My ex is bringing my replacement to our friend’s wedding, what do I do?
Option A: Leave the state
Option B: Find a fake boyfriend for the week
Catherine March is what many would call an unparalleled success. With tons of friends from coast to coast and outstanding success as the manager of the premier event space in the state, she has overachieved in every aspect of her life except one - finding a partner. Finding the right partner.
Returning to her hometown for a friend’s wedding she is confronted by her ex, the man who predicted she’ll always be alone. And to make matters worse, he's trotting his replacement all around town.
Faced with a tough choice, Catherine decides the solution to her problem is to find the perfect fake boyfriend for the week. But being an overachiever has its own set of challenges, even her fake relationship appears real to everyone, including herself.
New city, new job, new challenges.
Hunter Farro is far from home and he's looking to stand on his own without the assistance of his powerful family.
It sounded simple enough. That is until a stranger kisses him and ropes him into being her pretend boyfriend for her friend's wedding.
She is a beautiful distraction and he has his reasons for agreeing but as the charade grows he realizes the danger. The fake relationship isn’t the only secret he is hiding behind and if the truth comes out everything he’s worked for may disappear.
If you love small towns, fake relationship stories, moments that will tug at your heartstrings and a swoon-worthy happy ending, then you'll love this sweet romance.
Release date: July 28, 2022
Print pages: 217
Reader says this book is...: classic themes (1) happily ever after (1) heartwarming (1) realistic characters (1) satisfying ending (1) strong chemistry (1)
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The Right Guy
Home is where you go to find peace, but not today. My shaking hands and the throbbing in my chest only confirm my fears - disaster awaits.
My Uber flies down Market Street and I duck down to hide as we roll by Mr. Paul’s Ice Cream shop as if I’m expecting the ghost of boyfriend past to be sitting at our favorite booth sipping on a black and white milkshake, staring out the window on alert.
I sit on my hands and form tight fists, squeezing to the point that I feel the pain of my nails digging hard into my palms. This trip is different. He knows I’m coming home. He knows my schedule. There will be no avoiding him this time.
I don’t trust myself to even think his name, the steady warning drumbeat in my chest building louder. The fear that a mere mention of his name would have the power to activate some horror movie spell, conjuring him up in front of me, a smug smirk on his face and a condescending attitude on his shoulder. So, I sit in silence, anxiety my backseat companion.
I’m only two hours removed from the pep talk from my former college classmate and good friend, Shannon, but I don’t hesitate to dial her. Anything to pull me out of the anxiety hole I’m tumbling down.
“Catherine!” she answers on the first ring, surprise in her tone. “Don’t tell me you left something here at the Inn.”
I shake my head, knowing she can’t see me. “No. At least I don’t think so.” Her question merely pulls me from one rabbit hole to another. I’ve spent the last three days with Shannon and the rest of the women in our book club back in our college town of Abbott Ridge, North Carolina. Three amazing days of kinship, reconnecting and refilling my cup with positivity. Nearly all of it evaporating when I stepped on the plane and flew cross-country back to my hometown. “I’m almost to my parents’ home and I wanted to hear you tell me once again that everything will work out.”
“Okay,” she whispers, and I imagine Shannon pulling on the sleeves of her bohemian top with more colors than Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It’s early afternoon and all of her bed-and-breakfast patrons should have either checked out or have left to enjoy the charm that is Abbott Ridge. I picture her sitting in her favorite rocking chair with a cup of herbal tea nearby. “It’s been too long since you’ve gone back home. You miss your family. You love your family, and they love you. That’s all that matters. Palmer Easton is ancient history.”
I squeeze my eyes tight with the mention of my ex. The man whose heart I broke and who now seems to be on a mission to make my life a living hell.
“You are the kick ass heroine in this story.” Shannon pulls me back to the present, her voice filled with love and admiration, the two things my heart needs the most right now. “You only have to see him once for a few hours with lots of other people around to act as a buffer. You’re going to be just fine. And when you leave town again, he’ll be the one wishing he had made different life choices.”
I know she’s right, but it’s nice to hear it out loud. Logic and fear aren’t exactly great bedfellows. “Thank you. In every other area of my life, I have no doubts, but anytime I come home to Mesa my nerves are on edge, fearing I’m going to run into Palmer.” My tongue clicks against my teeth. “Only this time it's one hundred percent guaranteed that we’ll cross paths.”
I think back six months to the arrival of the wedding invitation from my childhood friend, Ava. The handwritten note slipped into the invite. Don’t you dare say no. She knows my history with Palmer, everyone does. Mesa, Arizona, may be home to nearly half a million people these days, but in many ways it's still a small town.
