Read an Excerpt
Fake Engagement, Real Temptation
The Passion and Protection Series
By Joya Ryan, Stephen Morgan
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Joya Ryan
All rights reserved.
Blake Harris had no idea what he was doing staring down the door of his best friend's baby sister. Okay, he did have an idea, he just wasn't loving it.
Carrie Morgan was on the other side of that door, and yes, Blake cared about her. He'd known her brother since they were kids. But this was her wedding. Or it was supposed to be. And now she was on the other side of the door, in tears, because her scumbag fiancé had abandoned her for another woman.
Shit. Blake had never been close to her. He'd been sixteen and she'd been nine when his mom had died, and he'd spent so many afternoons with her older brother, Lane. But hell. Lane was his best friend. He couldn't just let his sister suffer like this.
Blake would go back to his outdoor guiding business in the mountains soon, bury himself in work, but not before he made sure Carrie was okay.
He hadn't even had a chance to see her yet, since she'd not left the bridal suite in forty-eight hours. Ever since she'd gotten word that the groom wasn't going to show. Could have been worse. She could have been literally stood up at the altar. At least the piece of shit fiancé had told her two days before the wedding.
Now, Blake was staring down her hotel room door and asking God to open it.
He knocked twice.
"Carrie?" he called. He heard low music and rustling. "It's Blake. Come on, little girl, open up."
Lane was the closest thing to a brother he had, and neither distance nor time had changed that. Then there was Carrie. The sweet girl Blake and Lane had spent their teenage years playing Uno with and looking after. Until Blake had graduated college and moved to the city.
Shit. He was an ass for not being around more. Poor girl was likely crying, and that made him want to punch the douchebag that had hurt her. Maybe later he'd help Lane hunt the prick down.
Blake took the keycard that Lane had given him out of his pocket. "I'm coming in," he announced. "Just want to check on you ..." He opened the door and peeked in. "Carrie?"
He stepped into the room. It was a massive suite with a sitting area and kitchen. The plush furniture was lined with roses, and unlit candles were scattered around everywhere. Ah shit, so this was her honeymoon suite.
He stepped farther in and heard the low sound of music get louder. It was coming from the open bedroom door. He looked in and found —
"What the hell?" he asked, taking in the scene, or rather the woman before him.
The strawberry-blonde five feet in front of him was moving and shaking in the middle of the room. What was more distracting was the fact that she was in nothing but a pair of panties and a matching white tank top. Her eyes were locked on the wide screen hanging on the wall. He glanced at the television. She was doing ... Jazzercise?
"Carrie?" His voice decided to break a little around the one word he'd said several times but now held a lot more heat. Sure, his blood felt hot, but his skin was cold.
So this is what shock feels like.
She froze and faced him. "Blake?"
He smiled, and her body remained still while her chest heaved with deep breaths. Those inhales made the thin cotton stretch over her breasts in a way that made his mouth instantly water; it was better than her dancing. Because any more bouncing on her part and he might forget she was his best friend's little sister and lose his damn mind, wondering how many more deep breaths it would take to make that tank top nonexistent.
She put her hands on her hips, not bothering to cover up. Something he wasn't completely upset about, since the woman was smoking hot. She wasn't a little girl, he knew that. But he'd barely seen her since she was a teenager. And seeing her now, all woman — worse, his type of woman — that fact hit harder than the last.
He glanced down, attempting to take a break from marveling at her, but all he accomplished was getting flashes of those toned thighs and adorable pink-tipped toes.
Nope. She definitely wasn't the kid he grew up with anymore. She was twenty-six, with a tight body, perfect ass, and breasts he'd just learned had no problem doing a Baywatch slow-motion run in place.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
She'd invited him to the wedding, but he realized she likely meant "What the hell are you doing in my hotel room?"
"I'm here to see you," he said.
She nodded, as if his answer was good enough, and walked to the bedside table. She seemed ... carefree? Not at all the crying woman he'd expected to find. Then she grabbed a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's off the table and took a few swigs.
Well that explains things.
"Glad to see you're staying hydrated," he said. She wasn't carefree; she was drunk. And exercising. An odd combination, but he could see the logic. Drink away the sorrows and get the endorphins going. He'd try it out himself next time he felt so lonely he forgot why a relationship was off the table for him.
She winced on her final swig and wiped the back of her hand over her mouth.
"Yep. Hydrating is important," she said. "I've got to stick with my video exercise. Been doing this for six months to get 'bikini ready,' and if I stop now, then ..."
She trailed off and folded her lips together as if to fight off tears.
Ah, hell. Put him between a woman and a man who meant her harm, he knew what to do. Swing until the other guy went down. But a crying woman? One who'd already been abandoned by the guy? Yet another sign Blake had failed by not getting here early. Maybe then he could have caught the scumbag before he disappeared to who knew where.
