With one cancelled wedding, one weekend fling, and a lot of history behind them, can a career-minded former couple finally get on the fast-track to true love--with each other?. . .
Tired of working long hours with no one to come home to, ER doctor Denise Saunders accepts a chance to compete on a reality dating show. But there's only one person she trusts to review the contract--attorney Brody Nichols, the man she left at the altar five years ago. Needless to say, Brody is floored. Unable to convince her to opt out, and unwilling to stand by while she risks getting burned by the spotlight, he can only think of one way to protect the woman he's never stopped loving...
Denise expected some surprises on Finding Mr. Right, but she's beyond shocked to meet the last contestant: Brody. She doesn't know whether to feel punk'd, pissed, or relieved. Yet as a series of hot hijinks and dueling bachelors ensues, Denise can't deny he's The One--and always has been. She knows she'll have to come clean about their past to the show's other contestants--and to Brody. But once she tells him the real reason she played the runaway bride, Brody may be the one to walk. Is honesty a risk she's brave enough to take?. . .
Praise for Gail Chianese and her West Side Romance debut!
"This book will make your heart smile." --Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author
"A series destined for the keeper shelf!" --Roxanne St. Claire, New York Times bestselling author
"The West Side Romance series is like the perfect pick-me-up latte--hot and steamy, with a layer of frothy fun on the top!" --Jessica Andersan, New York Times bestselling author
"Convincing characters, hot love scenes, and emotional depth." --Library Journal, Starred Review
|Publisher:||Penguin Random House LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.54(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Fiancé for Keeps
West Side Romance
By Gail Chianese
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Gail Chianese
All rights reserved.
"I've got good news and bad news for you, kid." Dr. Denise Saunders looked down into the hopeful eyes of her twelve-year-old patient, Johnny. "The good — you're going to live. The bad — you may die yet. Give your mom another scare like today and she just might kill you herself. Justifiably so."
"I almost had it," his small voice murmured as Johnny looked up through ridiculously long lashes at her and his mom.
"Almost had it?" his mom squeaked. "You're lucky you didn't break your neck. I still don't understand what in the world you were thinking."
Denise slid the X-ray into place and turned on the light to show her patient and his mom. "See this dark line here, running across the white? That shows you have a simple fracture of the radius — a broken arm. That's good, because we don't have to operate, but you will have to wear a cast for about six weeks while it heals." She turned to Johnny's mom, a woman about her own height of five-six, with darker brown hair and eyes that seemed well beyond her years. "Thankfully, kids heal pretty fast. He shouldn't have any long-term effects."
The thanks Mrs. Ford extended didn't reach her eyes.
"So listen up, Blaze," she teased, using the last name of the superhero the boy had tried to emulate. "If you promise me you won't try any more super stunts, especially without supervision and protection, I won't dress your cast in Hello Kitty wrap. Deal?"
"They make it look so easy," Johnny grumbled, slinking down in the sterile bed.
Denise reached out and ruffled his hair. "Of course they do, silly. Johnny Blaze signed a pact with the devil and the Human Torch was mutated. Plus, they have the magic of Hollywood behind them."
"Johnny, honey, what are you talking about?" his mom asked.
"Ghost Rider and Fantastic Four," Denise and Johnny answered together.
"Are you kidding me? You could have been killed. You're never watching those movies again," his mom choked out.
Denise gave Johnny a sympathetic smile before turning to his mom. "Mrs. Ford, this is going to take a couple of minutes and we need to wait for my nurse, Jenna, to gather up the supplies. Would you like a cup of coffee or tea? We have a break station just outside the room."
Normally, Denise would have passed this task — wrapping Johnny's arm — off to an intern with her nurse's assistance, but things were quiet in the ER, as they had been for the past couple of weeks, so she could afford to take the luxury of talking to her patient's mom and seeing this through to the end. It was kind of a nice change of pace.
Mrs. Ford cast a long, frustrated look at her son and stood up. "I'd love some, thanks."
