He's so much more than she bargained for...
Professional matchmaker Serena Elliott spends her workdays helping clients find love. It's the perfect gig. She gets to see the good part of the relationships...before things inevitably turn to crap. She leads her own love life the same way. Get in, and get out before things get too complicated. One date with sexy army doctor, Bryan Metcalf, won't be enough to make her change her mind, no matter how hot it gets...
Bryan has had his share of crazy women and isn't in the market for another relationship that ends by way of restraining order. When Serena Elliott gets into a bidding war for him at a charity bachelor auction, he's a little worried. Turns out she's just as anti-relationship as he is, and could be the solution to all his problems. If he can convince her to be his fake girlfriend, he just might be able to spend the rest of his leave in peace. Now if only he can stop thinking about that night on the beach...
But there are other forces at work that believe these two belong together, and they just might find out that happily ever afters do exist.
About the Author
USA TODAY bestselling author Christine Bell is one half of the happiest couple in the world. She doesn't like clowns or bugs (except ladybugs, on account of their cute outfits), but loves movies, football, and playing Texas Hold ‘Em. Writing is her passion, but if she had to pick another occupation, she'd be a wizard. She loves writing fun, sexy contemporary romances, but also hopes to one day publish something her dad can read without wanting to dig his eyes out with rusty spoons. Christine loves to hear from her readers. Visit her on her website (www.christine-bell.com), Twitter (@_ChristineBell), and Facebook.
Read an Excerpt
A Perfectly Matched Novel
By Christine Bell, Kerri-Leigh Grady
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Christine Bell
All rights reserved.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me." Bryan Metcalf nearly choked on the words as he searched for his discarded coat. He had to get the hell out of here before things got even more bizarre.
"Oh come on, bro, don't be a baby. Everyone else is wearing them." His little sister looked up at him with a pleading expression she'd crafted in childhood and perfected as the years went by.
Quinn always did this to him. She'd call him up begging for help, like she was at her wit's end and was desperate for his help, and by the time he got there, desperation was nowhere to be found. Instead, he'd find a carefully planned set of tasks lined up for him and his smiling sister, proverbial whip in hand.
Today was no different.
She'd phoned him that morning, next to tears, choking out something about the last bachelor in tonight's charity auction having the flu and would he mind stepping in? Her job was on the line and, truly, he wouldn't have to do much. One date with a nice lady who wanted to help the hospital raise money, nothing embarrassing or stupid.
It was all very convincing. And so, like the big dumb idiot he was, he swooped in to save the day. What she didn't mention was the theme of tonight's festivities.
Adam and Eve.
Even that wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the fact that all the bachelors in her little auction were practically naked, covered only by underwear made of ferns, which were apparently strung together by the last remnants of their dignity.
Getting him here might have been yet another notch on Q's belt of manipulation, but he'd be damned if he was about to prance around with his twig and berries covered by nothing except a few more twigs and berries.
He was just sizing up the other guys to see whom he might recruit to help him stage a coup when his sister's voice dragged him back to his bizarro reality.
"It's really not that bad," Quinn was saying. "You're going to look great. Green's totally your color." She smirked, brushing back the long braids hanging around her face. "What are you, a medium?" She held up a pair of briefs with a particularly small set of leaves glued onto them and then tossed them in his direction.
"Very funny. No chance in hell you're getting me to wear that."
She surveyed him for a moment, her eyes going soft and watery and her rounded features pinching into a pathetic, sad-clown face. "Please, bro. It's my first big event. I need you."
His sister had been in the party planning business for less than six months and already had landed a plum spot at an established company. This was her first time soloing a gig, and he knew how important it was to her that she succeed.
He snatched a pair of extra-large leaves from the rack behind her. "You owe me. Like, huge."
And as if by magic, the pitiful pout was gone.
"I have a feeling you'll be the one thanking me by the end of this, actually."
She straightened the golden pendant holding her white toga together and smirked at him, apparently satisfied that her pleading had paid off. And since he'd shielded himself behind a portable wardrobe and was shrugging off the rest of his clothes and putting on the wretched costume, her look of triumph was understandable.
Still, as her words sank in, his gut clenched. These schemes of hers were almost always two-parters. If she tricked him into picking up takeout for her, it wasn't just because she couldn't do it herself, it was because there was a nice waitress working the counter who'd already seen a picture of him and knew he'd be stopping in. If she suddenly needed him to meet her at the bank, it was because the teller had a cute granddaughter who was about his age.
She hadn't pulled him here just because she needed the help. This was her utopia. A veritable gold mine of potential wives. The ultimate chance to find him a "nice girl to settle down with."
"Not again, Quinn." His voice was ice cold, but she held her ground, shrugging her shoulders and wrinkling her brow in faux confusion.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Did you set this whole thing up?"
She batted her eyelashes and nodded. "The event? Yeah, you know tha —"
"Not the event. Did you set me up? Did you plant someone in the audience to bid on me or something?"
