Emma Roberts is done losing her heart to military men who don’t stick around. Desperate to shake up her love life, she launches a plan to get her handsome, dependable crush to finally notice her. And her neighbor’s sexy older brother that just arrived in town is the perfect man for the job.
But there’s a problem. Emma’s ridiculously attracted to her fake boyfriend.
Former Army Ranger Vince Acardi dropped everything to help his stubborn brother after he’s injured in the line of duty. Instead, he somehow gets stuck helping the adorably hot girl next door land a date with some doctor she’s interested in. Not that fake-dating her is a hardship, and soon, he’s holding her, kissing her, touching her...
There’s nothing fake about the chemistry between them. But Vince is leaving in two weeks, and Emma refuses to risk her heart on another military man. Worse, the good doctor she’s been after is finally standing up and taking notice...
Each book in the Men of at Ease Ranch series is STANDALONE:
* In a Ranger’s Arms
* Her Secret Ranger
* The Right Ranger
* Army Ranger with Benefits
* The Army Ranger's Surprise
About the Author
Donna Michaels is an award winning, New York Times&USA Today bestselling author of Romaginative fiction. Her hot, humorous, and heartwarming stories include cowboys, men in uniform, and some sexy, primal alphas. With a husband in the military full time, and a household of nine, she never runs out of material to write, and has rightfully earned the nickname Lucy…and sometimes Ethel. From short to epic, her books entertain readers across a variety of sub-genres, and one has even being hand drawn into a Japanese translation. Now, if only she could read it.
To learn more about Donna Michaels and her books, or to join her mailing list, visit www.DonnaMichealsAuthor.com
Read an Excerpt
Georgia — the last thing on Vince Acardi's mind.
At least it was that morning.
Great song. Nice state. But he had a not-so-great reason for heading to Columbus on his second flight of the day from hell.
The day had started off fine. The sun was shining. The kitchen was quiet, except for the sound of eggs cooking on the stove and bacon sizzling in the oven that filled the room with a delectable, smoky aroma. He'd been halfway through preparing breakfast for the twenty-plus residents of At-Ease — the veteran transition ranch he co-owned with three of his former Ranger buddies — when he received the call responsible for slicing ten years off his life.
And burning his bacon.
When Vince had still been an active duty Army Ranger, he and his younger brother — also a Ranger — had listed each other as points of contact, opting to spare their parents the heart-stopping call, should there be one.
There was today.
And damn if Vince's heart hadn't stopped beating for a full ten seconds as the official on the other end of the phone informed him Captain Dominic Acardi had been admitted to the base hospital at Fort Benning that morning, with non-life-threatening injuries.
That last part had eased the invisible band squeezing Vince's chest, allowing air to finally travel to his starved lungs.
Thank goodness for his friends. They'd rallied around him.
Stone Mitchum, one of his Ranger buddies, had set a hand on his shoulder. "Go. Take care of your brother. Don't worry about things here."
"Thanks. I'll be back before the wedding."
It was three Saturdays away. Surely his brother would be fine way before then.
Jovy, Stone's fiancÃ(c)e, gave Vince a hug. "If your brother needs you longer, you stay there and don't worry about us."
"No way am I missing the wedding." He'd winked. "I've got the food ordered. Even if I have to just fly in for the ceremony and fly back out to take care of Dom, I'll be here."
She'd smiled. "Then you'd better get packed and get going. Your flight leaves in less than two hours."
Leo, his friend and the reason behind Foxtrot — their construction company — and At-Ease, pushed away from the wall where he'd been leaning. "I'll be in the truck."
The rest of the day had gone downhill from there.
Traffic slowed to a crawl near the airport. When he finally arrived, he'd boarded the plane, not a minute to spare, only to find himself wedged between two worst-case scenarios: a mother with a crying child, and a hefty dude who snored the whole three and half hours until they touched down in Atlanta. From there, Vince boarded a connecting flight on a plane not much bigger than Cord's horse trailer and truck.
