Rhodes to Love: A single dad, fake relationship romance
She’s not ready for kids. He'll move mountains to maintain guardianship of his godchild. Is crossing the line from friends to fake husband and wife a stunt they can survive?
"The story will tug at your heartstrings – there is passion, romance, friendship, facing your fears, communication, ups and downs, twists and turns, and family. Wonderful story with great characters!"
Daredevil snowboarder Adam Rhodes does not do relationships—not since his best friends died in a stunt he survived, making him a single dad to their orphaned daughter. But when his guardianship is challenged, he hopes that being married will give him the edge he needs to keep his family together. Unfortunately, the safe-bet woman he chooses as his fake wife sends his heart into free fall.
Twenty-five-year-old Lizzy Hillhouse is determined to remain single until she’s knocked every last item off her extensive bucket list. But when her handsome, smooth-talking snowboarder friend offers to fund her dream trip to Europe, she says “I do.” As agreed with Adam, she books her flight—both on a plane and from the marriage—for three months out.
As an avalanche of unfamiliar emotions buries Adam, he’s torn between respecting the terms of his fake relationship agreement with Lizzy and chasing his own dream of the perfect family. With Adam surprising and delighting Lizzy at every turn, she struggles to reconcile what she’s always wanted with the deep love she feels for him and his daughter.
Will they allow their fake marriage to melt away like spring snow, or can they charter a flight to a happily ever after together?
Rhodes to Love is the fourth stand-alone book in the new adult, contemporary romance series, the Mixed Six-Pack. If you like generous heroes, goal-oriented heroines, and cute-as-kitten kids you’ll adore Danika Bloom’s steamy friends-to-lovers romance.
Release date: September 9, 2021
Publisher: Fire Lily Press
Print pages: 354
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Rhodes to Love: A single dad, fake relationship romance
I didn’t hear from Brigitte over the weekend, which worked for me. Not that she wasn’t on my mind every waking minute.
On Monday afternoon we met again, this time with lawyers in tow, to appeal to the family court judge for primary guardianship of Olivia. It did not go well. My lawyer—my brother Dylan—invited me to his place to process and talk about next steps.
Dylan pushed open the door to his condo and held it for me.
I stopped. Dead in my tracks.
Before I even saw her, I knew Lizzy was here. Her signature scent greeted me. It was a perfume I never could remember the name of but wished every woman would wear.
Dylan hadn’t given me a heads-up, which I would have appreciated. In fact, if I’d known she was going to be here, I’d have passed on his offer of beer and bro time. I gave him a look, a silent, “What the heck? Why didn’t you tell me?” He returned an expression that told me he had no idea she’d be here.
It had been six months since we’d seen each other, and our last goodbye had been as uncomfortable as a snowball to the face. I inhaled long and slow to ground myself for her reaction. Colossal mistake on the deep breath since the Lizzy-infused jacket was hanging on a hook right beside my face. The name of her perfume came to me, sort of, in the shape of a semi-chub and the not-quite-right name—Fuck Me Green Tea.
Stepping around the corner, I expected she’d be sitting on the couch several yards away, but she caught me off guard and was right there. Her smile and open expression suggested she was happy to see me.
Okay, good start.
I relaxed a little. Well, part of me did. My right hand dropped to block any possible chance of her registering what her presence was doing to me. Mistake since her eyes followed my hand.
Ahem. I cleared my throat to bring her gaze back to my face.
Lizzy tilted her head and leaned forward with open arms.
Okay. So we’re hugging. Not what I expected, but not unwelcome.
She wrapped her arms around my chest and mine fell over her shoulders with my hands landing lightly on her middle back. Her short, chestnut hair was loose and tickled my chin.
She looked up at me.
I extended my sigh, as though I was trying to remember something.
“That perfume. What’s it called again?”
“That’s like the tenth time you’ve asked. Fuji Green Tea. Why do you have such a hard time with it?” She rolled her eyes and laughed.
If you don’t move right now, you’re going to find out exactly how hard it gives me.
I released her and pressed myself against the wall, away from her, to put some distance between Mr. Jumpy and the object of his desire. “It’s … been awhile,” I stated the obvious like an idiot.