He'd only been home for a month and already she'd hoodwinked him into three "accidental" dates. All with her friends, who had proved themselves to be on the husband hunt within ten minutes of meeting him.
It was too much — not to mention the fact that she'd signed him up for a bunch of dating websites while he'd been deployed, even going so far as to sucker him into sending video messages to her and then editing them together so she could submit them on his behalf.
"You know, it wouldn't be so terrible for you to find a woman. You've got to find someone to take care of you. God knows you can hardly manage to take care of yourself."
And so the familiar dance begins ... But this time, he wasn't going to let her quick-step her way out of the line of fire. "That wasn't a no."
Quinn let out a long-suffering sigh and plopped onto the vanity chair, Trojan-style sandals in hand. "No, then. No I didn't set you up, okay. But I'm starting to think I should."
"Starting to think you should?" Had everything up until now been a practice run? The thought chilled him to the core.
"You clearly have no intention of ever giving me a niece or nephew. And I worry about you. You keep heading out to save the world. Sometimes I think, without someone here waiting, you might never come back." This time, when her face went serious, it was marred by a genuine sadness he hadn't seen in a very long time. Maybe not since the first time he'd been deployed.
In the eight years he'd been away from home in medical school and then in the army as a trauma doctor, she'd changed. The kid sister he'd left behind was a flighty flower child, innocent and sweet. While the woman in front of him looked just as hippie-like as ever with her long brunette braids and her doe-like eyes, her spirit had matured. She understood the world better now and realized how hard life could be.
But that still didn't mean she knew best for him when it came to women.
"Don't worry. I'm fine. It's better this way right now."
And she should know that. They'd both seen firsthand what a career in the military could do to a family. Their father — whom they'd spent a lifetime calling "Sir" or "the Colonel" — had been gone more than he was home, swinging by long enough for some "tough love" and to cultivate an ego-boosting amount of hero worship from his young son before shipping off again, leaving them all heartsick and alone to spend the next few months picking up the pieces until he did it all over again.
Best-case scenario, Bryan would find a woman who'd grown up in a military family like he had and understood the score. Even then, there would be sacrifices. Little League games, anniversaries, Christmases, birthdays — hell, births, even — would come and go. Even the strongest of couples struggled through reintegration to try to get back to "normal" when their spouse came home after a deployment.
Worst case? He'd end up destroying his own family the way the Colonel had destroyed theirs. And that, he wouldn't do. He was staying single and nothing would sway him, not even Q.
He shook off the unsettling feeling that came every time he thought of his father and focused his attention back on his sister.
"I'm doing the stupid date, but believe me when I tell you, that's that. Got it?" He pinned his gaze on her until she started to squirm and nodded.
"Fine! Fine, whatever," she grumbled. She continued to complain under her breath as she put together the last touches on her outfit. By the end of her fussing, she'd arranged her intricate brown braids on top of her head until she looked like a Medusa impersonator.
After she'd finished tying her sandals, he held out his hand and hoisted her up.
"The first bid starts in ten. I've gotta do mic checks." She flounced off but quickly turned on her heel and scurried back to him. When they were a few inches apart, she stood on tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for coming tonight. Really," she said, then, with a flip of the curtain, she was gone again, leaving him alone in the musty backstage area.
Two guys shuffled past him dressed the same as he was and gave him commiserating half smiles. Poor suckers had gotten flimflammed too. God help him. If he didn't love Q so much, he was sure he'd hate her guts for this. He went back behind the wardrobe to collect his discarded clothes and caught sight of himself in the mirror.
To say he looked ridiculous would have been the understatement of the century, not that any of the schmucks around him looked much better. With a disgusted sigh, he made his way to the wings, listening as his sister tested the mic with a series of off-key vocal exercises and jokes about check, cash, and credit. Same old Q.
He had to admit, though, she was good at her job. Once she completed sound check and went over her lines, she managed to wrangle all the bachelors together and get them in some semblance of order with little effort. She showed them where to stand and encouraged them to smile, flex, and "suck it in" if need be. Then she took some time to chat with each one individually, charming them until they were ready to line up like pigs to slaughter, which was oddly comforting. At least he wasn't the only idiot in the room.
Soon, he could hear the murmur of the crowd through the curtain, and his fight-or-flight instinct kicked in. It was almost showtime, and every passing second added another layer to his cake of regret. Before he could act on his impulse and tear ass out of the building, his sister called for them all to shush and swept out onto the stage like a princess.
"Ladies and ... ladies! Have we got a treat for you tonight!" There were catcalls and wolf whistles galore, to the point that he wondered if his sister had brought him to a charity auction or a women's prison. He'd been led to believe that this was a nice bunch of do-gooders who expected a white rose, a plate of stuffed chicken, a glass of wine, and a kiss on the cheek at the end of the night.
These ladies sounded like they were out for blood — or other bodily fluids — and suddenly, he was contemplating flight again.
