. Unique and familiar.

My chest rattled when I exhaled a shaky breath. “You could have refused.”

From my peripheral vision, I saw his hands come up and he placed them over the handles of my wheelchair. For the first time, I realized how powerless I was against him. Weak and fragile.

He could easily hurt me.

And I would let him.

“You say this and yet you know how important this marriage is for both our families,” Killian mocked.

My fingers latched onto my silver, charm bracelet. With a frantic need, I used the sharp edge of the heart and dug it deep into my wrist. I winced and the pain made me think. Made me feel alive. “Is that the only reason why you agreed to this marriage?”

He bent forward, bringing his head closer to mine. I felt his breath against my ear. “You know very well what my reasons are.”

“You could just kill me,” I said. “Make it easy for both of us, don’t you think?”

“Why should you have an easy death?” The hatred in his voice was unmistakeable. “She died a cruel death, Julianna. And you will suffer a worse fate.”

There it was. This was the reason why we were poison together.

I killed his love and he wanted vengeance.

“Do you know what date today is?”

How could I forget?

Killian was still too close. His presence was suffocating. “She was supposed to walk down the aisle today,” he said, deadly and heartless. But I didn’t miss the pain and the longing in his voice.

Gracelynn would have been the prettiest bride ever. I closed my eyes and choked on the sob threatening to spill from my throat.

My sniffling filled the room and there was Killian’s dreadful silence. His silence was eerie and disturbing. Killian was deadlier than a viper, as he waited for the right moment to strike.

He moved around my wheelchair and stood in front of me. Dressed in all black, he was an imposing figure. I dragged my gaze up, from his polished leather shoes, up to his strong thighs, his wide chest and shoulders and then his face. Full lips, dark eyes and a glacial expression.

Our eyes met and he blinked, once, as if to shake the image of me from his brain. As if I was a ghost, haunting him.

Maybe I was.

Killian leaned against the window, his hands going to the sill as he crossed his ankles. He looked every bit the powerful and confident man he was. So devious, so in control, so cruel.

I fidgeted under his gaze, feeling so out of control while he was so contained.

“Two years.”

I blinked. “What?”

There was a tick in his left cheek, his muscles clenching, and his jaw hardened. Killian nodded at my legs – useless and frail. “Your father said it’ll take you a long time to walk again, if you ever will. With all the necessary therapy, he’s giving you two years.”

I swallowed. “Two years…?”

“Two years so you can walk down the aisle. Our wedding will be held on this day, two years from now.”

I knew this was coming. My father warned me beforehand – I’d have to take Gracelynn’s place at the altar – but I was still not prepared for this announcement.

“What if I can’t walk again?”

He grinned cruelly. “Then, I’ll drag you down the aisle, on your fucking knees, if I have to.”

I sucked in a shuddering breath. Killian stepped away from the window and bent forward, bringing his face closer to mine. I couldn’t even move. My wheelchair kept me in place. His breath feathered over my veil, right over my lips. “Listen to me very carefully. You will marry me; you will pay for your sins and you will die at my hands.”

He didn’t see that I was already paying for my mistakes.

Just like everyone else, Killian didn’t see me. They saw my veil. They saw my sin.

No one saw Julianna Romano anymore.

They didn’t see my remorse– or that my sister’s ghost haunted me.

My nails dug deeper into my palm, drawing blood. I lifted my chin up, matching his cold stare. “You’ve made yourself very clear, Killian Spencer.”

He chuckled at my show of I’m-not-scared-of-you-do-your-worst. It was a weak attempt at bravery, but I didn’t want him to think I was as powerless as he thought I was.

My life was already hell. But I still had some kind of control over what Killian could do to me, even though I deserved everything he said.

I should pay for my sin.

I should suffer.

I should die at his hands.

It was his right. After all, I killed his heart.

It would have been easy to say that Killian was the villain. But it was far from the truth. He was just another casualty of my mistakes and the end result of my sins.

I was the villain in this messy fairy tale.