At least now he was seated next to a sweet senior citizen. Thank God the baby and dude from the other flight were nowhere in sight.
"Do you dig older women?"
Make that a sassy senior citizen.
"I'm not asking for me, silly." She snickered and slapped his arm, apparently reading shock in his expression. "For my daughter. She's single again and in need of a good man. A solid one." A boney finger poked his bicep. "Like you."
Willing the plane to fly faster, Vince gave her a noncommittal shrug, more than happy to offer up his right nut if the pilot could hit Mach one. "I haven't dated much lately, ma'am," he replied with his best neutral tone.
"Ah." She nodded, a knowing twinkle lighting her eyes. "You're holding out for the one."
He'd been there once. Had his shot at a once-in-a-lifetime soul mate. It would never happen again. That was the reason it was called once- in-a-lifetime, not several-in-a-lifetime. He was absolutely not holding out for another "the one."
"Something like that," he said.
"Well, you'll know when you've found her." The lady grinned. "It'll feel like you were hit with a ton of bricks. Or a rocket. Or a good sock in the teeth ... if you have your own teeth. Mine were gone ages ago." She opened her mouth and tapped her dentures with her finger as if she thought he'd like to see them.
He didn't. And now he was willing to give up his left nut to get to Columbus faster, too.
"But you get my meaning," she continued with a wink. "The moment you meet her, you'll be momentarily stunned ... almost painfully so, but it'll be worth it. Trust me."
What he trusted were the good manners his mother had ingrained in him to nod politely to the well-meaning woman, when he really wanted to turn away, close his eyes, and worry about his dumbass brother in peace.
Thankfully, the pilot announced their descent, saving Vince from further conversation ... and sacrificing his manhood.
* * *
Today was the day.
Emma Roberts could feel it.
Anticipation hummed through her body and fluttered her pulse. Something special was going to happen, and she hoped with all her heart it meant Stephan would ask her out.
Dr. Stephan Greenwald was the newest and youngest doctor to join the practice where she worked as a medical transcriber and coder in a wing of doctors' offices attached to the hospital.
He was also her high school crush.
"Maybe today's the day Stephan finally asks you out." Her mother's hopeful voice echoed Emma's thoughts as she cradled the phone to her ear at work. "After all, it's been well over a decade since you started to pine over him."
A reminder she didn't need.
From the moment Emma had set eyes on the tall, blue-eyed, light-haired senior on her first day of freshman year, she was smitten. Her extremely shy teenage-self was content to crush on him from afar, but when they were paired as lab partners for a science project, she nearly died. Forced to actually talk to the guy — after her tongue remembered how to function — she discovered he was every bit as nice as she'd imagined, and that he had a girlfriend in a neighboring school district.
It didn't stop her from daydreaming about him, though, even after he graduated and moved up north for college and eventually med school. As time moved on, so had Emma. She even dated and entered several relationships, but she thought of him often.
"I just think it's fate," her mother continued. "The soldiers you've insisted on dating have all broken your heart, and now Stephan shows up. He's the one who got away."
He wasn't the one who got away. Not exactly. He was more like the one she wished she'd had a shot at. But her mother was right. When he showed up six months ago as the new doctor, it felt as if fate was giving her that shot.
Until she found out he was in a relationship. Not with the high school girlfriend, but some Boston chick who didn't like it down south. The Yankee lasted two months, then left Stephan to head back north.
Perhaps that was fate stepping in again.
"Maybe," she said, not wanting to give her mother false hope, or add to her anxiety. Her mother, thoughtful as she'd always been, had moved to Florida to care for Emma's sick aunt. She didn't want to increase her stress. "I have a feeling something's going to happen soon."
"I hope so, hun." A soft sigh filled her ear. "He needs to open his eyes and realize the best thing to ever happen to him is right in front of him. You know he'd be lucky to have you, Em. Any man would."
Her mother had always been her cheering section.
Emma smiled. "Thanks, Mom. I need more fans like you."