Denise led her outside the room and to the little causeway next to it that allowed staff to zip from one side of the ER to the other, to get patients ice, water, Jell-O, and the occasional snack to hold them over on long shifts.
"Do you have kids, Dr. Saunders?"
Denise shook her head and ignored the tick-tock of her internal clock, reminding her that birthday number thirty-three would soon be here.
"It's a challenge, especially with only one parent. Still, I wouldn't trade one moment of motherhood. Well, maybe I'd skip a few, like when he gets these wild ideas that he can be a superhero."
Denise pointed to the coffee and tea carafes and told Mrs. Ford to help herself, and pulled a bottle of water out from the minifridge for herself.
"Do you mind my asking, what does his dad do for a living?"
"John Sr. was in the Navy. They said he was a hero when he gave his life to save what appeared to be an innocent family. The woman and children were decoys and John shouldn't have been in the sandbox to begin with. He joined the Navy, not the Army or the Marines. He belonged on a submarine. Safe. Away from land mines and suicide bombers." Mrs. Ford looked to Johnny's room before exhaling a deep sigh and turning back to Denise. "That was two years ago."
"Ah, I see." And she did, because this had been Johnny's third time in the ER in the past two years after pulling a dangerous stunt. It all made sense now, and her heart broke, knowing what this child had lost and all he'd continue to miss out on in the coming years. "You're doing a great job with your son."
"But if I don't do something soon, he might try something even crazier."
"I'm not a psychologist, Mrs. Ford, so take this with a grain of salt." Denise took a sip of her water. "Kids tend to deal with loss differently than adults do; they lose themselves in books and movies. They block events out and sometimes they try to prove nothing bad can ever happen to them."
"What do I do?" Mrs. Ford whispered, tears shimmering at the corners of her eyes. "I've tried talking to him. He tunes me out."
"There's a group of psychologists here in Providence who specialize in children. They practice behavior therapy, so they could help Johnny funnel his pain, confusion, and anger into acceptable — and safe — activities. I'll get you their card before you leave."
"Thanks." The mom stepped toward the room and stopped. "Would you really wrap his cast in Hello Kitty?"
"In a heartbeat."
Thankfully, she didn't have to resort to drastic measures as Johnny apologized to his mom as soon as they walked into his room and promised both women he wouldn't try any more stunts on his own. In short order, they got his arm wrapped in the cast and sent the boy and his mom on their way, with the psychologists' card tucked safely in Mrs. Ford's purse.
"I think you have another admirer," Jenna Beck, nurse and confidante extraordinaire, informed her as she cleaned up the mess in the exam room.
"Now, if only I could find a guy over four feet tall and of legal age who's as easily impressed."
"It might help if you didn't look like you were still waiting to graduate high school. Do you still get carded?"
"All the time."
"So not fair." They walked out of the room and headed to the nurses' station. "I'd like to find a guy who doesn't want to play doctor when he finds out I'm a nurse." Jenna pulled a syringe out of her pocket, hit the end, and turned it into a pen. "Of course when I whip one of these puppies out, they tend to change their tune rather quickly."
"Sheer genius." They joined two of the other nurses, Valerie and Kris, along with her fellow resident on duty, Dr. Shad Davis, at the desk. "Anything new come in?" Denise handed over the hospital copies of Johnny's discharge paperwork to Valerie.
"Nope. Time to enjoy the calm before the weekend storm, where we'll all put in overtime. Thankfully, Valentine's isn't as bad as New Year's or the Fourth of July," Kris said.
"It's not like I have a social life anyway. May as well work." Denise could remember a time when she'd had that someone special in her life to share the day's stories with, to go out to dinner or a show with, but she'd given it all up for the dark side. Only there weren't any cookies, just long hours, cold nights, and her own internal clock ticktocking away, reminding her life was slipping by.
"Tell me about it," Shad chimed in. "I figured because I never have time to hang with friends outside of here, I'd join the social media bandwagon and sign up on Facebook. At least then, in between patients and while studying for my fellowship, I could catch up with family. Big mistake."