“Sorry for the sneak attack. I got fired today. Kama insisted I come over and chill. She didn’t tell me you’d be here until Dylan was opening the door.”
I laughed. Classic Kama.
“I hope it’s okay. I can leave if you want.” She pointed toward her jacket as if I’d grab it from the hook and hand it to her.
“No. Of course not. I’m happy to see you.”
She nodded and whispered, Me too. “Kama mentioned you were in court about Olivia. Did our favorite lawyer make the bad lady go away?”
I shook my head.
“I’m so sorry.” She squeezed my bare forearm, which was pressed against my stomach. The touch sent a shiver into my gut and then down. This woman. She had an unwelcome effect on me.
“It is what it is. Hey, I’m sorry about your job. That sucks. You’ve been there forever.”
“It’s a bit of pickle. But I’ll find another job. Preferably one that lets me wear clothes.”
Dylan didn’t give me a chance to ask for an explanation. He called from his wet bar in the living room. “Whisky all around?”
“Yes!” we said in unison.
Once we were settled with drinks in the living room, Dylan and Kama on the couch, Lizzy and I in armchairs with a side table between us. Everyone focused on me and what happened in court.
“So,” Kama prompted, “was my husband brilliant?”
I turned to Dylan, wanting him to field the question since I was still too shocked to believe that I didn’t get the court’s immediate blessing to maintain legal guardianship of Olivia until she turned nineteen.
“Not so much,” Dylan said. “Brigitte’s not going to go away easily. On the upside, the judge does not want to see us in her chambers again. But, on the flip, if we can’t figure out a shared custody arrangement on our own, I’m worried she’ll award guardianship to Brigitte.”
“Why? The judge knows Adam’s been her father for over three years and is doing an amazing job. Why would she take that away?”
“Because,” I growled, “I drew the short straw with that particular judge. She, too, was orphaned when she was about Olivia’s age.”
“Isn’t that a positive thing? Something in your favor?”
“No, she told this touching story about her parents dying in a car crash when she was seven and how she was raised by her mom’s sister and her uncle. In her memory, it was the best childhood she could have hoped for. So even if she doesn’t acknowledge it consciously, she’ll be biased toward Brigitte,” Dylan said.
“That sounds kind of judgy, not very judge-like. Can’t you ask for someone else?” Lizzy scowled.
Dylan shook his head. “Despite their power, judges are only human. And they all have biases.”
“And one of hers,” I added, not helping change Lizzy’s expression, “is that she also said something about blood being thicker than water and that family ties should be respected.” I swallowed the rest of my scotch and stood to pour myself some more.
“That’s bullshit!” Lizzy said. “Has she ever met your family?”
“I think that’s one reason she’s looking as kindly on Adam as she is,” Dylan said. “She’s sat as the judge for a half dozen cases I’ve argued. We’ve gone for drinks. She likes me. She’s heard enough stories about our mixed-up family that I think that’s why she decided to send us away to figure this out ourselves. That, and the fact that no judge wants to make this decision when neither applicant appears to be a sociopath and could presumably be a reasonable parent.”
Kama spoke up, “How can she say Brigitte would be the better parent? She doesn’t even know Olivia. And did you mention the recital?”
“It wasn’t the time.”
The truth was that even though Brigitte, Megan’s sister, never made it to Vancouver to visit Olivia, they did have a relationship via FaceTime. Brigitte called about once a month and would spend as long as Olivia had patience to sit still, telling her stories, making faces and goofing around. They had as close a relationship as a relative who lives on the other side of the world could have.
The thing that pissed me off was we had an understanding: since this was working, she wouldn’t challenge my role as Olivia’s primary caregiver. When Brigitte’s sister, Maggie, and her husband Dalton, my best friend, found out they were pregnant, they named Brigitte and me as joint legal guardians. It made sense at the time since we never considered we’d actually have to take it seriously.
But when Maggie and Dalton died three years ago, Brigitte was in grad school in London, so caring for a two-year-old would have been impossible without disrupting her studies.
I was twenty-nine, single (since Brigitte had buggered off and left me a few months before Olivia was born), and on the road for weeks at a time, extreme snowboarding for extreme pay checks all over the world.