“And I’m one hundred percent sure you’re gonna shine. Do I need to fly out there?” Shannon asks and for a second, I consider it. I RSVP’d with a plus one six months ago, figuring I had all the time in the world to find a date. The last thing I wanted to do was show up to the wedding and sit at the singles table subjecting myself to even more barbs and slings from Palmer. His parting words to me after I left him were that I would never find happiness or another man. I found out too late that Palmer and the high road never intercepted.
I push out an awkward laugh. I picture Shannon showing up in leggings, a burlap top, and wearing sixteen necklaces of the loudest beads known to mankind. She’d shout wise cracks all evening over the sound of her jewelry clacking every time she moved. “I’ll be okay. If anything, I’ll drag Adrienne along.” I feel the upward pull of my lips with just the thought of my younger sister. At twenty-three, she is ten years my junior, a chasm at any age, especially ours. Me living hundreds of miles away hasn’t helped, but she is the sweetest, kindest person I know.
“Just remember, you don’t need a plus one. This is your hometown - not his.”
I bite my lip. She’s right but ever since I moved away from Mesa, Palmer has gone out of his way to make sure I no longer feel welcome. “I haven’t lived here in three years, he has.”
“And you still have a thirty-year home court advantage. Concentrate on your family and enjoying the wedding. Don’t let Palmer get in your head. He’s your past.”
I bite my lower lip and wish all of it were true. The only time I ever think of Palmer is when I come home. My thoughts these days are consumed with my job. I’m the managing director of the Crystal Palace Catering Hall in Destiny Falls, Indiana. It’s the premium venue in the state and, under my leadership, has expanded both its offerings and revenues. It’s been a good run, my longest in one place. I love the job, however, after catching up with the girls the past few days and hearing all the goodness going on in their lives, I feel the itching in my bones for my next challenge.
Shannon knows it well. She has a similar one, an inner drive which doesn’t let us settle. One which forces us out of our comfort zone to take on the next ridiculous challenge. Each new one more difficult than the last. “You’re right. It’s a few days. I can hold my tongue and not let him get into my head.”
“You got this.” Her affirmation calms me. “Keep me on speed dial. I’m here.”
“I know. I miss you already.” My voice cracks when I think of all the support Shannon and the rest of the group provide. Shannon and I graduated from Abbott College over a decade ago, but we still remain as close today as we’ve ever been. The monthly Meet Cute Romance book club meetings are our way to stay connected. We had no idea when we started it that it would still be going strong so many years later. After graduation, with many of us spreading out across the country, we decided to move the meeting virtual. Once a month via Zoom, we connect over the latest romance novel.
Once a year, we meet in person back in Abbott. Our calendars blocked off a year in advance–no excuses. Seeing everyone on a screen is nice, but nothing compares to hugging friends and sharing laughs over wine in person. Our small group started with just the four of us. Over the years it has expanded, growing to its current size of eight fabulous members. Shannon and I are two of the older, original members, or OGs as the younger members call us.
These days, our book discussions act as a gateway to fellowship. The conversations pivoting from fictional Dukes bedding Duchesses to parenting tips or how to navigate the misogyny of the corporate world. I love what we’ve built.
My Uber turns the corner and I spot the mylar balloons and hand drawn sign stretched across the porch of my childhood home. Welcome Home Catherine.
Adrienne’s handy work.
She leans pressing her shoulder against the wooden post, arms crossed in front of her and a magnificent, happy smile on her beautiful face. She’s a beanpole of arms and legs. Even from here, I see the excitement in her wide eyes, her joyous smile growing. As the Uber pulls to a stop in front of the house, Adrienne twists toward the open screen door, her long dark hair blowing with the breeze as she shouts for Mom and Dad. I thank the driver and step out of the car to retrieve my luggage.
I should expect it at this point in time, but it still catches me by surprise. Music blasts from the porch and I turn and spot Dad holding an ancient boom box high above his head, a pair of sunglasses hanging on the tip of his nose, the collar of his polo shirt flipped up and a brilliant smirk on his face. “Our House” by the British group Madness greets me as Adrienne skips off the porch and begins to dance and sing-along. Mom bops her head as she streams the entire performance on a cell phone.
I watch in awe. Mom and Dad acting goofy is a relatively new phenomenon. One that occurred long after I moved out of our always serious - work hard, study hard - home. A home that Adrienne has single-handedly turned into party central.
Adrienne is wearing a flowery print t-shirt and baggy shorts as she skips toward me not missing a beat, not missing a lyric. She is in her element. The happy, happy, joy, joy zone. She pulls me into a hug that transforms into a spin and a fit of giggles. Two seconds in her arms and all my troubles disappear. Three seconds back home and I’m back to being a kid. A feeling that seems farther and farther away from me every year.
