Before Daylight

Before Daylight

by Andie J. Christopher

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Overview

Perfect Strangers

Ballerina Laura Delgado is just one solo away from a dream job with the New York City Ballet. Then a drunken pas de deux at her cousin's wedding results in the one thing she never wanted-a husband. TV producer Charlie Laughlin may be deliciously kissable, but she needs him offstage now, and out of her life.

Perfect Disaster

Charlie's ready for marriage and kids, and on the lookout for just the right woman. Laura doesn't fit the bill at all-but Charlie can't stop thinking about the sultry way they moved together. And he can't help but wonder if he can change the gorgeous dancer's mind about leaving Miami with heated kisses that promise as much as they demand . . .

Perfect Partners

Annulling their sham marriage is all Laura wants-until she gets to New York and realizes that leaving Charlie behind is easier said than done. Can a relationship that began as a hot mistake become the kind of love that will last forever?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781516106981
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 04/17/2018
Pages: 162
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.37(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Stock still, Laura Delgado stared at her Grandpa Rogelio with her mouth open. All the oxygen and all good sense in the universe had been sucked out of the room. Her dressing room had turned into the upside-down. Then, her knees gave out, and she dropped to the couch without meaning to.

Married!? My what!? The word husband echoed over and over in Laura's head. The two syllables sounded foreign and hostile. The disjointed — and altogether frightening — sounds reminded her of a Russian ballet master she'd once studied with. He'd thwacked her with a violin bow when she missed a step. The bow was less painful than the idea that she was actually married.

In her mind, marriage had always equaled death — a slow, painful, wasting disease suffered while handcuffed to the cause of death. And she'd just found out that she was terminal.

"Unless we get his signature, I can't file your taxes." Two days from the deadline. Her grandfather had the audacity to smirk at her as though he found this situation funny. He thought the fact that she was married and only found out about it ... funny. If she didn't love her Grandpa Rogelio so much, she would be tempted to punch him in his still-handsome face. But, given that he was her favorite relative and he'd done her taxes without incident since she got her first paycheck from the company at eighteen, she just clenched her jaw.

And to make things even worse than the mere fact that she was married was the guy she was married to. Charlie Fucking Laughlin. With his artfully scruffy beard, his too-long hair, and naughty-looking mouth. He was smooth-talking and smug. Everyone loved him because he was so nice, but no one was that nice. Laura didn't like nice. Didn't trust nice. And now, nice-Charlie Laughlin was allegedly her husband.

She'd never intended to get married, and she certainly didn't picture ever ending up with someone like Charlie. He was too much everything — too handsome, too tall, and too sexy. By the time she was fourteen, right before she'd left home to join the ballet, she'd decided that she wanted nothing to do with marriage. Her parents had screwed it up enough to put her off the institution entirely.

There was no way she was going to end up tethered to someone like her father. Unlike her father, Charlie had a sense of humor, but he had the same charisma that her father used to try to control everyone around him. No way she was about to give herself no escape but the bottom of a pill bottle. Even though Charlie wasn't an emotionally abusive dick bag, he would end up trying to control her — he would want more of her than she could give.

How many Mai Tais — and how much tequila — had she had to drink? The only way she would have gotten married was if she'd been bombed out of her mind — or if he'd tied her up and dragged her down the aisle. But that would have left a mark.

If she had been on her guard, acting like herself, this never would have happened.

Images of a pink beach and matching pink drinks flooded her consciousness. The soft caress of the Indonesian breeze, the fuzzy joy at seeing her cousin, Carla, joyfully happy on her wedding day, and her disquiet at how much she didn't miss dancing during the three months she was out of commission from a groin injury slammed into her mind from the recesses of her memory. Since returning to the ballet, she'd stuffed thoughts of that night down so far that they exploded back like matter packed too densely in space.

But, every so often, her mind drifted to kissing Charlie at sunset, away from the crowd. It was the craziest thing she'd ever done — kissing a stranger. She couldn't get the feeling of his lips on hers out of her head. It was as though he'd stamped an impression on her, an invisible tattoo of his effect on her. Her entire life up until that point had been about discipline, training, dieting, and taking in criticism. She'd been a changeling at the behest of everyone in her life, and she knew that she could never let anyone know what was underneath her exterior. But there was something about the way he'd looked at her that had penetrated the wall she'd built around herself to avoid the pain of feeling she was never quite good enough, never quite the best. The feeling of his gaze on her skin — the feeling of him really looking at her — lingered along with the imprint of his mouth.

Either that, or she'd been so addled from the champagne toasts and tropical drinks that she'd lost her ever-loving mind. Crazy was the only thing that could explain how she ended up married to a sleazy reality TV producer who was once taped railing drunkenly about "bitches always breaking his heart." She didn't care that he was friends with her cousin and her cousin's husband. Well, technically, their employer — he produced an apparently non-sleazy reality travel show featuring her cousin, Carla, and Carla's new husband.