That said, after the deaths of my stunt buddies and best friends, I was in no shape to get on a board. With Nana willing to help me through those first few months, nothing was keeping me from figuring out the dad thing. After half a year with Olivia, I loved that little girl like she was my own. So did everyone else in my family.
“This is such bullshit!” Lizzy banged her fist on the arm of her chair. “What can I do to help? You want me to arrange to have her poisoned? Nothing to kill her, just some bad seafood to make her realize that taking care of a child is a full-time gig, even when you’re ejecting fluid from both ends of your body?”
That got a laugh.
“You can help by being my friend. Keep being Olivia’s favorite auntie,” I said, giving her a wink and realizing what an absolute ass I’d been for the last six months.
“You really are, Lizzy,” Dylan said. “She asks about you every time we have a family event.”
“But apparently,” Kama glared at me, “some people have more sway than others about who’s invited to Rhodes’ family gatherings.”
“Anyway,” Dylan said, kissing Kama’s cheek. He turned his attention to Lizzy, “Olivia really does love you and channels Kama’s disappointment that you haven’t been included in all the festivities lately, in her own five-year-old way.”
I was standing now, holding a fresh tumbler of scotch. Lizzy reached her hand up, holding her own empty glass. I handed her mine and took hers to refill.
“Well,” she said, “my twenty-five-year-old way of expressing my rage that you and Olivia are being put through this, Adam, has me wanting to do things best kept secret from your lawyer. Tell me if there’s anything, anything at all, that I can do to help you keep her.”
I believed her. I had no doubt she loved Olivia. I felt bad that I’d been keeping them apart. It was selfish, but it was for the best since I’d started to feel things for Lizzy that were not aligned with my life goals. Or with hers.
I dropped into my chair with a three-finger pour. Lizzy held up the glass I’d handed her to swap back. I shook my head. “This one has more. I’m keeping it.” We clinked glasses, and I took a long sip. “That’s enough about my day. I want to hear about yours. Why’d you get fired? Poisoning patrons who pissed you off?”
“Wish I could poison the new owner. He seems to think that waitresses should make our male customers think of foreplay. We have a new dress code. Doesn’t leave much to the imagination.”
“You should take Olivia there for dinner,” Kama said. “And then complain that you thought the place was family friendly, but that you can tell it’s clearly a front for a brothel.”
“As if anyone would believe that you and your window-shopping-for-women ways would be upset by a waitress showing too much skin,” Dylan scoffed.
“Hey! I resemble that remark,” I joked.
Lizzy nodded, almost imperceptibly, then examined her hands in her lap.
By the way she was shaking her head, I could tell we were having the same memory—the last conversation we had at Josh and Paige’s wedding. She’d helped Olivia catch the bridal bouquet, and I put my foot in it. Not the bouquet. That would have been much less destructive.
I wish I could claim I was drunk when I said what I did. Sadly, I was expressing exactly what I was thinking, how I was feeling.
* * *
Lizzy put Olivia on her feet so she could run over to show Nana the flowers. “So, looks like you’re next in line to tie the noose.”
Lizzy shook her head. “Not until I’m at least thirty. I’ve got too much living to do before I let some guy and a family tie me down.”
That was a surprise. I’d taken her as a clinger.
“Good news for you, then, because I’ve been looking forward to you being all wedding drunk, the way women get, so I could seduce you. But I was worried you might take it the wrong way.”
“Sorry? Wedding drunk? The way women get?” Lizzy’s forehead crinkled and her eyebrows pressed closer together.
“Yeah, you know, easy to seduce, all googly-eyed thinking about love and stuff.”
She tried to push by me, but I caught her arm. “Yeah, no. You’re the one who’s wedding drunk”—she made air quotes—“or just drunk drunk.”
“I’m not too drunk to show you what I think about, every time I see you.”
She crossed her arms and scowled. “Oh yeah, and what’s that?”
“You really want to know?”
“Tell me,” she said without any hint of flirtation; it was pure pissed off, which had the strange effect of really turning me on. So I told her exactly what I thought of when I saw her at our family events.
“You want me to tell you how I want to lick every last damn inch of your body, to figure out why you always smell so damn edible? You want me to tell you that my dick is like the needle on a compass and you’re true north? You want—”
“Wait. Your dick is like a needle?” She threw her head back and laughed.
I considered biting her neck.
“Not the point,” I growled.
