Read an Excerpt
In Bed with Mr. Wong
An Out of Uniform Novel
By Katee Robert, Heather Howland, Liz Pelletier, Jenn LeBlanc/Illustrated Romance
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Katee Robert
All rights reserved.
"Why did I let you convince me to do this?" Brianne Nave grabbed the shirt she'd discarded two minutes ago and held it up to her body as she looked in the mirror. It was the same plain pink shirt it'd been the first time she considered it.
Her best friend, Avery, laughed on the other end of the phone line. "Because you're the best friend a girl can have?"
Which was the same argument she and their other best friend, Drew, had used to convince Bri to agree to this blind date in the first place. Drew's brother was back in town for a few weeks on leave, and they were worried he'd spend the whole time holed up doing ... whatever it was they thought he'd do. They hadn't exactly been clear on that.
She threw the shirt back on the bed and started to reach for the other shirt she'd considered, only to realize it was also pink. She'd been waffling between two nearly identical shirts for the last fifteen minutes. "I can't do this."
"Sure you can."
"Avery, I haven't been on a date in ..." God, she couldn't remember the last time. Maybe once in college?
"That's exactly why you need this. There was never a better time to get back on that horse — or a better guy. Ryan's a total sweetie."
She knew that. She knew all about him. Drew and Avery had said nothing but good things about Ryan since she met them a little over a year ago. He was a real-life hero, to hear them tell of it. A god among men. Throw in a brother as attractive as Drew, and she wasn't worried about him being a dud.
No, she was worried about him thinking she was a dud.
Hating the insecurity trying to take root in her stomach, she walked to Mr. Smith's fish tank and dropped in a few flakes of the fish food he liked so much. I'll only be gone a few hours. Not nearly long enough for him to get lonely. "But —"
"It's too late to worry about it now. He's already on his way. So just take a deep breath, let go of whatever neurosis is circling that busy brain of yours, and have a good time."
Easier said than done. "He's leaving in two weeks." She dropped onto her mattress and reached for her boots. They were cute, not sexy, but she'd rather sacrifice a little style than end the night in an ER because she slipped on ice.
Besides, she didn't exactly own any shoes that could be considered sexy.
"You have to start somewhere. It's not like he's flying to the moon. Long-distance relationships work all the time."
"You sound like you're already planning the wedding." Avery did that, though. She skipped adding two plus two and jumped straight to four. Drew, the town's sheriff and most eligible bachelor, wasn't much better.
"There can't be a wedding at all unless you actually go on a date." She knew exactly what to say to cut right through Bri's arguments. Because Bri wanted that life — the husband, the kids, the white picket fence, the roots — on a foundational level. She'd just never been courageous enough to take that first step.
Hadn't her childhood taught her better than to expect permanence? Nothing was ever concrete. Life took people away — forever, in the case of her parents. She'd gone through three foster homes before she finally landed in one that stuck, and while she'd never been abused, there never seemed to be enough food to go around, never enough clothes to keep warm, always bigger kids who wouldn't hesitate to hurt her if she didn't hand over whatever it was they wanted at the time.
Back then, it was convenient to think that someday a Prince Charming would come along and they'd live happily ever after, but she'd learned a long time ago that fairytales only existed in books.
A rumble of an engine had her rushing through her small house to the front window to peer through the sheer curtains. An SUV stood at the end of her walkway and the man getting out of the driver's seat could only be described as perfect. And women thought Drew was handsome? "Oh my God, Avery, you didn't tell me he was gorgeous."
"Don't be gross. Ryan's like a brother to me."
She took in his square jaw and short dark hair and — oh Lord — those shoulders. He looked like Clark Kent without the glasses ... "You set me up with Superman."
"I'm not hearing this."
"He's here early. Who shows up for a blind date early?" Bri looked down at her boring maxi skirt and sensible boots. She should have dressed in something racier, something that would make a man like that stand up and take notice. As it was, she'd be lucky if he didn't ask to have pizza delivered to avoid being seen with her at any of the restaurants in town.
Unfortunately, she'd probably already killed the ability to do "racier." She shot a guilty look at the empty Oreo package visible through the doorway to the kitchen. When her neighbor Marcy's cat had gone missing, she'd invited the poor woman over to comfort her. She'd been so busy chatting, she'd eaten half the package herself.
Maybe there was still time to change.
"He's a solider. They take that punctual stuff pretty seriously."