And he hadn't seemed like a slime ball at all when she'd seen him at the bar. But she'd married him. What the fuck was wrong with her?

Laura stood up and paced her dressing room, trying to figure out how to get out of this mess. She clenched her jaw. No one could find out she was married. If they did — if there was any hint that she was settling down — rumors would start flying that she was about to retire. Every time a principal dancer got married or pregnant, glee was a palpable thing in the rest of the company. Inevitably, a family and a serious career in ballet were untenable. At 28, she really should start considering leaving. The aches and pains that had annoyed her at 18 were nearly debilitating now. Most mornings, she had a hard time getting out of bed.

Nothing like waking up with Charlie — there she was warm and content. A totally foreign sensation.

An image of waking up in Charlie's arms, fully clothed, and cocooned in his warmth and the tropical breeze sent a shiver down her spine. And, even intensely hung over, she'd liked it. She shook her head.

If anyone in the ballet found out she had gotten married, the piranhas in the corps de ballet would start circling for her principal dancer position. And her chance to move to the New York City Ballet — to get a few years in the brightest spotlight in the world before retiring — would evaporate before they even came close to fruition.

"You can't tell anyone."

Her grandfather shook his head, not meeting her gaze. "Of course not." He would keep his promise because her getting married while drunk on tropical beverages and the romance of Carla's wedding to himself because it was embarrassing to the whole family.

He didn't say anything else, but his cheek twitched. Although he'd been around her a lot growing up, her grandfather was a cipher. She had very little idea of what went on in his head, or in his personal life. Her grandfather expressing an emotion would be almost as shocking as her father telling her he was proud of her or showing up to her parents' house and finding her mother sober.

Rogelio had moved to Florida with his two kids thirty-five years ago and rarely spoke of the wife he'd left behind. Since her Grandma Lola had moved to the States, she could see why her grandfather had never moved on. Lola was a force of nature who changed everything she touched.

She could tell that this situation was awkward for him. He'd seemed to inch toward the door after delivering the news. And all she had were feelings right now; disgust at herself, anger at the situation, and most of all — fear. "Seriously, no one."

"I'm required by law to keep our conversations confidential." Always the rule-follower, her grandfather. She got that from him, thriving on rules and routines rather than transient things like love. Though she'd been worried the return of her Grandma Lola would throw off the carefully balanced silence her family had come to over the years, apparently his ex-wife's return hadn't affected him at all.

"That's good." She turned away from himself. "Well, I guess you should file for an extension, abuelo."

* * *

Charlie's back ached and his eyes burned. He'd spent over twelve hours in the editing room, making sure that the footage from Jonah and Carla's wedding looked just right.

Officially, they hadn't shot any of the intimate moments — the actual ceremony or the preparations, but they'd tied in part of the wedding to the shoot they were doing on different parts of the island.

But, for most of the night, until he'd gotten swept up with some very potent tropical drinks and Carla's fetching cousin, he'd gotten some footage of the whole family celebrating his best friend and his lovely bride. Carla and Jonah hadn't planned to have the whole family at their wedding; they'd planned to elope. But Charlie had not-so-accidentally let the cat out of the bag to Carla's great aunt, Lola, who had informed the entire Hernandez clan, which immediately threw them into action.

Carla and Jonah hadn't wanted to deal with the fuss of a big wedding, but now that his friend was finally happy, they deserved to have their family with them for their wedding. Charlie imagined that some military campaigns weren't carried out with the same precision as Molly Hernandez's wedding plans.

Charlie wasn't a stranger to big families — he had five brothers — but the Hernandez extended family made him feel alone even as they'd sort of folded him into the group. All of his brothers seemed happy doing their parts in the family business — television — enjoying all the wealth that came with it. They enjoyed the approval of their father.

Unlike him.

During his twenties, he and his father had butted heads so often over the shows Charlie brought into the network that every day had felt like a battle. And then, right after his very short marriage to his college girlfriend — which was an anathema in his family — had ended in her telling TMZ and the world that she'd left him because he was terrible in bed. Depressed, he'd posted a YouTube video of himself talking about how all women sucked. The video had gone viral, and he'd embarrassed his family. Even worse, he'd committed the cardinal sin in his family — he'd become part of the news cycle instead of dictating the news cycle from behind the scenes. The final blow had become when he'd been fired from the family business. He'd earned his reputation as a misogynist asshole with that video, and he'd tried to do penance since. He'd struck out on his own, and gotten out of the public eye. He regretted the distance between him and his family, but he was done being the family fuck up.

And despite the shadow of his shady past, he was happy with his life, or at least, he pretended to be. But in the past year or so, since Jonah had settled down, Charlie found himself wanting more. He wanted more than someone who assumed he was still that guy in the video. Someone who looked at him the way Carla looked at Jonah.

