Authors: Sarah Ballance
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction
He’s made an offer she can’t refuse…
Kelsie Reed is over bad luck and bad men. Newly dumped, she’s now the pathetically single maid of honor in her sister’s wedding—and her ex is the best man. Her bad luck continues when a plumbing meltdown in her apartment sends her sexy neighbor running to her rescue. He’s got “serial dater” written all over him, which is unfortunate because the man is
Sawyer Chase loves women, but settling down? He’ll leave that to his brothers. But when Kelsie confesses she’s a dating disaster and is about to become the laughing stock of her family wedding, Sawyer takes control. He’s got one week to teach her how to land the man of her dreams, and he’ll do it on her terms: no touching, no kissing, and
But some rules need to be broken, especially when, for once, there’s something on the line worth fighting for…
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Ballance. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at
Lovestruck is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Tracy Montoya
Cover design by Heather Howland
Cover art from Shutterstock
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition January 2016
To Lexus, dog bones, and late-night phone calls
Friday night. Alone. The situation went beyond an aberration and straight into rainbow-shitting unicorn territory, but it was what it was: Sawyer Chase was bored. The usual weekend crowd at Foam’s For You, the neighborhood bar he frequented, had been out in full force, but a thorough search of the room left him without prospects. He’d been left to choose between the girl who declared every single hookup a “relationship”—he’d learned that the hard way—and the one who had a thing for stealing his T-shirts, which might have been a bit more tolerable if she’d be down for anything other than missionary. In the end, vanilla sex hadn’t been worth it, and neither had the potential for a restraining order.
So here he sat, kicked back on a leather recliner with a cold beer and real potential for a kickstand problem.
A small ring of moisture spread on his chest.
He looked from his shirt to the ceiling in time to see another drop fall. A brand new water stain marred his ceiling, and the rate at which it spread before his eyes indicated he’d have a lap full of plaster soon, if someone didn’t handle their business. Which meant he’d have to handle his and head upstairs to the source of the leak. Hopefully his neighbor was home.
He drained his beer, then climbed out of the chair and pushed it safely away from the damaged ceiling. He found a pot in the kitchen and put it under the drip, then grabbed his keys and hit the hallway, counting doors on the way to the elevator since he wasn’t sure if the numbers lined up. After a short trip upstairs, he counted his way back down the corridor, then knocked on the door of the apartment directly above his.
No response. That would be just his luck, for the ceiling to cave in while no one was home. He knocked harder and put his ear to the door.
The sound of a woman’s muffled, not-the-least-bit-pleasurable screams greeted him.
He snatched at the knob, and a sense of foreboding hit him in the chest when he realized the lock wasn’t engaged. He threw open the door just as another shrill screech split the air. Directly across from him, on the kitchen side of the small apartment, a geyser of water spewed in every direction, except the one that would muffle the woman’s eardrum-splitting noise.
Entertaining a small sense of relief that the issue wasn’t more serious, he launched across the room, his long legs quickly closing the distance to the sink. He tore off his shirt and crammed it over the broken faucet. The water shot sideways and soaked him before he had enough pressure on it to kill the spray, but he had it tamped down in seconds, leaving the apartment silent but for the wrong kind of heavy breathing and the discontented gurgle of water from the plumbing under his shirt.
He and the woman stared at each other for a stupidly long time, all things considered. Water droplets clung to a pair of cat-eye glasses better suited to a 1950s librarian. Her wet dress, despite its shapeless, bohemian vibe, made little mystery of a nice set of curves. There was enough damp, translucent fabric for him to see her bra covered a little too much for his taste, but he could remedy that easily enough, and then there’d be nothing to stop him from closing his mouth on those tight nipples of hers. He bet that would warm her right up. He could almost feel them stabbing his tongue—
A distinct hissing caught his attention seconds before a cold stream of water smacked him in the side of the face. He tightened his grip while her discontent edged into amusement territory.
“Hold this here?” he asked, focusing for the first time on her eyes. They were a deep, velvety brown that matched her hair. Or the top half, anyway. The strands lightened on the way down to nearly blond tips that fell in damp waves and rested midway down her back. “I need to cut off the valve.”
She nodded and placed her hand over his, at which point he noticed a towel in the sink. “I tried,” she said. Her voice wavered, hinting the water works might not be over.
“It’s fine,” he said.
