RULE #1: GROOMSMEN ARE STRICTLY OFF LIMITS
Marley Stevenson never imagined her stint as a rented Maid of Honor would practically become a career. Then again, nothing in her life has gone according to plan. At least the money’s good—and she needs it to pay off student loans and help out her mom. But the job has rules, which have never been an issue . . . until one encounter with a gorgeous best man—and his swoon-worthy Southern accent—sends Marley reeling.
Determined to get through the weekend with her professional reputation intact, Marley grits her teeth and sends out her best “unavailable” vibes, but Luke Jessup doesn’t give up that easy. A former Marine and a current SWAT team officer, his focus is legendary—and it’s on Marley. Jeopardizing her job is bad enough, and starting a relationship based on half-truths is worse—yet Marley is beginning to wonder if certain risks are worth taking, especially in the name of true love . . .
“Flirty, fun, and fabulous!”
—Bestselling author Candis Terry
“Fun, lighthearted, and full of emotion. You can't help but smile while reading Cody Gary.”
—K.M. Jackson, author of Insert Groom Here
“Codi Gary is the queen of romance. She'll make you fall head over heels.”
—T.J. Kline, author of the Healing Harts series
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Marley Stevenson was trapped.
If she made a left towards the frozen food section, she was going to have to listen to Mrs. Needermyer go on about her single grandson from Berkeley, who was looking for a traditional wife. Whatever the hell that meant.
If she made a right, however, she would be cornered by Darren Weaver, who had the insane idea that Marley was interested in him. Even though she'd been telling him since he tried to kiss her in second grade that it was never going to happen.
He kept trying though, even after she'd punched him in the nose at an eighth grade dance for copping a feel. They'd both been suspended, but her mom had been proud of her. Her mom had gotten an angry call from Darren's mom about a doctor's bill, but she'd gladly told her to suck it.
Marley loved her mom, but situations like this made her wish she could escape Sweetheart, California already. Living in a small town could be brutal.
Of course, there was always option number three: back out of the store slowly, leaving her meager basket contents behind, but then she'd be stuck buying a sandwich at Subway again, their only fast food restaurant. How she let her refrigerator insides deplete so thoroughly, she had no clue. Maybe because she'd been so busy now that wedding season had officially started, she'd been eating mostly leftovers from caterers.
Those had run out on Tuesday though, and because she'd been in meeting after meeting the last two days, she'd been unable to make it to the store — until now. But thanks to the limited amenities in the small foothill town, she was having trouble avoiding people and places that set her already frazzled nerves on edge. She had to deal with difficult brides at work; she just wanted to breeze in and out of the grocery store without being pestered by annoyingly persistent —
Damn it. She'd contemplated her escape for too long.
"How are you, dear? How's your mother?" Mrs. Needermyer asked.
Marley pasted on her best smile. "She's good. Busy. You should stop by the café and say hi."
Mrs. Needermyer patted her ample waist, her faded blue eyes twinkling behind her thick glasses. "Would if I could, dear, but I've started a new diet. Can't be going in there, tempted by all of your mama's sweet treats."
Marley smiled politely. Mrs. Needermyer was on a new diet every other week, but nothing seemed to stick.
"I know. I have a hard time not sneaking a few from the pan myself," Marley said.
Mrs. Needermyer raked her gaze over Marley's thin frame — and her look clearly said she had a hard time believing that, but it was true. The difference between Mrs. N and Marley was that Marley was forty years younger, ran five miles a day, and did yoga before bed five nights a week to chill out.
Plus, with Marley's high stress job, she usually only ate once or twice a day. During wedding season she lived on coffee, almonds, and Starbursts. Not exactly the most balanced diet, but the coffee kept her from killing people, the almonds gave her protein to stand up, and the Starbursts ... well, they were just freaking awesome.
"Yes, well, you're lucky to be blessed with such good genes, but they won't last forever. After thirty, things will start to slow down and travel south, if you know what I mean."