He didn't begrudge Jonah's happiness. His friend had had a long road to finding contentment with his wife and baby Layla; his college football career had ended abruptly and tragically after both his mother and girlfriend passed away. But Charlie couldn't help the pang of longing he felt whenever he was around Jonah and Carla.

Even though he'd been on a date almost every Saturday this year, Charlie had been having no luck finding someone who fit him as a long-term partner. Women either wanted him because they thought he would put them on TV, or they didn't take him seriously because he was a reality television producer. He made fluff. Too bad he was mostly attracted to women who thought the latter and never took the time to get to know him beyond the surface.

Women like Laura Delgado.

He rewound the footage until he saw her. His dick got hard just from the flash of her elegant neck and the side of her sharp jaw. The jaw he could still feel almost cutting into his palm as he held it still for a kiss. Getting Laura Delgado to let him kiss her had felt victorious. He wished they hadn't had so much to drink, and could have done more than kiss and frolic on the beach before falling asleep, wound together on a hammock.

When he'd woken up on the deck of his suite at almost noon the next day, partially cooked from sunburn, she'd been gone. Too bad, because he'd had plans for the lovely, prickly ballerina. And those plans hadn't faded away. If anything, they occupied more and more of his thoughts and his dreams. He'd never craved like this, and it was getting irritating.

Flashes of her gorgeous olive skin, her huge brown eyes, and that fall of thick hair tantalized him whenever his mind wandered. He felt like a crazy person wanting a girl he'd randomly made out with at a wedding so much that it was fucking with his sleep. He must have been living like a monk a little too much these days. All of his dating hadn't led to nearly enough sex; he needed connection for that he hadn't found with anyone but Laura.

When Carla and Jonah got back from their honeymoon, he was going to have to get Carla to give him Laura's number. Carla knew him well enough to know that his reputation didn't fit anymore. He had to see her again.

There was a commotion outside of the editing room where he was working that pulled his attention away from his stupid, dick-torturing memories. When the door opened, he could barely believe his eyes.

A very angry Laura Delgado, face red and breathing jagged, standing there and looking ready to kill him.

"You fucking asshole!"

Funny, he remembered her sounding sarcastic, bored, and a little breathless once he'd finally gotten her to put her mouth to better uses, but the thread of rage in her voice was new — and sexy. He tried to comb his mind for anything he could have done since returning from Bali that would have warranted this entrance and came up blank.

"What did I do?" He stayed sitting, certain he shouldn't make a move right now. His future ability to have children probably depended on it.

Her eyes narrowed into slits, and she slammed the door behind her. She wore a flimsy, cotton sundress, and he had to school himself not to give her the lazy once-over he was dying for. Somehow, he knew that flirting wasn't going to get him out of trouble this time.

"You did it on purpose, didn't you?" She walked toward him, her right hand forming a fist. The light shining from the screens cast part of her face in shadow, which served to make her look even more pissed off, like a cartoon villain. Was she actually going to punch him?

Confused, he held his hands up to cover his face. "I still don't know what I did."

She stopped about three feet away from him, and he was kind of glad. He was down for whatever sort of bedroom shit she'd like to do with him, but face-punching wasn't his kink.

"Are you just playing dumb, or are you just as clueless as I was until this morning?"

"Option B."

Her hand uncurled, and he finally breathed. She was still panting, and he wanted to offer her a seat, but she was a bit like a bomb about to go off right now, and he wasn't sure of the right move.

"We're married."

His brain flickered on and off like the lights during a thunderstorm. She couldn't possibly have said what he just thought she said. He looked at his left hand, wondering if a wedding band had suddenly appeared.

"When?"

She cocked her head and pursed her lips, regarding him as though he were an idiot. "When do you think, asshole?"

The "asshole" didn't have quite the same sting as the first one, so he guessed he was winning there.

"In Bali?" His brain was a complete blank. Embarrassment crept in over his confusion. He hadn't gotten blackout drunk since college. And, even then, it was once or twice. He even remembered making the stupid video, which was probably a big part of the reason Laura was so upset about being married to him. "I don't remember."

"Well, I don't either." She put her hands on her slim hips, still looking down at him.

"Do you want to sit down?" He gestured at the other editing chair, figuring she might need to take a seat. He'd have been on the floor in a very un-masculine dead faint had he been standing when she'd told him that they were married.

"No. I won't be here long."

"I think we have some things to talk about." Like divorcing him. Fuck. No one in his family but him had ever been divorced. That's not something Laughlins did. His parents would be devastated if he was the family's first and second divorces. He could imagine his mother's tutting over his failure right now. His brothers were all happily married and reproducing at an alarming rate — not him.

"I don't need to sit down for you to agree to an annulment."

Charlie shook his head, hoping to clear the cobwebs, but she must have taken it as a refusal to give her what she wanted.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Before Daylight"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Andie J. Christopher.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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