This is my amazingly crazy family and I love them so. And just like that, all my troubles disappear.
I can’t believe I’m considering making Mesa, Arizona, my home. It’s a million miles away from Atlanta, Georgia, and a world apart in just about everything. But if I’m going to do this the right way, I must make this move.
Atlanta is dubbed Hotlanta, but the heat beating down on me as I stand and watch the delivery truck pull into the loading dock of the Legendary Hall is three degrees removed from hell. Sweat drips in places it has no business being as I attempt to hide beneath the dock’s awning. I’ve only been working here a week and I already know there is nothing legendary about this Hall. It is an aging, poorly run, catering and event space that is closer to its end days than its glory days.
I lift my Atlanta Braves baseball cap and swipe my elbow across my dripping forehead, regretting not bringing my water bottle with me to the dock. I blink down at the chipped clipboard and shake my head. Based on the records I accessed on the computer, this order is five percent smaller than last week’s. A general trend which took me all of thirty seconds to discover. No matter where I look, I see signs that confirm my suspicions. The hall is in desperate need of help.
I tip my baseball cap at the driver as he leans out the window, backing into the space. I pull the beaten pen with a logo of a local diner from the clipboard and scratch out the line beneath the logo of the Legendary Hall - Mesa, Arizona’s premiere catering hall. If this is the best Mesa has to offer, I’m in big trouble.
The large man hops out of the truck, manifest in his hand, and I paint on a plastic smile. I point to the side of the truck, Kensmith’s Meats and Groceries, a graphic of sizzling steaks, and then shoot a finger gun toward the driver. “Chuck, right?”
A hearty laugh explodes out of his mouth at my juvenile joke. He chews on the last piece of a donut, crumbles cascading down his belly before falling to the concrete. “Ha, you remembered.” I’m good with names. I have to be in my line of work. It makes people relax, which helps to get them to lower their guards and reveal truths they wouldn’t normally share. Chuck pulls out a folded piece of paper from his back pocket and pushes it in my direction. “I’m sorry, kid, your name…”
I’m not a kid, I just celebrated my thirtieth birthday and Chuck is barely fifty, if that, but I roll with it. “No worries. Hunter.” I extend my arm forward and tilt my neck as I close my left eye and mimic looking down the barrel of a rifle, knowing he’ll make the connection.
His laugh tells me I’ve hit a bullseye. “Of course. I won’t forget next time.” If my plan works out, there won’t be a next time for me.
Chuck whips open the rear of the truck and climbs in as I peruse the manifest.
“Hold up.” A mere three seconds needed before I spot the issue. “We ordered Porterhouse and T-Bone. The manifest only lists flank and strip. What’s going on?”
Chuck’s shoulders sag as he drops a case of meats onto the hand truck. “They didn’t tell you?” His voice lowers to a conspiratorial tone, a softness I didn’t expect.
When I shake my head, he gives me his back and grabs a fifty-pound bag of carrots, tossing it onto of the case as if it weighed nothing.
“Mr. Kensmith changed the order.” I step next to Chuck so he can read the confusion on my face. Kensmith is the owner of the market distribution company where the hall orders its bulk meats and groceries. “He sent an email to the manager.” Chuck pauses for a beat, glancing over my shoulder before continuing. “He’s concerned about the line of credit. They’re months behind. Between you and me, he’s doing you a favor. Most other businesses around here have already cut the hall off from ordering. Mr. Kensmith is at least trying to work with them.” Chuck grabs a sack of onions and I reach for the other end to assist.
As we lift the onions onto the hand truck, I bite my lower lip. “I guess I picked the wrong place to start a new job. Are you guys hiring over at Kensmith’s?” I half joke with zero interest in working there. I feign interest in hopes that Chuck will provide more insight into what is happening. An outsider’s perspective, especially one with a long-standing relationship, is critical for my mission.
The smile falls from Chuck’s face as he straightens up and stares at the building. “I’ve been delivering here for over twenty years. You should have seen it back in the day. They used to host the governor's ball. We had a string of four Presidents in a row hosting fund-raisers here. Nearly a dozen Presidential candidates.”
I know the history. The hall truly was legendary back in its time. Internet research is one thing. Hearing it from the pride filled voice of a local who lived and breathed it is another. “What happened?”
