A Decent Proposal (Harlequin Special Edition Series #2396)

A Decent Proposal (Harlequin Special Edition Series #2396)

by Teresa Southwick

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Overview

A Decent Proposal (Harlequin Special Edition Series #2396) by Teresa Southwick

HER KNIGHT IN A SHINING AUTO

Sydney McKnight is looking for Mr. Convenient, not Mr. Right. Her dad insists that Syd be settled…so she asks the first guy she sees to act as her boyfriend. This gorgeous stranger is magnetic, but Sydney has sacrificed her heart before. She isn't about to give it away, even to a man who revs her engine like no other!

Burke Holden is taken aback when Sydney requests he be her pretend paramour. After all, the single dad hasn't exactly been Mr. Romance since his ex left him and their son. But as he gets to know lovely Sydney, the bachelor might be willing to give love another shot. Will Sydney and Burke drive off into the sunset on their happily-ever-after…or will the past throw a wrench in their fairy-tale ending?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373658787
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 03/17/2015
Series: Harlequin Special Edition Series , #2396
Edition description: Original
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.50(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Teresa Southwick lives with her husband in Las Vegas, the city that reinvents itself every day. An avid fan of romance novels, she is delighted to be living out her dream of writing for Harlequin.

Read an Excerpt

Sydney McKnight knew there was no way a white knight would ride in on his stalwart steed and save her, but a girl could hope.

Needing a good save is what happens when first thing in the morning your father, who was also your boss, hits you with the "are you seeing anyone?" question. It was a sure bet this conversation wasn't headed anywhere she wanted to go.

Standing outside the office of McKnight Automotive, she glanced around for an escape, but short of making a run for it, there was no way out. Time to get the attention off herself and back where it belonged. On her father, who she and her brothers just found out had been seeing someone in secret. For months. And now Tom McKnight was looking to find out if his daughter would be in a committed relationship anytime soon so that he could take the next step in his own.

"Dad, you didn't have to sneak around and date. The boys are fine with it."

"It wasn't Alex and Ben that concerned me, Syd. It's you." He met her gaze and there was no looking away or mistaking his meaning. "I will always have a special place in my heart for your mother."

Complications from childbirth had caused her mother's death. Syd knew she wasn't to blame for it but that didn't stop a small stab of guilt. "For years everyone has been telling you to get on with your life, Dad. Now we know you did, a while ago. With Mayor Goodson. It's about darn time and I'm completely fine with it. Fly. Be free. Be happy."

Her father's expression tightened into a mask of stubborn resolve. "How can I be happy until I know your personal life is in order?"

That was code for having a man. What her father didn't get was that first you had to want a man messing up your personal life and Syd didn't. This wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation, but she was going to do her best to make it the last.

"Dad—" She stopped and took a deep breath, tapping into her well of patience, which at this point was hitting rock-bottom. "I know you want to protect me, make sure I'm okay. And it's really sweet, but I'm a big girl now."

"I know you are, honey, but I can't help worrying about you. Sue me. I want you to be settled, safe and happy." He ran his fingers through his thick silver hair. "Maybe it's about me being emotionally unavailable to you after your mom died."

Emotionally unavailable? "You've been watching TV talk shows again, haven't you?" she teased.

"Maybe." His grin was fleeting.

"There's nothing to make up for, Dad. I understand. Losing your wife was a shock. You're a terrific father.

The best. You did a great job. Alex, Ben and I turned out pretty awesome."

"You'll get no argument from me about that." His blue eyes twinkled with paternal pride. "The thing is, honey, your brothers are both married and have started their families."

And she was still very single, which translated to all alone. He didn't say it, but the implication hung in the silence between them.

Over her father's shoulder, Sydney saw an expensive, low-slung sports car growl to a crawl on Main Street in order to make the turn into McKnight Automotive. The beautiful, red, high-performance vehicle said something about the person driving it. For one thing, whoever it was didn't mind being noticed. A machine like that was an attention magnet. Her fingers itched to get a look at what was under the hood—of the car.

Focus, Sydney, she thought. "Alex and Ben were lucky to find their wives, Dad. You wouldn't want me to marry in haste then find out it was a mistake, would you?"

The sports car pulled into the driveway then roared past them and stopped under the covering that connected the business office and service bays of the garage. A dark tint on the windows prevented her from seeing who was behind the wheel, but she realized anticipation was swelling inside her to get a look at this person.

"Of course I don't want you to rush into marriage," her father said. "But I know how it feels to be alone. At least if I knew you were dating someone…"

"I date." Sort of.

"Anyone steady?"

If steady dating was the formula for a lasting relationship, she'd be married now. She'd had a boyfriend for years and the whole thing had blown up in her face. "Dad, don't worry about me. Just move on with your life. You deserve to be happy and I won't stand in your way."

"So, you're not dating," he said.

"Sure I am."

The sports-car driver got out and her heart actually skipped a beat, which had never happened to her before. The driver was a man. Aviator sunglasses hid his eyes, adding to his mystique, but she could see enough to know he wasn't a troll. He was thirtysomething and had dark hair. An expensive suit perfectly fit his tall frame, broad shoulders and narrow hips.