Please, someone get me the heck out of this conversation.
"Hey there, Mrs. Needermyer."
Marley nearly groaned aloud, and glared at her savior. Darren just grinned at her mockingly.
"I am well, Darren. I am so glad to see you. My car is making the most horrendous sound —"
"If you will both excuse me, I need to get my shopping done and hurry home. Have a good day."
Marley practically ran for the bread aisle, ignoring Mrs. N's huff of indignation behind her. She would probably forget about the confines of her diet just to stop in and tell Marley's mom how rude her daughter was, but at this point, Marley didn't care. She just wanted to get this done, and go home to Butterscotch, her rabbit. She'd saved the orange and white bunny six months ago from Mr. Peltzer, who'd thought rabbit farming would be a lucrative operation. In no time, there were bunnies everywhere, and the town council members decided to close down Mr. Peltzer's rabbit breeding, as they couldn't have the place overrun with rabbits come wedding season.
Marley had been one of the volunteers to help gather them up, and had fallen hard for the tiny bundle of fluff, who had just hopped on over to her and head butted her hand. He was the best man to ever come into her life — that was for damn sure.
Marley tossed a package of milk and honey bread into her basket and rounded the corner, running smack into a hard male chest. When she stumbled back, a muscular arm caught her around her waist, and as she dangled there, leaning back like some historical heroine on the cover of a romance novel, she looked up into a pair of dark, twinkling eyes and a wide, white smile.
"Whoa, there. You okay?"
Marley couldn't seem to find the words, staring up into a face made of granite: sharp cheekbones, a square jaw, and wide forehead. His ears were the only part of him that didn't seem to fit the perfectly proportioned handsomeness; they were a bit large and stuck out a bit, but they didn't detract at all from every other sexy aspect of him. He was built like a mountain, and reminded her of John Cena, especially the way his whole face seemed to get into his amusement.
"Blink once for yes and twice for no," he said.
Shit, he was laughing at her for being all swoony over a pretty face.
"I'm fine," Marley bit out finally, trying to get back up onto her feet. Once there, he released her slowly, those big hands burning through her clothes as they fell away.
She could feel her cheeks heat in embarrassment; she hated to be the butt of anyone's joke, especially some guy who looked like he should be assisting Arnold Schwarzenegger in an Expendable movie. Plus, looking like an idiot in front of an incredibly hot guy is never fun.
"Sorry 'bout almost taking you out there. I was trying to find the cereal aisle and got a little turned around."
Marley had never been one for thinking accents were particularly sexy, but his southern drawl mixed with his smoky deep voice was terribly appealing.
"Is this your first time in Sweetheart?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am. Don't suppose you could help me out by pointing me in the right direction?"
Marley knew he was playing her. The store wasn't that big and the cereal aisle was just over his shoulder, but she really didn't mind. It had been a while since she'd had a man, who didn't make her want to file a sexual harassment complaint, flirt with her
"Sure, it's just this way. I'm Marley." She held out her hand to him, shifting her basket to her other arm.
"Luke. Good to meet you."
Man, she loved the way he talked. "Where are you from?"
"Mississippi originally, but I've been living in Los Angeles the last eight years."
"No kidding?" She stopped in front of the cereal section, waving her free arm. "Here you go. We don't exactly have a plethora of choices, but we have most of the good stuff."
"What's your favorite?" he asked.
"Hmm, you mean my actual favorite or what I tell people so they don't think I'm immature?"
He grabbed a box of Lucky Charms, shaking it in front of her. "This is mine. Which one do you actually like?"
Marley reached out and pointed to the box of Trix.
When he grabbed it and put the box in his basket, Marley raised an eyebrow. "If Lucky Charms are your favorite, then why are you buying mine?"
"Maybe I'm hoping that you'll agree to have breakfast with me tomorrow morning?"
Marley stiffened. Did he actually think he could flash her a smile and she'd go home with him for a sleepover?