"I'm your biggest," her mom cheerfully replied. "That's why I'm also glad you've given yourself a deadline with Stephan. I like the guy, don't get me wrong, but you've wasted enough time pining over him."
She held back a sigh. "I know." Once Stephan was available again, Emma had silently given him four months to ask her out. Four months since his breakup seemed like plenty of time. Especially given the lingering looks and smiles they exchanged.
And yet, she was nearly down to the wire.
"Then you also know I know when to shut up." Her mother chuckled. "I'll let you get back to work, dear. Good luck with your doctor."
At this point, Emma would take all the luck and well wishes she could get.
After hanging up, she slipped the phone back into her pocket. Interacting with Stephan during his first week, she'd been happy to discover he hadn't changed at all — well ... except for filling out his tall frame. The man was even more gorgeous, if that were possible.
He wasn't pretentious like some of the doctors, either, nor was he a snob. Stephan was down-to-earth, often stopping by her section to chat with her and her best friend, Macy, the other transcriber, and even sat with them sometimes in the hospital cafeteria, instead of joining his peers in their private lunchroom.
But the best thing about him was his nonmilitary status.
Her mom hadn't been wrong about her dating history.
Not that she had anything against the military or those who served. She'd just promised herself she was done dating military men. Three times Emma had swum in those waters, and all three times she'd nearly drowned.
Her first ex thought it was fine to sleep in her bed and the beds of other women during deployment.
That got him dishonorably discharged from her life. Stat.
Her second ended the day he finished training and was assigned a new duty station. He left her with an "it's been fun" kiss on the cheek and moved on. Without her.
But the third one ... that was the worst.
After training, he was assigned to the base and asked her to move in. For nearly a year, Emma had thought she'd found the one. Faithful and attentive, Adam had always showed her how much he cared through little notes and special outings. He was a Ranger, so he deployed without notice. That was hard, but she'd kept her head up because they had a future together. Or so she thought. In the end, she hadn't been an important enough part of his life. When his duty station changed, he left her behind, too.
She got it — the men and women who served had a lot on their plates, both emotionally and physically. But God, she was so tired of being "good enough for now," but not "good enough for forever."
It was time for a change, and that included sticking with men in the private sector.
Even though the practice was located in the hospital at Fort Benning, Stephan had never served. He was hired through the CHRA — Civilian Human Resources Agency.
That made him even more perfect.
Watching as he walked down the hall and into his office catty-corner from her desk, Emma admired his exceptional "private sector." Having just returned from an early lunch, the man removed his lab coat from a hook on the wall and slipped it on, covering her view.
No matter. He was just as sexy in his doctor gear.
"Girl, you should take a picture. It lasts longer," Macy muttered from behind her. "I understand admiring his sexiness. Lord knows, I do it myself. I just do it more discreetly."
Emma snorted as she turned to face her coworker. "Yeah. Right. By taking a photo of him."
"Hey. I told you I was taking your picture. It was dumb luck Dr. Hotness happened to walk by."
"Walk by?" Emma smirked. "He was leaning against the counter here, talking to me at the time." She pointed to the counter that surrounded their rounded cubical located in the middle of the practice. "And if I recall the picture correctly, you barely got my ear in it."
Macy's brows rose, along with her shoulders. "Because you moved. Not my fault I got a frame full of hottie."
Ducking their heads, they chuckled softly. With parallel halls of patient rooms flanking their sides, they'd learned to keep their conversations hushed.
"All kidding aside." Her friend nodded toward Stephan's office. "When is your hotness deadline?"
That self-imposed deadline, again.
She was beginning to wish she hadn't told anyone.
"Two and a half weeks." Emma sighed.
She really thought the guy would've asked her out by now. He wasn't in a relationship. Nor was he gay. The few times she'd run into him in town, he'd had a different beautiful woman on his arm, and given their body language, the ladies weren't just for show. And after overhearing a conversation with his buddies, she knew asking him out wasn't an option. He preferred to do the asking.