She managed a small, unconvincing smile. Close enough. With some regret, he reclaimed his hand, then closed his fingers over hers to make sure her grip was secure. Then he dropped to his knees and reached in the cabinet to find the shut-off valve. The whole underside of her sink was soaked, which probably explained his wet ceiling a lot better than the geyser did. “Um, did you know you had a leak down here?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice still a bit wobbly. “Maintenance came today and fixed it.”
He crawled from under the sink and stood. “Clearly.” He paused and looked over his shoulder toward the stove. “Is something burning?”
“Oh, no.” She jerked toward the stove, but apparently high heels weren’t much for traction on wet tile because her forward momentum consisted entirely of pitching into his arms. He caught her just as a light knock sounded against the open door.
“Kel—” The man in the doorway stopped short when his gaze rested on Sawyer. His grip on a bouquet of flowers visibly tightened.
“Brian!” The woman threw herself away from Sawyer so quickly, she nearly fell again. He offered a steadying hand, and she immediately shook him off.
“I guess you weren’t expecting me”—her friend Brian paused to look at his watch, probably one of those new Apple douche bag detectors—“five minutes early.”
“It’s not what it looks like.” She shot a pleading look Sawyer’s way. “He’s helping me with a plumbing emergency.”
Sawyer shrugged, feeling a bit territorial for no good reason. “Sorry, man,” he said without an ounce of sincerity. “It’s not my fault she’s wet. Nor is it my fault she’s burning whatever—”
.” She pushed past Sawyer and moved the pot off the burner while her friend Brian gave him such a thorough once-over that he began to question which team the dude pitched for. But then again, Sawyer wasn’t wearing a shirt to hide his six-pack, while not even the loose suit jacket the other guy wore could hide the kegger situation he had going on.
Kel, or whatever her name was, turned away from the stove just in time to see ol’ Brian throw down his flowers and hit the bricks.
Her crushed expression killed Sawyer’s grin.
She took one step toward the door, and her heel slipped. Before he could reach for her, she grabbed the back of a chair, steadying herself. In dramatic, arm-flinging, footwear-flying fashion, she yanked off her shoes and threw them well away from the puddle that encompassed most of her floor, then stomped over and kicked the flowers out of the way before she slammed the door, shutting him inside with her.
He’d been inside more women’s apartments than he could count, but all of the yelling had always been sex-related. He wasn’t sure what to make of this. Or of her. He knew his way around a wet woman, but not an angry one. And clothing had rarely been a factor, whereas this one seemed to want to hide herself under as much fabric as possible.
Realizing something still smelled hot, Sawyer looked to the stove. She’d left the vacant burner on. He surreptitiously turned the knob and half wished he’d made it out the door before the fireworks started. “I’m sorry about the… Was it a date?”
a date.” She opened a linen closet and yanked out a stack of towels, then tossed them to the wet floor before walking to the table and blowing out candles Sawyer had just noticed were lit. A couple of impressive-looking steaks sat on the table next to a bowl of what he assumed to be mashed potatoes parked next to an accompanying gravy boat.
He stared at the stark white towels that had landed at his feet. He didn’t do floors—at least not anyone else’s—but he managed to kick towels around until he’d hit the majority of the mess. “If it’s any consolation,” he said, “he wasn’t worth it.”
Kel-whatever froze. Her eyes flashed, and Sawyer thought hard about edging for the door. Drama was a big reason he avoided relationships.
“How could you
know that?” she snapped.
He shrugged, a smile threatening. Even with frizzed hair, her giant nerd glasses, and soaking wet—or perhaps especially that way—the woman had potential, or she would have if he went for hippie types. He didn’t know why she felt the need to hide herself under yards of fabric, but the currently clinging material probably conveyed more than she’d like. That she didn’t seem to have a clue how revealing her outfit had become amused him. “He didn’t take two seconds to fight for you, that’s how.”
She stared blankly. “It was a blind date. You expect him to fight for me?”
He leaned against the counter and crossed his arms. “I’d fight.”
An edge of humor glimmered in her eyes. “Maybe he figured as much and didn’t want his face smashed in over a woman he’d never met.”
“Or maybe he’s a loser.”
She flailed her arms like she was shooing pigeons. Or falling into a manhole. So much for humor. “
not the loser. I am.”
Sawyer took a step back as she steamrolled toward him. He didn’t relax when she paused to grab the peas off the stove—he figured he was about to wear them—but all he got was a look that straddled the line between anger and exasperation as she spun and dropped the pan on the table. He cringed at the noise, and again at what the hot metal might do to the wood surface. “I’m pretty sure you’re not a loser,” he said mildly. “Not the way that dress is showing off your curves.”