But nope. Blake's life and job were 100 percent on his time and agenda. Freedom was a heady thing, and he would always be free. Never tied to a woman, never love, because the loss that came with love was too much.
But this woman was different. The protective instinct he had came roaring to the surface at the first sign of water lining her eyes. She was hurting. Her shoulders sinking. And there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. But he so badly wanted to.
She shook her head. "I guess I don't have to do the videos anymore, now that I'm not going to Hawaii." She took another swig. "Guess it didn't matter how hard I worked out; Kevin left anyway. The whole time he was cheating! Can you believe that? With his trainer. I want a refund on all those 'classes' he signed up for to get his own ass 'bikini ready,' because I doubt that nailing your trainer burns more calories than a treadmill."
Blake took a step toward her. Her hair was in a pile on the top her head. Random strands fell down to frame her face. Her creamy skin was flushed and glowing from slight perspiration, and she was ... sad. She was trying to hide it. Trying to find anger. But he saw the deep ache behind her eyes.
He didn't do sad. Didn't do hurt. It was his job to provide adventures and protect. Anyone and everyone. But especially those closest to him. It was a job he took seriously and made a damn good living out of doing. One moment could change your life forever. So a smart person chased every fantasy and adventure they could have. Which was why Blake loved taking out everyone, from hikers to hunters to nature nuts. They wanted adventure, and he gave them the safety to do the craziest things.
He shook his head, thinking of the one woman he couldn't keep safe back when he was a kid.
"Tell me how I can help you," he said. It was the same sentence he said to his clients before helping them to fulfill their fantasy adventures. While this situation might be outside of his norm, it started with the same basic principal — how could he make Carrie feel better?
"Can you make the last two days go away?" she whispered. "Undo the fact that the man I trusted lied to me and cheated on me? Make tomorrow happen, where I get on a plane and enjoy my honeymoon?"
Blake frowned. "I wish I could, little girl." He stepped closer and took the bottle out of her hand. Her head fell and her glossy eyes fused to the floor. He knew body language, and hers was screaming defeat. She was embarrassed. Heartbroken. Shrinking.
He couldn't allow it.
That's when reality hit him.
"You're in your honeymoon suite," he said.
She nodded, like duh, moron, and he grinned. There was a bit of that sass left in her. He just had to tap into it.
"And you were supposed to go on your honeymoon tomorrow."
Again, she nodded.
He looked around. "Seems to me you're trying to have the adventure you wanted. So why don't you keep doing that?"
"What are you talking about?" she asked, blowing a lock of hair out of her eye and reaching for the bottle, but he held it out of reach. Just like when they were kids. Only thing missing was him placing his free palm on her forehead while she swiped at the treasure he held.
Instead, he gently cupped her chin and lifted her face. Those bright eyes met his.
"Unfortunately, I left my magic wand in my other jacket," he said. "I can't make the last two days go away. But maybe there's one thing I can do."
She looked at him with wide eyes and so much hope that he knew he was on the brink of the best and worst idea he'd ever had.
"I can't make that asshole unhurt you, but I can make it so you do get on a plane and enjoy your honeymoon."
"What?" she asked breathlessly.
"You should go on your honeymoon," he said. "Go have your adventure."
When those lush lips parted and the hint of a smile crept up, he knew that this was a bad, bad idea. But the alternative of her wallowing in sadness wasn't an option.
"I wouldn't enjoy it," she said. "I've always wanted to go to Hawaii, but ... I can't. It'll just remind me how alone I am. I want this fantasy ... but instead I have ..." She lifted her arms up and motioned to the room. "An empty room. A broken promise."
"You can make it your own," he said, and before he thought better of it, he added, "Tropical island, beautiful woman, you'll be fine. I bet Lane will even go with you."
She frowned. "My brother is not part of any fantasy ever."
"I meant to protect you."
She huffed. "I don't need protection."
"Well someone should look after you. Especially if you're going to drink and bench press."
She laughed, and that one sound made his chest swell like he'd won a victory. "Yeah, well, I don't need Lane to be my spotter. But maybe you're right about going anyway," she said.
Good. Progress. Now he just needed to find Lane, because he knew there was no way he'd let her leave the mainland in this vulnerable state. Yep, she needed a spotter for her trip.
You could go with her.
No. Hell no. Where had that voice come from?
He'd done his job. Cheered her up and gotten her to leave the room. Success. He'd take it. And he'd not think about how that damn tank top was mocking him right now with little glimpses of creamy cleavage.
"Spotter," he repeated. "I'll go talk to Lane and —"
"Bye," she said, pushing him toward the door. Clearly not liking the turn of conversation. But she was out of her mind if she thought she was getting out of the state alone.