"Who?"

She blinked up at her father. "What?"

"Who are you dating?"

Her gaze slid to the stranger and she thought maybe white knights did ride to the rescue. It was worth a shot. What could happen? Even if this backfired, maybe her dad would get the message that she was serious about convincing him to back off.

"Him." She angled her head. "I'm going out with him."

Before her father could turn and look, she was on her way over to the man. Stopping in front of him she looked up and said in a low voice, "I will forever be in your debt if you go with me on what's about to happen. It's a family thing." She put a fair amount of pleading into her tone and her expression. "I'm begging you. And I'll make it up to you. I swear."

One corner of his mouth rose but with the sunglasses she couldn't see his expression. Her father joined them and there wasn't time for the stranger to respond.

"Sydney Marie McKnight, what in the world is going on? You've got some explaining to do."

"This is my dad, Tom McKnight." She slid her hand into the man's large palm and smiled up at him. "Dad, this is… This is the man I've been going out with." Dear God, she didn't know his name! She was holding his hand and didn't feel a wedding ring, so that was something.

The man she'd "been going out with" pushed the sunglasses to the top of his head. Amusement sparkled in his eyes. They were blue—a shade just on the other side of piercing and guaranteed to make a woman weak in the knees.

"Nice to meet you, sir." He held out his right hand.

"Burke Holden."

Okay, then. The sports-car-driving, expensive-suit-wearing stranger didn't plan to rat her out just yet.

Her father shook the man's hand, but suspicion was written all over his face. "So you're going out with my daughter."

"That's what she tells me."

Very smooth, she thought. Quick, too. Fate would no doubt charge an exorbitant fee for putting a man with exactly the right skill set directly in her path. But that was a problem for another time.

"I haven't seen you around Blackwater Lake." Tom folded his arms over his chest.

"My company owns that property up on the mountain." It wasn't a direct response, just the insinuation that he'd been spending a lot of time here.

"Where the new resort is going to be."

"Yes, sir."

Syd liked the feel of her hand in the stranger's since the contact made it much easier to play this part. "You know better than anyone, Dad, that Mayor Goodson has worked hard to promote expansion in Blackwater Lake. She's determined to do it in a responsible, balanced way—not duplicating established businesses but attract new ones. And that will create the need for more services, jobs, build the tax base in a slow, steady, stable way. More people move to town and their cars need maintenance and repair."

"Part of the resort deal includes building a small regional airport," Burke explained. "There's no point in expanding anything without giving folks transportation choices to get here more easily."

"Makes sense." Tom nodded. "So you're not looking to put Blackwater Lake Lodge out of business? Because my daughter-in-law owns it."

Her family did actually, but Syd decided to keep that thought to herself. Camille Halliday McKnight had married her doctor brother, Ben. In the beginning, she'd had her doubts about the heiress but Cam was the sweetest, most down-to-earth filthy rich person Syd had ever met. And her brother was happy, which was the most important thing.

"No, sir. My company is interested in building condominiums with retail space below. A mixed-use development. The project is big enough to bring in revenue to existing local businesses. Workers will need lodging and food. It's a win for everyone."

"Maybe." Eyes narrowed, Tom looked down at her but directed the next question to Burke. "How long have you known my daughter?"

Oh, boy. Time to jump in and help. "Dad, have you ever met someone and right from the beginning you felt as if you'd known them your whole life?"

"No. And in case you're wondering, I noticed you didn't answer the question."

"Look, Dad—" The sound of the office phone ringing interrupted.

"I'll get it. But we're not finished with this, Sydney." Her father gave her a dad look then headed inside to answer the call.

When they were alone, Syd blew out a long breath. "Thanks for going along, Mr. Holden—"

"Burke, please. After all, we're going out. I'm the guy you met and felt as if you'd known all your life." His voice was teasing, his smile incredibly attractive. "So, do you want to tell me what that was all about?"

"Not really, but I owe you an explanation." She gathered her thoughts. "Here goes. Twenty-five words or less. You're obviously a busy man."

"Yes, but this is the most intriguing thing that's ever happened to me."

"I doubt that, but okay. If you say so." A man who looked like him probably had intriguing encounters with women every day. "My dad has been a widower for a long time, actually since the day I was born."

"Your mother died in childbirth?" He looked shocked.

"Yes. And for years everyone has been telling him to get a life, but he wouldn't. Recently my older brother dropped by the house unexpectedly and found Dad in a compromising situation with the mayor. I can't say more or the idea of him with a woman—doing stuff in bed—will be burned in my brain and require years of therapy. Long story short, for close to a year they've been secretly dating."

"Way to go, Tom." There was an admiring expression on Burke's face when he glanced at the office doorway.

She laughed, then grew serious. "He's found love again."

"Good for him. But what does that have to do with you?"