“You’re saying your needle dick does not have a point? I’m so turned on right now.”
“You want to see how turned on you make me?”
“Dream on, Romeo. Never going to happen.”
“Because you’re afraid you can’t handle me. You’re worried—and rightfully so—that you’d fall in love with me.”
And I’m worried I’d fall way too hard for you.
“You’re delusional.” She gave me a somewhat gentle shove.
I grabbed her wrists and pressed her palms against my chest. When I released them, she bunched my shirt in closed fists.
“You want me. Admit it,” I whispered in her ear.
I want you.
“No, Adam. I have zero interest in my vagina being one of the hundreds you’ve tested. I like being your friend, having auntie time with Olivia, but sex with you?” Her fists pulled back, then landed hard against my ribs. “Thanks, but no thanks. That free-love schtick isn’t sexy for a guy who’s over thirty. No wonder you’re the last single brother.”
And then she did the evilest thing possible. She pressed her hand to my cheek, turned my head so my ear was touching her lips, and whispered, “One night with me would break you. I would ride you so hard you’d need to see a chiropractor to realign your spine. You, drunk man, can’t handle me.”
That’s when I pulled her close and pressed my hard-on into her abdomen. “One night with this giant Space Needle, and I promise, you’ll have memories to live on for years.”
Lizzy pulled away, still smiling, but shook her head. “I’m happy to come over any Friday night and babysit Olivia while you space needle your way into some other lucky woman’s orbit.”
And then she walked away.
* * *
Lizzy pushed a coaster off the side table and into my lap.
“Hey. You’re looking kind of … spaced out.” A smile played on her face, from her mouth to her forehead.
“Just remembering the bad old days.”
“The days when a dick made an ass of himself?” Lizzy laughed.
Dylan and Kama exchanged glances.
“Fine. I was an ass that night.” I glared at my brother, then turned to Lizzy. “Can I make it up to you? Why don’t you come over Sunday morning and have brunch with us? Olivia would be thrilled to see you, and I’d be thrilled to have a woman do the cooking—ouch!” Kama kicked me. “While I do manly stuff, like wash and fold three weeks of laundry and put away toys.”
Lizzy laughed again.
I kicked myself for having assumed she’d be pissed off and for having actively avoided her these last six months.
“You know what? I’ve changed my mind,” I said.
Her smiled dropped, and she appeared to be truly disappointed.
“I don’t want you to cook. I’m still not convinced this whole poison thing won’t be turned on me since you have a legit reason to want me to suffer for a day—”
She held my gaze, her sparkling blue eyes playful.
“I’d like to take you out to Olivia’s favorite restaurant. We can pick you up, if you’re not too cool to be seen in the Dad Mobile.”
She brightened. “Lucky for you, Olivia’s cuteness outshines the butt-boring ugliness of that minivan.”
“Butt? Boring? Ugly? Rude. You have no taste. And, you’ve never experienced the luxury of the ride. All the bells and whistles available for a safety first, family van.”
“Have you ever thought of painting a bell or whistle on it, to give it some style?”
As soon as Lizzy said that, I had an epiphany. “It was you!”
“What?” Lizzy sucked in her top and bottom lips. It was quite a face, but it didn’t hide the smile she was fighting.
I pointed an accusatory finger at her. “You’re the one who planted the idea in Olivia’s head that I should paint the van princess pink.”
“I would never!” Lizzy looked at Kama, who was wide-eyed, laughing. “I suggested bubblegum pink, but Olivia didn’t know what color that was. She’s the one who came up with princess pink.”
I sat back and the tension of the afternoon melted. Lizzy did that. She made things feel easy, possible. But she was so far off-limits, no matter what reasons my little head argued to make me change my big head’s mind.
She was my sister-in-law’s best friend. If I crossed a line with her and things went south—in the aftermath of things going south—I’d still have surprise encounters like this dropping in to see my brother. But she and Olivia had hit it off, and I enjoyed hanging out with her. I’d simply have to ignore the carnal desires that came along with seeing her. I could do that. I was thirty-two years old. I could control my dick.
“Do you have plans after Sunday brunch?” I asked her.
She shook her head.
“I have an idea that will let you and Olivia express your inner artists. You game to do something messy and fun?”
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