"What did you do, get addicted to one of those games?" Jenna asked as she dropped into the free chair.
"I never made it that far. I picked a night after a particularly long and emotionally draining day. Got as far as filling in my profile and uploading my picture before I fell asleep at my desk. The next morning I woke up to over a hundred e-mails in my in-box with some interesting and creative suggestions. They even uploaded pictures. I think I saw more naked bodies in one day than I have in my entire medical career."
Jenna shot her a raised eyebrow and started laughing. Valerie and Kris, who were older and a bit on the conservative side, exchanged quiet smiles.
"Doesn't sound like Facebook to me. Not that I'm on there." Denise pulled her water bottle out of her pocket and took a long drink.
"Well, the site started with an F and had the word book in it." Shad turned about ten shades of crimson.
"You didn't?" All four women asked before breaking out in laughter.
"My next-door neighbor even responded. With a picture. Au naturel. He's eighty!"
Denise choked on her water. Tears streamed down Jenna's face, while Valerie covered her mouth with her hand.
"Do you know how awkward it was running into him at the mailbox? I mean, what do you say when you've seen your eighty-year-old neighbor naked, with an offer to do bad things to you?"
"How's it hanging? Oh, never mind. I already know," Kris suggested innocently.
Denise lost it then. The laughter stole her breath away, and the quieter she tried to be the harder it was to breathe. "Clearly you need to disappear, Shad. Change your phone number, delete your e-mail, maybe even move to Nome, Alaska. If anyone asks if you're Dr. Shad Davis from Providence, deny, deny, deny. I could hook you up with a good plastic surgeon. A little nip on the nose and chin, a little tuck around the eyes, and you might be able to return in about ten years or so."
"I've learned my lesson. The Internet is evil. I'm never going on social media again. My friends and family can reach me the old-fashioned way, via phone or in person." His phone pinged in his pocket and when he pulled it out and looked at the screen, Shad hung his head. "I'm going to go delete my e-mail account."
"Poor guy." Denise wiped the tears away and took in a few deep breaths. "But strangely, I feel better about my life all of a sudden. I'll be in the breakroom if anyone needs me."
As Denise walked away from the desk, where the three nurses were still chuckling, she made a mental note: do not attempt social media. Which really wasn't much of an issue for her anyway, except for Pinterest. She loved skimming the recipes. Not that she had the time, energy, or desire to cook real meals. Maybe if she had someone to share the food with, she'd be inspired to try some. As it was, cooking for one didn't require a lot of thought.
Pop a DiGiorno in the oven and twenty minutes later — better than delivery.
The breakroom was empty and Denise grabbed a packet of Pop-Tarts — unfrosted of course — and dropped onto the sagging couch. She never noticed the beeps and hisses of the machines while on the floor. After all these years, it was white noise. But the minute she walked into the deserted lounge the quiet enveloped her, at times almost suffocatingly so and at others calming her nerves, allowing her to center her mind and energy. A must to survive the busy shifts in the emergency department.
Today it brought peace. They told you not to get emotionally attached to patients, yet it was hard, especially with the kids. And Johnny ... well, he'd stolen her heart the first time he'd been brought in. He'd fallen off a ladder while trying to take Christmas lights off the front of his house. His mom had been at work and he'd wanted to surprise her. He'd looked up at Denise from beneath those ridiculously long dark lashes and said he was trying to help, so his mom could relax when she came home. How could her heart not go out to him?
The story of his dad had done more than touch Denise's heart; it had ripped it to shreds and reminded her of how lucky she was to have all her family. It left an overwhelming need to hear her mom's voice, see her sisters, and feel her dad's strong arms around her. She made a quick call to her mom, left a message when voice mail came on. Next she shot off a couple of texts to the not-so-forgotten middle child, Elysia, and the baby, Rhachel, asking when they were free for a girls' night out. Both lived within ten minutes of her, but their schedules kept them miles apart. Because she knew her dad, who worked as an airport ramp agent, wouldn't be able to take her call, she made a note to pick up flowers and stop by to see her parents over the weekend.