"He wants to ask the mayor to marry him but won't get on with it because of me. Both of my brothers have gone all white-picket-fence and settled down. Marriage, babies, the whole deal. Dad wants the same for me. Or at least to know I'm dating and moving somewhere in the vicinity of settling down."

"I see."

"You probably think I'm crazy, and who could blame you? You just had the bad luck to arrive as I was being grilled like raw hamburger. I'd just told him a big fat lie about going out with someone. He wanted to know who and there you were. I'm terribly sorry to have dragged you into the madcap McKnight family like this. But I really do appreciate what you did."

"Like I said, very intriguing." He slid his hands into his pockets. "What are you going to do now?"

"Nothing. He's met you. That gives him a visual and he'll propose to Loretta and they'll get married."

"Won't you need a date for the wedding?"

"You'll be conveniently out of town." She smiled at him. "After all, you're a very busy man. And at just the right time I'll share the news that you and I have broken up."

"Hmm." The corner of his mouth quirked up. "Will I have dumped you?"

She laughed. "Not after you were so understanding. The least I can do is take the blame. Or it will just be one of those things that didn't work out. No one's fault."

"But I'll be heartbroken," he protested.

"Something tells me you'll find someone to make it better."

"I've heard of speed dating," he said, shaking his head, "but this is the fastest relationship I've ever had."

"Aren't you glad you were in the right place at the right time?" Wow, he really was smooth. Looks, charm and wit made him a triple threat. The single ladies of Blackwater Lake would be forming a line, but Syd wouldn't be in it. She wasn't interested in complicating her life. "And that reminds me—what brings you to McKnight Automotive?"

"Oil change."

"Okay. It's on the house." When he opened his mouth to protest, she said, "I insist. I told you I'd make it worth your while."

"All right. Thanks."

"You helped me out of a jam so it's the least I can do. Want to wait for it? We have a comfortable lounge with coffee, soft drinks and snacks."

"No, someone is picking me up." At that moment, a big, black SUV pulled into the driveway and parked behind the sports car. "As a matter of fact, there's my ride."

"Give me a number where I can reach you when it's ready," she said.

Burke pulled a business card out of his wallet and handed it over. "Thanks, Sydney Marie McKnight."

"No—thank you."

Burke smiled, then walked to the passenger side of the car and got in. The vehicle drove out of the lot and she watched until the taillights disappeared down the street.

Tom came out of the office. "Someone needs a tow out on Lakeview Drive. I'll take care of it."

"Okay."

"Burke seems like a nice young man."

"He is." It wasn't every guy who would get sucked into a scenario like that and just go with it. Points to the handsome stranger.

"I want the four of us to go out to dinner."

"Four?" Her stomach dropped.

"Loretta and me. You and Burke."

"I don't know, Dad. He's…busy," she said lamely.

"Everyone is but he's managed to find the time to date you." Her father's voice had an edge of suspicion. "And everyone has to eat. So we'll double-date. Unless you're lying to your old man."

It was hard not to flinch. There probably wasn't a place in hell low enough for her. Still, she was doing the wrong thing for the right reason and that had to count for something.

"Really, Dad. You raised me better than that." This bad was all on her.

She cared about her father's happiness. He'd spent so many years being sad and alone and he wasn't getting any younger. He deserved happiness and she wouldn't be the one who stood in his way. If she had to scheme to make sure it happened, by God she would.

The guy had seemed really easygoing and she was giving him a free oil change. What could it hurt to ask?

"I'll check with Burke and see what I can set up."

"I'll call again tomorrow, son." Burke held the cell phone to his ear, not sure why he was prolonging this.

"Okay." His child's familiar, formal tone was the polar opposite of enthusiastic.

"If you need anything, you know how to get in touch."

"Yeah." There was a long silence, then Liam said, "I have homework."

"Right." He probably wasn't the only father on the planet whose kid would rather do homework than talk to him, but it sure felt that way. "I love you. 'Bye, son."

"'Bye."

Feeling guilty and inadequate, Burke hit the end-call button on his cell phone. He never knew what to say to his son and heard in the kid's voice how much he was let down whenever they talked. Not calling would save them both the ordeal of an awkward conversation, but unlike his own father he wouldn't take the easy way out. So he would be in touch every day while he was away from home.

His ex-wife was no better. During divorce negotiations she'd put up zero fight when he wanted physical custody. Now she lived in Paris and he had the best housekeeper in Chicago. Most of the time that made it okay for him not to be there. At least that's what he told himself. Today he didn't quite buy it. Meeting Sydney McKnight and her father, Tom, might account for that.

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A Decent Proposal 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Lashea677 More than 1 year ago
What starts as a sham becomes the real thing in A Decent Proposal by Teresa Southwick. I found this story a heartwarming read about finding love when you least expect to. To appease her father Sydney recruits a man she has never met yet feels an attraction for to act as her boyfriend. This will put her father's worries about her personal life to rest. Having been hurt in the past and being a single father makes Burke wary of Sydney and her idea. As he gets to know Sydney he realizes she may be his soulmate. I was given an ARC for an honest review and A Decent Proposal is romantic comedy at it's best.