Her jaw dropped, and her gaze followed, straight to her chest.
“Though you’re wearing a granny bra. That could go,” he offered helpfully.
Without a word, she spun and left the room. This time he did edge for the door. He made contact with the knob just as a yipping brown blur came tearing toward him, claws screeching a manic staccato against the flooring. When the blur slowed, he found himself staring at a bug-eyed shrimp of a dog who wagged his tail so hard his whole hind end slung back and forth.
Sawyer looked up to find Kel-whoever in a pair of sweats and a top that looked like burlap. Was she
wearing a feed bag? He thought better of asking. Her hair had been pulled into a messy ponytail, leaving a few stray tendrils to caress the column of her neck. “What the hell is a marmaduke?”
“My dog.” She glared as she dropped into a dining chair and scooped a hunk of potatoes onto one plate, then the other. Same with the burnt peas. That she found them edible enough to put on a plate gave him pause. He once again gave healthy consideration to making a run for it, but she was making two plates, and he was pretty sure one was for him. She confirmed as much when she asked him to stay. “You might as well eat. It’s the least I can do after you helped me out with the water situation. I’m Kelsie Reed, by the way.”
“Sawyer Chase,” he said, eyeing the steak. It had grill marks—impressive ones. He glanced around the kitchen, wondering how she’d managed them. “It was a selfish attempt to keep the ceiling in my apartment from caving in. And that meal clearly wasn’t for me, so—”
She let go of the plate, then dropped her head in her hands. “I can’t believe this happened again,” she moaned.
He had to work his jaw loose before he spoke. “This happened
She looked up at him, utterly crushed. “I suck at dating, okay? That’s why I had a blind date to begin with. I accidentally spilled hot coffee on the last guy who took the time to talk to me, and he left, saying he had an ambulance to catch. And before that, I went on precisely one date and started talking about the salary gap between men and women, and he excused himself mid-meal and didn’t return. Please eat. I don’t want to throw this out.”
He hesitated for a nanosecond. Long enough for her face to fall, and while he knew he could leave, he wasn’t sure he could do so with a clean conscience. Besides, what was he going to do at home?
Mop the floor.
Well, yes, but he
wasn’t in a hurry to go downstairs and do that twice in one night. Besides, he’d feel guilty if he left her like this, so instead he joined her at the table. As he walked, he dragged the dog, who had chomped down on his pant leg. The mutt didn’t seem to notice. Neither did Kelsie.
He sat, eyed the plate in front of him, and tried to ignore the faint sniffling from her side of the table. He didn’t do emotions or relationships, and he avoided drama like the plague, yet somehow he’d ended up mired in a shitstorm that seemed to be comprised of all three. But with food. “Steak looks fantastic.”
The shrimp dog growled at the sound of his voice, then went to town on his pant legs once more, snarling and shaking its head. Sawyer nudged him with his foot, but the little jerk didn’t relent. He couldn’t have weighed five pounds, but every ounce seemed determined to tear Sawyer apart.
She managed a watery smile. “Thank you. I don’t usually attempt steak. It’s just… He said it was his favorite, and I wanted to make a good impression and… Well, you know how that ended.”
Yeah. With Sawyer getting his ankle chewed. He nudged the dog again to no avail, so he gave up and reached for his knife—to attack the steak, not the dog. He managed to remember to tuck the cloth napkin onto his lap before diving in. Or trying to. His attempt to stab the meat with his fork failed when the steak held its ground. He pushed harder, managing a shallow dent. Not exactly enough penetration to get the job done, but maybe it would at least hold the meat in place. With that hope, he tried to cut into the meat with his knife, but the knife didn’t do it. Perplexed, he sawed harder, only managing to score the surface.
He glanced at Kelsie. Finding her watching him, he shoved the meat to the side and snagged a forkful of mashed potatoes. “Maybe you’re just looking in the wrong places,” he said.
“Where are the right places?” she asked, eyeing his plate before meeting his gaze. “I need to know. Because my sister is marrying my ex-boyfriend’s brother in two weeks, and I’m the maid of honor. Guess who the best man is?”
Sawyer put his fork in his mouth so he wouldn’t have to answer. Bad move. That meant she was looking at him when he almost choked on the sour garlic taste that assaulted him.