The ginger-haired guy in front of him must have been on the same page because he gave him a nervous grimace. "My mother's making me do this," he admitted. "I already have a girlfriend. Judy. Mother hates her." He adjusted his leaves and eyed Bryan assessingly. "I don't suppose you think Quinn would let me back out?" Bryan bit back a laugh and offered him a sympathetic smile. "Sorry, man. Not a chance."
"I hear you, it's cool."
Judging by the cooked lobster shade of his skin and the sweat that had broken out over his brow, it was not at all cool, but Bryan had his own issues to worry about. The show was in full swing now. Guys shuffled past him, one after the other, each halfheartedly shielding their meat and potatoes as best they could, the energy growing more and more frenetic with every new victim who stepped on the stage.
Jesus, had Q been so good at her job that she'd whipped these bridge-club-goers into some sort of frenzy? If he got saddled with some handsy bingo maven, he was going to officially murder his sister.
After the first handful of nervous bachelors had gone, the one guy who seemed way too comfortable in his foliage strutted out, cock-first, to the tune of "Thrift Shop." Hoots and hollers sounded from the crowd, and Bryan sneaked a quick look from behind the community college curtains to get a look at the crowd while they were distracted.
It was a packed house, with the audience full of women sitting shoulder to shoulder at faux ritzy tables draped in white linens with glittery apple centerpieces. Q hadn't lied about one thing. Most of the benefactors were middle-aged, but there was one table full of twenty-somethings who seemed to be the cause of at least half the commotion. Each of them held snake-shaped bidding paddles with numbers emblazoned on them, and they were in a bidding war.
A shrill scream sounded, and his eyes narrowed. Heart thrumming against his ribs, he searched the dim room for the source of that all-too-familiar screech. There was no way ...
But there was a way, because seated in the center of the auditorium was Piper Joyce.
Of all the activities in all of Salem, why in the hell did his crazy-ass ex have to show up here? His sister wasn't responsible for this part of the evening, that much was for sure. She hated Piper and wouldn't be at all happy to see her there.
But Q's job was to make the hospital as much money as possible tonight, and if Piper decided to bid on him ...
Before he had time to process his next course of action, a new song started pumping through the speakers. A song his sister always used to blast in her room on an endless loop when they were growing up. It was the soundtrack of his nightmares.
Still behind the curtain, he closed his eyes and weighed his options. He could probably get away with leaving now. Q would understand if he explained afterward. She might even forgive him. Eventually. The hospital charity, though, might not be so forgiving and neither might her boss ...
"Now, ladies and gentlemen. The moment you've all been waiting for!" His sister's voice boomed through the speakers, and he opened his eyes, focusing on her willowy figure behind the lectern. "Some of you may know him as Salem High's former star quarterback. Some of you know him as the man of your dreams." She tossed a wink over her shoulder at him, and he glared at her, making a silent vow to exact revenge.
"He's here tonight to offer you a limo ride to a sexy —"
Sexy? He blanched.
" ... romantic, five-course meal. And maybe his heart."
Yeah, she was going to pay for this.
"May I present to you our hometown hero, an officer and a gentleman, unless you don't want him to be, the one, the only, Dr. Bryan Metcalf!"
She waved him onto the stage with an exaggerated flourish.
Now or never.
With a deep breath, he strode out, trying hard to pretend he was in his scrubs and not in this ridiculous getup. Marching down the makeshift catwalk, he caught sight of his yearlong mistake and prayed to all things great and good that she was there by way of coincidence. He was a last-minute stand-in, so there was no way she could've known he'd be there. Surely she'd moved on by now anyway and wouldn't want to —
"Five hundred dollars!"
The grating soprano of his former girlfriend split the air as her paddle darted upward. She sat on the edge of her seat, bright-eyed and shaking like a Chihuahua in need of a walk.
"Uh, yeah. Good. Great start," Quinn said, shooting him a panicked glance. "Who will give me five-fifty?" she called, a note of desperation in her voice.
She was clearly as shocked as he was by Piper's presence, which made him feel a little better.
Not much, though. He made his way across the stage a second time and, mercifully, another paddle shot up. He sent a grateful smile toward the bidder until he realized who it was. Grace Love, owner of one of the numerous dating companies Quinn had harangued him into joining, sat at the table across from his ex, her gaze fixed intently on him.
There was no way to know which was the lesser of the two evils. Piper was basically a gold medalist in stalking, but Grace was making strides toward surpassing his ex's record. In the weeks since he'd been home, she'd contacted him half a dozen times, begging him to endorse her company. It was weird, and not a little unsettling. No doubt if she won the auction he'd be forced to sit through five courses listening to why it was best for everyone that he "be the face of Love Will Find a Way matchmaking services."
Excerpted from Dirty Deal by Christine Bell, Kerri-Leigh Grady. Copyright © 2014 Christine Bell. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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