He was already halfway up the walk — and answering the door in her bra might be racy, but it wasn't the kind of racy she wanted to aim for. She hurried into her bedroom and threw on the closest pink shirt. "Hair up or down?" Surely there was a hair band in this room somewhere?
"You're stressing yourself out. I can hear it."
"I have to go." For better or worse, she had to open the door when he knocked. Bri moved back into the living room, shuffling to the window, needing another look at him. He was just as gorgeous now as he'd been the first time. Crap.
"Relax and have fun! I'll call you tomorrow."
She hung up her phone and realized she was sitting here, staring out the window, like some kind of freak. Bri dropped the curtain and backed up so quickly, she almost tripped over her end table.
Oh God, this is going to be a disaster.
At least he hadn't seen her watching him. She hoped. Even knowing he was a few steps away from the door, she still jumped when he pounded on it. "You can do this. It's just one date. It doesn't matter if he's gorgeous. He's a nice guy." Taking a deep breath that did absolutely nothing to fortify her, she opened the door.
Drew's brother really did look like Superman. He had that amazing almost-too- perfect-to-be-real face going for him, and his eyes were the clear blue of a winter's day — far better than her murky-ocean color. He towered over her, the sheer size difference making her wonder what it would be like to be wrapped up in his arms.
She realized she was drinking him in like a cool glass of water on a summer's day. He, however, didn't seem to be feeling the same overwhelming awe she was. He had an odd look on his face, as if he didn't know what to make of her.
Her stomach tied itself in knots as the truth hit her like a bucket of icy water. She'd seen the very same expression on the faces of her first foster parents. They'd tried to tough it out, but their determination only lasted six months. That he might be judging her just as quickly hurt more than she dared admit.
"Ryan." He held out his hand, apparently deciding that shaking was better than ... whatever the alternative on dates was. A kiss on the cheek? A hug?
She took his hand, wishing she didn't notice how warm it was despite their breath ghosting across the air between them. "Bri."
"Nice to meet you." He didn't smile, just continued looking at her with that odd look on his face.
"You, too." God, she must really not be what he'd expected. Had Drew painted him a picture of a sexy librarian, complete with pencil skirt and thigh-high stockings? Even on her best day, she couldn't measure up to those kinds of expectations.
Maybe it was best she didn't know what he'd told Ryan.
She swallowed hard, hating the way her throat had tightened. "I just need to grab my purse." And try to convince herself that she could do this. A minute alone to shore up the barriers she'd built to protect herself would have to be enough. It's just a favor to your friends, she reminded herself while ducking into her living room. When the night is over, I'll never have to see him again.
Ryan cleared his throat behind her. "I'm sorry. I think I've gotten this off to the wrong start."
Here it comes. "What do you have to be sorry for? It's obvious you were expecting something else." She wasn't even close to being in this man's league, and they both knew it.
"Not so fast — you're jumping to conclusions."
"Maybe you're right." He wasn't, though, and all her childhood defense mechanisms rose to the surface, demanding she lash out before he could hurt her further. She faced him, forced herself to smile, and went for the one thing that might level the playing field. The only black mark on his stellar record. "Let's get something straight, okay? This is just dinner. I have no intention of embarking on any kind of building-burning — or burning of any kind — with you."
His mouth went tight. "I see the Wellingford gossip mill is still running in full force."
She blinked. Okay, so it might have been a low blow, but all she'd meant was to poke at him a bit. The venom in his voice wasn't on par with her comment. Did he hate this town or something? "Um ... it's not every day someone burns down the high school on graduation day."
"It was ten years ago. They need to move on. Then again, nothing worth talking about ever happens here." He stepped back. "Maybe this was a mistake. Why don't I just take off and we'll forget this ever happened?"
Was he implying a date with her wouldn't be worth talking about, either? Bri may not be like whatever kind of woman he usually spent time around, but she wasn't chopped liver. Whatever Avery's and Drew's reasons for setting them up — and she would be having a conversation with Avery about this — she'd agreed to this date as a favor, and she was damn well going to see it through. She huffed and lifted her chin. "No. I agreed to take you out on this date, and that's what I'm going to do. It would be a shame for you to have to sit at home by yourself and do whatever it is lonely, attractive men like you do."
* * *
The last thing Ryan Flannery planned on when he came back to visit his family was being browbeaten by his big brother into a blind date. All he'd been looking for was a break from the Air Force — and the intense training he'd gone through for the last five and a half months — for two weeks. Then he'd hit the ground running, and start gearing up for his next deployment. He should have known a trip back to Wellingford would be anything but restful, but the siren call of home had been too much to resist after so long away.