Nibbling on the pastry, she pulled up her e-mail and worked her way through sales notices, sexual stimulant ads, and invitations to engage in illicit affairs. The last e-mail in her box had one of those oddly familiar names she couldn't place right away. For several minutes she racked her brain trying to put a face with the name or at least place how she knew them. Her finger hovered over the Delete button as she debated whether to Open or Discard.
"What the heck," she said to no one in particular and held her breath as she clicked open the message. Her eyes locked on the first line.
Dear Denise, Congratulations! You've been selected to be the next Ms. Right on Finding Mr. Right.
She had put the show out of her mind. Who wouldn't have, after six months of not hearing anything? And, well, a few months ago she'd thought her days of being single had ended. As evidenced by the no social life and volunteering to work on Valentine's Day, things hadn't worked out as she'd hoped. A quick scan of the contents had her heart pounding, her palms sweating, and her stomach jumping up and down. Basically, it was like her first day as an intern — scared spitless and as excited as a kid on her first trip to Disneyland.
A second read-through and she noted the schedule. Filming began in three weeks. A crew would arrive in two weeks to film her intro, as they wanted to capture the "real" her, both at home and work. She would need to read the attached contract. Sign it. Complete the nondisclosure, eligibility, and release forms. Sign them. Complete the medical history form — easy-peasy. Sign it — okay, she got it, sign her life away. She couldn't pull up all the documents on her antique phone, but she got the feeling her head would spin when she did. Three weeks didn't leave a lot of time to put your life on hold. Good thing she didn't really have a life and had a lot of vacation days saved up. Not to mention she needed to shop for a new wardrobe and lose those ten stubborn pounds.
"Hey, whatcha doing?" Jenna poked her head into the breakroom.
Denise waved her in and put her finger to her lips. "You're never going to believe this." She filled her friend in on the e-mail contents while keeping an eye on the door to make sure no one else popped in. "So, what do you think? Should I go?"
Over the summer it had seemed like a great idea. Take a little break from the monotony of work. Hang out by the pool. Go on surreal dates with gorgeous men who were hot for her. Travel to exotic locations. Find someone to share her life with without all the fuss and muss of blind dates or hanging out in bars. Now? She was torn. Not that anything had really changed. One incredible weekend didn't change the past or — clearly — her future.
"Yes! Are you crazy? First, you get to escape the cold because that stupid groundhog saw his shadow. We should feed him to the wolves. Second, you'd get to live in that amazing mansion with that beautiful pool. Not to mention you'll go on cool, fun dates and visit new places. Why would you say no?"
"I don't know about that. According to the e-mail, they're moving to a mansion in the San Francisco area for a change of pace and scenery. It can still be pretty cold there in March." The second question was the issue, and while it was easy, it wasn't simple. Mainly, her job. She'd worked long and hard to finish her internship and residency at the hospital. "What if they won't give me a leave of absence? Then I'm out of a job and there's no guarantee he'll be the guy of my dreams."
"You won't know unless you go. Unless you're still hung up on Brody."
"What?" Her head reared back and she looked at her friend like she'd lost her mind. "Why would you think that?"
"Oh, come on, Denise. I know he was the guy from the wedding who you spent the weekend with in October." Jenna popped the last piece of Denise's Pop-Tart in her mouth and gave her a look, daring her to deny it.
"I never said it was Brody."
"You never said it wasn't."
"Okay, so what? I spent a wonderful, romantic weekend with my ex-fiancé. And maybe I thought — hoped — it would be the start of us rebuilding our relationship. Obviously, by his silence, that isn't what Brody was looking for."
Jenna crossed the room and pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge, tossed Denise a fresh one, and grabbed one for herself. She took a couple of sips with a questioning look on her face. The woman was worse than an amateur sleuth in a cozy mystery when she didn't know an answer.
Excerpted from Fiancé for Keeps by Gail Chianese. Copyright © 2016 Gail Chianese. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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