“I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already seen. Junior happened.” Chuck spits out the name as if it's a curse. Franklin Junior, or Frankie as he goes by. “Mr. Franklin retired three years ago and turned over the reins to his spoiled kid.” Chuck tosses two more bags of vegetables and pulls out a second hand truck and begins to load it with rice and more vegetables. “Kid never met a party he didn’t like. Hired his old college buddies who thought they were still back in the dorms. The place has been spiraling ever since. There’s a rumor Mr. Franklin may sell to protect his retirement. Good luck with that. Who in their right mind would buy this place? Junior has ruined the reputation of this place forever.”
I nod, even though I disagree with much of his assessment. Forever is longer than most people think. If you concentrate on the past, things may seem hopeless. Growing up a black kid in Georgia, history can weigh you down like an albatross, but my parents instilled in all of us to focus on the possibilities of tomorrow. While others may be handcuffed by history, I use it as a cautionary tale and an opportunity to blaze a different path.
That’s the reason I flew cross country to work at a place everyone has given up on. Where others see what could have been, I see what will be.
Chuck and I wheel the groceries to the enormous kitchen. I leave my truck with the vegetables by one of the prep tables while Chuck steers his through the quiet kitchen toward the walk-in freezer. “Thanks for the assist.” Chuck waves over his shoulder. “I’m going to check in with Chef.”
I nod, recalling the last delivery. Chuck and our head chef share a friendship that stretches over a decade. I’m sure they are about to share more stories about the decay of the hall and the latest town kitchen gossip. I make my way through the narrow corridor leading to the management offices at the back of the property.
Legendary Hall has been in operation in Mesa since 1974. It has a long rich history, but in the last few years mismanagement and plain neglect have nearly destroyed all of its gains. It didn’t take me a week to come to this conclusion. It was apparent on the first day I started here.
I knock on the door, not surprised to find Franklin Junior, i.e. Frankie, passed out on the couch in the office. It’s nearly nine a.m. but for him it's probably only hour three since he stopped partying. Other staff members have told me that Frankie doesn’t like being disturbed before one in the afternoon, but I have my reasons for disregarding this advice.
“Wha… what is it?” he growls and raises his hand up to block the sunlight streaming in from the window. Frankie is white, thin, unkempt dark hair, dark sunken eyes, and the blotchy pale skin one usually would associate with a life-long drinker. He’s only thirty-two.
I click on the lights without a second thought. “We just received the delivery from Kensmith and they’ve downgraded the cuts of steak.” I skip the preamble. I skip the hello. He doesn’t deserve either.
“So what? Most people won’t even notice.” He swings his bare feet to the floor, his gaze remaining down as if balance is a new concept to him. He sways for a second and I make no movement to assist. If he falls and hits his head, that’s on him. “Why the hell did you wake me up to tell me this? I know you’re new and all, but you should know better. Don’t do it again.” His voice is scratchy, and I notice the thimble of brown liquid in the glass next to the empty bottle of bourbon. While his paying customers get downgraded meat, he sips on the best liquor in the building.
“They say we’re behind on payments. I suspect…”
He steps toward his desk, his hands landing on the edge to help him balance. What a sad, pathetic sight. “There is no WE here, whatever your name is.”
“Hunter,” I spit back. It’s been nearly a week and my name isn’t that hard to remember. It crosses my mind to pantomime the rifle again, but it will only stir up the urge to get a real weapon for the next time I have to talk to Frankie.
“Whatever.” He waves his hand at me. “I’m managing this, and the finances are above your pay grade. You were hired as a go-fer. So go.” He flicks the back of his hands at me as if shooing away a fly.
I bite my tongue. Not now. “What should we tell the staff? We have the wedding reception this weekend. The menus have already been printed.” I press, knowing I’m annoying him. It’s a tactic. Tired, frustrated people drop their social graces and reveal their true inner self when annoyed.
“Listen, what the hell is it with you and the word we? I don’t give a shit what they tell the guests. It’s a non-refundable event and their only thought will be on the honeymoon. I could get away with serving them wings and pizza and they wouldn’t notice. Go tell someone who cares.” Frankie steps toward me, the scent of weed and alcohol causing me to take a step back. A smirk appears on his grungy face, a look of satisfaction, as if me taking a step back is a sign of fear as opposed to the need for me to avoid smelling him.
“Silly me,” I pause at the doorway and lock my gaze on him, “and here I thought the manager would like to be made aware of an issue so that they could… who knows… manage.” I don’t wait for him to react, turning and pulling the door shut behind me.
My father’s voice echoes in my head, respect those who respect themselves and others. Frankie has proven to respect neither.
Legendary Hall has the appearance of possessing a million small problems but in fact, it doesn’t. It just has one - a very large immovable object - Franklin Junior.
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