His hand came up to my face and I flinched, expecting him to strike me, but he didn’t. Killian curled a finger around a strand of black hair and then pulled. Hard enough to burn my scalp. “I will break you, Julianna Romano.”

You can’t break what’s already broken.

I turned my face away, no longer able to look into his dark eyes. There was just something in them. Something that made me ache.

“You’ve said what you came here to say. You can leave now.”

Killian pulled back and strode away. I clutched my chest, bearing the pain that seemed to dig itself deeper under my flesh. It wasn’t just my heart that ached. It was my soul that was tormented.

“Oh right, I forgot to give you this.” He fished something out of his pocket and then carelessly threw it my way. It skidded on the shiny floor, a few feet away from my wheelchair.

“Your ring,” Killian said coldly, his voice dripping with venom. “Wear it. Happy engagement to us.”

After he was long gone, Selene came back. Without a word, she lifted the ring from the floor and handed it to me. I took it from her, staring at the extravagant diamond ring. The rock was huge and nothing like my personal taste. But then again, this wedding wasn’t about me and Killian could care less about my preferences.

It was heavy in my palm, but the weight was more than just the shiny diamond itself.

I loathed it.

And yet, I still wore it on my ring finger.

When my father came into my room much later, he smiled approvingly at the sight of my ring, patted me on the hand and then walked away without a word.

It was official.

Two years from now, I would be Killian’s wife.

This marriage was his vengeance – the vows would not be of love, but of hatred.

His retaliation. My atonement. One imperfect marriage.

About the Author:
Lylah James lives somewhere in Canada. She is usually pretty busy but she uses all her spare time to write. If she is not studying, sleeping, writing or working – she can be found with her nose buried in a good romance book, preferably with a hot alpha male.

Writing is her passion. The voices in her head won’t stop and she believes they deserve to be heard and read. Lylah James writes about drool worthy and total alpha males, with strong and sweet heroines. She makes her readers cry – sob their eyes out, swoon, curse, rage and fall in love. Mostly known as the Queen of cliffhanger and the #evilauthorwithablacksoul, she likes to break her readers’ hearts and then mend them again.

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Chapter Reveal: In The Unlikely Event by L.J. Shen

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In the Unlikely Event

An all-new “messy, sexy, laugh-out-loud, cry-out-loud romance” from USA Today bestselling author L.J. Shen, is coming November 19th and we have a sneak peek of chapter one!

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A one-night stand born from vengeance in a foreign land.

An explosive chemistry neither of us could deny.

We signed a contract on the back of a Boar’s Head Pub napkin that said if we ever met again, we would drop everything and be together.

Eight years and thousands of miles later, he’s here.

In New York.

And he’s America’s music obsession.

The intangible Irish poet who brings record executives to their knees.

The blizzard in my perfect, unshaken snow globe.

Last time we spoke, he was a beggar with no intention of becoming a king.

But a king he became, and now I’m his servant.

I’m not the same broken princess Malachy Doherty put back together with his callused hands.

I have a career I love.

A boyfriend I adore.

An apartment, a roommate, a life.

I changed. He changed, too.

But Mal kept the napkin.

Question is, will I keep my word?

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Sneak Peek from In the Unlikely Event:

Chapter One

Present day

Rory

My life is contained in a round, beautiful snow globe.

The kind no one has bothered to pick up from the dusty shelf in years. Unshaken. Quiet and still. From the outside, my manicured Swiss village looks perfect. And it is. Kind of. At twenty-six, it appears I have my life together.

Perfect job.

Perfect apartment.

Perfect roommate.

Perfect boyfriend.

Perfect lies.

Well, they’re not lies, per se. All my accomplishments are real. I worked hard for them. Problem is, I promised eight years ago to give them all away in the blink of an eye if I bumped into him again. But back then, I wasn’t the same person I am today.

I was lost. Grieving. Broken. Confused.

Not that it matters, because that was then, and this is now, and it’s not him I’m staring at. Nope. There’s no way.

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