Looking at the woman standing across from him, her chin raised and blue eyes flashing behind those sexy secretary glasses, he had to admit that coming back might have been a mistake. A muscle ticked in his jaw. She thought he was lonely? "I'm more than capable of keeping myself entertained."
Bri brushed past him, her gaze on the street. "Do you think so? I think your brother has the right idea of it — a man whose idea of a good time is burning things to the ground shouldn't be left to his own devices. You're a menace to society."
She sounded so prim and proper, he wanted to muss up her straight dark hair and undo a few buttons on her shirt just to see what she'd do. That thought gave him all the ammunition he needed. "You wouldn't know a good time if it bit you in the ass."
"Excuse me?" Her back went so ramrod straight, it was like he could see the stick up her ass. Ryan's gaze dropped to where her hips curved, and he frowned at the long skirt. The fall of the fabric indicated there was something there worth grabbing, but he couldn't be sure. "What were your plans tonight — hanging out with your thirteen cats and knitting them mittens?"
She gasped. "I don't have cats. They're evil creatures. I have a perfectly nice fish named Mr. Smith."
"How mundane. Let me guess. A goldfish?" He closed the door behind him and pressed a hand to the small of her back, guiding her down the stairs and toward his Suburban. It was difficult not to follow the perfect line of her spine with his palm, no matter how aggravating he found her.
"Don't be insulting. He's a betta fish."
Because that makes a world of difference. Ryan snorted. "No wonder you haven't had a date in the fourteen months my brother's known you. I bet you talk to your fish, too, don't you?"
She half turned to glare, the move dragging his hand over her back, though she didn't seem to notice. "Fish need companionship, same as any other animal. He likes it when I read to him."
"I'll bet he does." He opened the passenger door and waited for her to climb into the seat, which she did with a huff. By the time he made it around to the driver's side, her body language had chilled the inside of the car more than the weather.
He started the Suburban and took a second to let the truth sink in. His brother had well and truly screwed him. Drew had gone on and on about the beautiful — but shy — new librarian who'd just moved to Pennsylvania all the way from California and didn't know many people in town, and needed someone to show her a good time. Ryan had figured there were worse things to do on leave than take out a sweet, pretty girl.
Turned out Drew was only half-right.
She thought he was a charity case. Hell, she practically clobbered him with it, despite the fact that he was the one doing the favor here. Worse, she jumped at the first opportunity to shove his past down his throat — or an exaggerated version of it that didn't take into account little things like the truth. And why should she be worried about the truth? No one else in this town was.
He pulled onto the street, wishing he hadn't agreed to this favor. Instead of sitting in his SUV with a prickly little librarian, he'd be drinking beer with his brother and Avery while they played video games.
On second thought, maybe this was the better of the two options.
He glanced at Bri, taking in the way she had her arms wrapped tightly around herself, as if she might break apart at any second. Or maybe she was just trying not to rip him a new one. He didn't normally have women going for his throat within thirty seconds of meeting him, and this was a new experience he could have gone without. Ryan turned out of her neighborhood and replayed their meeting from beginning to end, trying to determine where it had all gone wrong.
It didn't take long to figure out the answer.
When she'd opened the door, he'd been blown away, not expecting such an intoxicating blend of beautiful and what he could only describe as librarian. She'd been flushed and sporting an expression that was both terrified and excited, and all he could focus on was how he wanted to take off those sexy glasses and see if her lips tasted as kissable as they looked.
By the time he'd gotten hold of himself, all the excitement had melted away, leaving only a wary resignation. And then it was too late. Not a damn thing he could do or say would take back those seventeen seconds — she'd already mistaken his silence for disappointment. "You're wrong."
"Concerning which part?" She didn't even look at him. "The fact that you can't be trusted to spend time alone without doing damage to public property? Or for believing my friends when they said they were setting me up with a nice guy?" He clenched his jaw. "Moving past the property damage bullshit for a second, what makes you think I'm not a nice guy?"
"Would you like a list?" She shook her head. "You couldn't be clearer about your distaste for Wellingford. That's hardly nice."
"My disliking this place has nothing to do with being nice. This town is small and cloying and everyone here has been stuck in a rut since the lumber mill opened up a few hundred years ago." Too late, he realized he had just included Bri in the insult.
Excerpted from In Bed with Mr. Wong by Katee Robert, Heather Howland, Liz Pelletier, Jenn LeBlanc/Illustrated Romance. Copyright © 2014 Katee Robert. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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