Only as she shoved him out the door and blew him a kiss, Blake wondered if he'd just helped or made things a hell of a lot worse.
"For the love of all things holy ... and pink," Blake muttered to himself, standing at the front of the church, trying to strategize a way past the angry mob that stood between him and his best friend, Lane. After talking with Carrie earlier, it took several missed calls and a few texts to find Lane and talk strategy. He'd run around town looking for him and finally got intel that he was at the church. Where Carrie was supposed to be getting married today.
And judging by the look of people, not everyone had gotten the memo that the wedding was off. Which put Lane in the middle of the shit storm. That was so him. Damage control. What Blake would give to have Moses part that sea of pissed off people right now.
Judging by the endless waves of flowers lining the church pews, you'd think baby Jesus decorated from the Rainbow Brite collection. Nope, bride-to-be Carrie Morgan was the one who loved the color enough to clearly buy out every florist within the hundred-mile radius of Denver, Colorado. Only there'd be no wedding today, and Blake really needed to talk to Lane about his conversation with Carrie. He'd be damned if she left for Hawaii on her own.
Blake reevaluated the mob. He needed to get to Lane without hitting these people who were throwing anger bombs. Like great-aunt Mae yelling at Mr. Morgan about how her rotary telephone never got the message about the wedding being off.
He'd feel bad for Lane later, and the fact that he was currently talking Great Grammy Morgan out of having a heart attack from the distress of sweet Carrie calling off the wedding. Yep, Blake could help in other ways ... just so long as it got him out of this church, away from all this love and marriage crap, and back to protecting Carrie. He'd get Lane on the plane with her, and then he'd return to his business. Where things were nice, safe, and predictable. Yeah, people went with him for an adventure, but it was always a fantasy. He'd never put anyone in any real danger.
This whole wedding day debacle just proved his point. You couldn't open your heart to something real. Not without watching it suddenly die. But poor Carrie had opened her heart. He almost envied her for having the courage to take a chance.
Shit, were the walls closing in on him?
"Blake!" Mr. Morgan called. Lane and Carrie's dad was yelling at him as he rallied around Lane. The man was like a father to him. With Blake having spent most of his childhood after his mom died at the Morgans' house, he knew almost everyone at the wedding. Which was why he really, really didn't want to go to the mob. He just wanted to get Lane on the airplane with Carrie.
But the particularly pissed off father of the bride — the guy who'd shelled out a pretty penny for these endless flowers, on top of God knew what else, only to not see his daughter walk down the aisle — called him over again.
Maybe if I slip through ... stay near the window ... I can head Lane off at the altar ...
There. An opening. Like a running back, he broke hard right and hustled to his target, dodging all the family members he'd known since elementary school, and leaned in to Lane's side.
"Did you talk to Carrie?" Lane said quietly into Blake's ear.
"She's not opening her suite door," Mr. Morgan said, coming to stand by Blake and Lane. "I knocked and she isn't answering. My baby girl is barricaded in there, isn't she?" Mr. Morgan said, and Blake hated to see him worrying so much. The Morgans were his only family. And even though he hadn't seen Carrie in over a year — his place out in the mountains kept him busy, and Denver was a shit shot most of the time — he still wanted to help.
"I just spoke with her, sir," Blake said. "She's doing all right."
"See," Lane said, as if reading his mind. "Blake fixed everything. Didn't you, Blake?"
"Absolutely," Blake agreed.
Mr. Morgan slowly nodded. "I'm going to find her mother and let her know our girl is okay. Thank you, Blake." The old man touched him on the shoulder, then went off to find his wife.
Lane pulled Blake aside from the mob, which was firing questions left and right at him, and talked low so only he could hear him.
"Tell me the truth. Now that Dad can't hear. What happened with Carrie?" Lane said.
"I convinced her to go on her honeymoon. She needs to get away from this. It's clear she's walking a fine line of devastation, and I think she needs to get that adventure."
Lane nodded. "Yeah, that makes sense. But she can't go there alone."
Now it was Blake's turn to give the duh, moron face. "I know. That's why you're going with her. Keep an eye on her. Everyone wins."
Lane dropped his head and wiped his brow. "I would. But I have a huge deal I'm closing this week. I have to be here." He sighed hard. "But Carrie can't be alone right now. That asshole wrecked her world." He glanced at the ceiling. "I'll figure it out. I'll find a way to go and keep an eye on her."
"No." Blake sighed now. "I'll go. You take care of the deal."
Lane raised an eyebrow. "You'll go? I don't know. How's Carrie going to feel about that?"
"She won't even know I'm there. I do this kind of thing all the time."
Which was true. He set up the adventures for his clients and then became invisible. Unless something went wrong.
Excerpted from Fake Engagement, Real Temptation by Joya Ryan, Stephen Morgan. Copyright © 2017 Joya Ryan. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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