"Thanks, but I'm a strong self-sufficient woman" — she threw a box of Trix into her carton with a sniff — "and I can buy my own damn cereal."
To her surprise, he pulled the box out of her cart and put it back on the shelf. "And while I respect that, I'm an old-fashioned guy. When I ask a girl out, I like to pay."
"It sounded more like a proposition than a date," she said.
He actually looked affronted, but he could just be a good actor. "Then I apologize again. I was trying to be clever, and I guess I missed the mark."
"Hmm ... Well, the next time you try to ask a girl out, maybe you should choose a less suggestive meal. Like lunch."
"I'll remember that."
Marley, all traces of the lightheaded excitement gone, nodded. "Well, enjoy your stay in Sweetheart, but I have more shopping to do. By the way, what brings you here?"
"Yours?" Oh, why in the heck did I say that?
That grin was back, 100 percent male and looking self-satisfied.
"No, a friend's. I would never hit on another woman if I was getting married."
She could tell her cheeks were still burning, but she tried to play it through. "Good to know. Well, it was nice to meet you. I'm sorry about the —"
"Hang on now. How about that lunch?" he asked.
Marley hesitated, considering. She didn't get involved with tourists, usually, but it would be nice to go on an actual date.
"How long are you in town?"
"This week, then every weekend until the second weekend in August."
Weekends were usually booked solid for her. "How about Monday? I should be able to meet you around one."
"That sounds good, but can I get your number at least?"
His teasing made her laugh at her own eagerness.
After the number exchange, Luke took his phone back, his fingers brushing over hers lightly. That simple touch made her skin light up with tiny tingles, like the bubbles at the top of a glass of champagne.
"I'll see you Monday. It was good bumping into you, Marley."
He walked back down the aisle, and the minute he was out of sight, she picked up the box of Trix again with a smile. She suddenly had a craving.
Luke Jessup had grown up in a small town a lot like Sweetheart with one major exception ...
There was wedding shit everywhere here. Every store had something to do with the big day. His best friend, Brent Harwood had warned him that Sweetheart's main attraction was the wedding destination for the Hollywood elite, and the place was like Santa's Workshop for brides.
Brent's fiancée e, Sonora Star, didn't seem to be that thrilled though, if her high pitched complaining was any indication.
"I just can't believe that Belinda flaked! How am I supposed to find another MOH at the last minute?"
"MOH?" Luke didn't know why in the hell he'd asked, considering how her icy blue eyes lanced through him in disgust. That seemed to be the only emotion Sonora could muster for him, and the feeling was completely mutual. Luke couldn't understand how a guy like Brent, who was smart, driven, and above all, a great guy, would take things so far with a has been pop princess with a shady past.
Luke knew enough from the tabloid fodder and from Brent that Sonora had been struggling the last leg of her career. After several singles that flopped, she'd spiraled down to the point where TMZ was calling her the next "Britney 2007." She'd gotten into a Twitter war with Miley Cyrus, and posted a series of Snapchat videos where she was crying, tears and mascara rolling down her face as she'd rambled about how the music industry ruins young artists.
It wasn't until after she'd taken a nose dive while performing at the MTV Video Music Awards and calling Kanye West a no talent hack that her agent had stepped in and gotten her into rehab. When she'd gotten out, she'd been photographed at an SPCA fundraiser, building sack lunches for the homeless and doing several meet and greets for Make a Wish. Even with the good PR, her career hadn't recovered.
A year after she'd gotten clean though, she met Brent at a Feed America charity dinner and the next thing Luke knew, the two of them were engaged. Luke still couldn't figure out how in the hell that had happened.
Fine, so even Luke could admit she was hot. With long, strawberry blonde hair, big blue-green eyes, full pouty lips and a banging body to boot, Sonora could get any guy's motor running.
Until she opened her mouth and made most men want to run screaming in the other direction.
Sonora spun around, giving him an exaggerated eye roll. "Maid of honor! It is a huge responsibility!"