So Emma never took the initiative. She just flirted and waited.
"Okay. So two and a half weeks," Macy repeated, glancing at the calendar that separated their workspaces. "That puts you right at ... the hospital fundraiser gala brunch."
Emma nodded. "I chose that as my stopping point right from the start. Four months is plenty of time for him to make a move, and the gala gives him an excuse."
"Agreed." Macy glanced around, then moved closer. "But I think it's time you helped the good doctor along."
"Helped?" She frowned. "How? I've put out signals and flirted, but I refuse to throw myself at him. He doesn't like that."
Her friend waved a hand in the air. "Girl, that's not what I meant."
"You're going to throw yourself at another man."
"What?" She reeled back. "Are you crazy?"
"Nope, but I am right." Macy folded her arms across her chest and smiled smugly. "How do you think I landed Dupree?"
Her husband? Emma shrugged. "I thought he was your brother's friend."
"He was, and wouldn't give me the time of day until I suddenly stopped mooning over his skinny ass and started showing up at the same places as him ... with another man." A big smile curved her lips. "Sometimes a guy just needs to be reminded what's in front of him. That's all I'm sayin'."
Emma was going to regret this. "Reminded ... how?"
"It's a well-known fact that a guy wants what he can't have. And up until now, Stephan knows he can have you, thanks to those signals you mentioned earlier."
"So you're saying I need to let him know he can't have me?" She'd never thought about that before.
"No, girl." Macy shook her head and frowned. "You got to show the man that."
Stephan walked out of his office right then and sent her one of his sexy smiles before continuing down the hall to reception. Halfway there, he stopped, turned around, and walked straight to her.
"Emma, I've been meaning to ask you something."
Her heart dropped to her knees. Good Lord.
Was this it? Was he finally going to ask her out? Right there in the middle of the office? In front of Macy?
She smiled up at him, hoping it came across as friendly and not like an eager teenager with a crush. "Yes?"
"Can you take these to radiology?" He set a folder on the counter in front of her face. "I missed the courier."
With her smile still in place, she nodded. "Sure. I'd be happy to." Because she was an idiot. And a chump.
"Thanks. You're the best," he said, treating her to another one of his brilliant smiles. The kind that lit his eyes and fluttered the hearts of every female within a twenty-foot radius.
"Yep. You definitely need to find yourself a man," Macy muttered under her breath as Stephan disappeared into one of the patient rooms. "That dummy had the perfect opportunity, and he blew it. He needs a nudge."
"He'd never ask me out here." For some reason, she felt compelled to defend him. "Not at the office." Emma grabbed the file and headed for the door.
What had she been thinking?
She hadn't. That was the problem.
Macy's outrageous suggestion mixed her up. Confused her. With her mind playing devil's advocate, she marched from the wing of doctors' offices into the hospital section of the building.
She wasn't the type of person to play games. To use a man to get another. Although, the suggestion did hold merit, she thought, weaving through the busy corridor. It wasn't just men who wanted what they couldn't have. Women were just as bad. Sometimes worse. It was human nature. Therefore, it was feasible that if Stephan saw her with another guy, endorphins, testosterone — or some other kind of hormone — could kick in and wake his cute ass up.
She pulled the door open to radiology and walked inside. Slow day. Only a handful of people sat in the waiting room, and no one stood at the window. Since it was slow, she didn't bother to go in the back. "Hi, Sally." She handed the file to the receptionist. "This is from Dr. Greenwald."
The woman took the file and smiled. "Has he asked you out yet?"
Darn. Did everyone know about her crush?
"No." Emma sighed.
Pity darkened Sally's gaze. "Well, hang in there."
Nodding, Emma turned around and marched for the door. She was going to do better than "hang." She was going to do something about it. No more pitiful stares. No more waiting for Stephan to ask her out. It was time to up the ante. Time to play her final card. To utilize her last resort.
Excerpted from "Army Ranger with Benefits"
Copyright © 2018 Donna Michaels.
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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