The three of them were heading into breakfast at the Sweetheart Café, and passed by an elderly couple holding hands like a couple of teenagers. Luke and Brent mumbled a "good morning," but Sonora just sniffed like they smelled. It was funny how someone who had pretty much tanked their life and career could still act all high and mighty.
"What about your sister?" Brent asked as he held the door.
"Are you kidding me? Kendall will only sabotage everything! You know she hates me."
"Geez, I wonder why?" Luke mumbled.
Sonora was too busy whining to hear him, but by the warning look Brent shot him, he had.
Luke had tried to be nice, to be understanding and to look deep inside Sonora for whatever drew Brent to her, but all he'd found was a vapid social climber with no talent and even less compassion. The polar opposite of Brent, who along with his two brothers, ran their family's hotel empire. Brent was constantly volunteering or donating to one charity or another.
Sonora, oblivious to them, was still lamenting her lack of bridesmaid. "I guess I'll just have to go through my phone again and see if I can find someone who can fit into Belinda's dress."
"Hey there." A woman in her late forties or early fifties approached, wearing an old-fashioned white apron. Her silver-streaked blond hair was up in a loose bun, and her eyes were lightly lined with crow's feet behind the clear lenses of her glasses. "You can seat yourselves and I'll be right there to tell you the specials."
They found an empty booth at the back of the restaurant, and Luke studied the homey décor as they passed. The red walls were covered in black and white pictures of couples: couples kissing, couples hugging, couples holding hands. Even Luke thought it was a pretty cute setup for a restaurant called the Sweetheart Café.
"God, this place is tacky," Sonora said loudly.
Of course Sonora the Brat would think so.
Several people turned, their expressions ranging from mildly irritated to downright hostile.
"Babe, knock it off." Brent's angry command was so out of character, Sonora stumbled in front of him, and Luke wanted to slap him on the back for finally getting his balls back.
Sonora's mouth opened to say something, but she must have had second thoughts because she closed it with a snap. She slid into the booth first, clearly sulking, and then Brent slid in. Luke did not want to sit next to Sonora, but since Brent wasn't moving, he went to the other side and slumped down.
"Here you go." The server set down three ice waters and three menus. "And today we have our SOS omelet, which is made with jalapeño peppers, bell peppers, onions, pepper jack cheese, and spinach, our 'hot' potatoes, and one of our famous biscuits with jalapeño jelly. If spicy isn't your thing, we have the Sweetheart Hot Cakes, which is a stack of five of our buttermilk and vanilla pancakes, served with your choice of five syrups, whipped cream and chocolate chips, or a helping of our fresh preserves in either peach, strawberry, or blueberry."
"That sounds good to me. Could I add some bacon and sausage to that?" Luke asked.
His friendly tone seemed to relax her, and he wondered if she'd heard Sonora talking shit about the café. "Oh, a big boy like you needs his protein, so I think you should go with this." She pointed to an item in a box on the menu.
Luke read the description aloud. "The Tank, huh? This hefty platter is packed with every food group, and will keep you pumped for battle or spending the day wooing your honey." Luke chuckled. "Well, I don't have a honey, but that sounds good to me."
"And how about some coffee, handsome?"
Luke glanced at her name tag with a grin. "Well, Rose, I think I'll take you up on that. Black is fine."
She winked at him, her green eyes twinkly. "You got it."
When she turned towards Sonora and Brent, her demeanor was more formal, but still friendly enough, even when Sonora started asking for a caloric breakdown of several items and a bottle of spring water.
Rose's expression changed, and she spoke as if Sonora were a child who didn't want to eat her dinner. "You want spring water, darling, you go to Idaho. Our water is filtered, but if you really want a bottle, there's the gas station across the street."
Sonora's face turned bright red and she looked like she was about to stand up and make a scene.
Excerpted from "Don't Call Me Sweetheart"
Copyright © 2017 Codi Gary.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.