Aubry Kaiser doesn’t like people—actually, that’s not right. She loathes people. With her crippling anxiety, there’s no way she can demo her favorite video game at a convention with five thousand other people. Maybe if she brings someone to act as a shield…
But the only person available is the sexy cowboy she can’t stand.
Quinn Baldwyn is in a mess of his own. He’s been dodging his wealthy family’s matchmaking attempts—and life advice—for years, but with his sister’s wedding on the horizon, he needs of a shield of his own.
He and Aubry can barely hold down a civil conversation, but in bed…fireworks. And the closer they get to Quinn’s sister’s wedding, the more he realizes that he might actually like Aubry.
Now it’s up to him to convince her she might actually like him, too.
Each book in the Foolproof Love series is a standalone, full-length story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Foolproof Love
Book #2 Fool Me Once
Book #3 A Fool for You
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Fool Me Once
A Foolproof Love Novel
By Katee Robert, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Katee Robert
All rights reserved.
A wedding? Might as well be a goddamn funeral for all I'm going to enjoy it.
Quinn Baldwyn grabbed three beers out of his fridge, very carefully not looking at the invitation he'd stuck to the front of it. It was a constant reminder of the sword hanging over his neck — one he couldn't avoid indefinitely.
His sister's wedding. He hated running the gauntlet that was his ambitious family during the monthly dinners required to keep them off his back. Having to face the firing squad and all the bells and whistles at this wedding? Even worse. He didn't have to see the elegant invitation to know that Jenny — and their mother — had pulled out all the stops in the wedding planning or that he'd be expected to put on his monkey suit and play the doting son.
It made him so fucking exhausted just thinking about it.
He'd stopped playing the political games his father demanded of him over a decade ago, and he wasn't about to be drawn back into that world. Not now. Not ever. He much preferred the quieter life he'd chosen, working on the Rodriguez ranch, leaving the damn oil business to his family. The only reason he hadn't cut out his old man completely was because of his little sister, Jenny. She lived in that world, and attending the dinners — and the wedding — was a small price to pay to make her happy.
A small price, though one that grated.
"You're taking your sweet time in there, Baldwyn."
He took a deep breath and tried to let the tension out of his shoulders. If there was anyone who'd pick up on it, it would be Adam and Daniel, and then he'd never hear the end of it. As far as they were concerned, Quinn's father could take a flying leap and be done with it. They didn't understand that it was easier for Quinn to do the bare minimum to keep his little sister from being torn in her loyalties. If he told his old man where to stick it, he'd be banished in truth, and Jenny would have to openly defy their parents to see him. He wouldn't put her in that position. He refused to.
The only problem was that the older he got, the more his father started asking probing questions about his plans to settle down and create some more Baldwyns. With Jenny's wedding right around the corner, there was no one else to focus on pairing off, and as the only son, as far as his father was concerned, it was Quinn's responsibility to continue the family name.
He turned, forcing a smile onto his face. "Hey, pretty lady."
Jules stood in the doorway, a bright smile on her face. The expression dimmed when she took him in. "Is everything okay?"
Not in the least. But he held up the beers. "Just getting my barmaid on."
Instead of being appeased, she frowned harder. That was the problem with women — they saw too much. Oh, his buddies knew that something was chewing at him, but they were more than happy to let him stew over it until he was ready to talk. If he was never ready to talk? Hell, that was okay, too. But now that Adam was married to Jules, she was around a lot more often, and the woman was incapable of seeing a person in need without wanting to meddle. She meant well, but there was no fixing his situation. "Jules —"
"It's okay if you don't want to talk about it. Adam's not really a sharer, either." She took two of the beers from him. "I'm used to it."
She wasn't trying to guilt him, but guilt rose all the same. Quinn sighed. Telling Jules Meyer-Rodriguez "no" was like kicking a puppy — it just wasn't done. And, damn her, she knew it. "Look, it's complicated."
"Okay." She set the beers aside and hopped onto the kitchen counter, swinging her legs like a little kid. "I can do complicated. Hit me with it."
What could it hurt to get some of his frustrations off his chest? He leaned over to look out into the living room, but for all intents and purposes, Adam and Daniel seemed engrossed in the Cowboys game going on. I bet that ass sent her in here on purpose. He popped the cap off his beer and took a swig. "If I tell you, you'll leave it alone?"
"No promises." She'd said it cheerfully. Everything about the woman was cheerful. It'd be aggravating as fuck if she wasn't so genuinely nice. How she'd become such a good friend with that vicious little redhead, Aubry Kaiser, was beyond him.
He took another drink. "My sister is getting married."
"Oh, how exciting!" She pressed her lips together. "Unless you don't like her fiancé? Because that's not exciting at all. That's horrible." She brightened. "Are we going to break up their wedding?"
"Hold your horses." He held up a hand, rocking back on his heels. "That little scheme you had going with Adam last year has gone to your brain and made you power mad. And Brad is just fine. A little on the boring side, but fine." As far as he could tell, anyways. The guy loved Jenny and wasn't scared of their old man. More importantly, Jenny loved him to distraction and he made her happy. Quinn couldn't ask for much more.
"Okay, then what's the problem?"
Here it was. He almost backed out, made his excuses, and took off. But if he'd learned one thing about Jules, it was that she was more than capable of chasing his ass down and pestering him until he told her what she wanted to know. Frankly, he was surprised it had taken this long for her to turn her fixing eye on him and his problems. "My old man has decided he's a matchmaker, and he's getting more pointed with the women he's trotting out in front of me like prize dogs."
Jules made a face. "Charming."
"You have no idea." The last woman had been named Barbie. She was perfectly nice, but her breast size was larger than her IQ and all she'd done through the entire dinner was talk about all the things her new diet wouldn't allow her to eat. Call him crazy, but if he'd been looking for a woman — and he most definitely wasn't — it would be someone he could hold down more than a five-minute conversation with.
"Well, there's an easy solution." She grinned. "Just take a date. She'll run off any prospective women your family is looking to hook you up with, and if you can convince your dad that you're serious about her, maybe that will get him off your back in a more long-term way."
He opened his mouth to tell her that was an insane idea but closed it without the words escaping. It was crazy — committable, even — but she had a point. The only problem with that plan was that he didn't know a woman he could take to a wedding without her getting it into her head that he was looking for something more serious. He dated casually, and he liked keeping it that way. Hell, he liked his life the way it was. He didn't want or need the oil money his old man kept wafting in front of him, and he definitely didn't need a woman intent on him putting a ring on her finger. "You know of anyone?" He straightened. "Hey, you want to go to a wedding with me?"
"Hands off my woman, Baldwyn." Adam appeared in the doorway and shot them both a look. "Whatever you're planning, sugar, I'm putting my foot down. One zany scheme a decade is more than enough."
She propped her hands on her hips. "How can you say that? My zany scheme got me you, didn't it?"
Adam raised his eyebrows. "I didn't say it was a bad plan."
"Oh, stop. You two are going to give me cavities." Quinn shook his head. "Forget I asked. I don't need any help with this." He'd figure something out — and fast. The wedding was two weeks away.
More than enough time to find a woman to attend a wedding and pretend we're serious enough to keep my old man off my back without her getting any funny ideas.
"I think you're wrong, Quinn. Luckily, I'm here to help!"
She grinned, a light in her eyes that he couldn't ignore. Whatever he and Adam had said to dissuade her, the wheels were turning in that pretty head of hers, and he was damn sure he wasn't going to like what came of it.
* * *
Aubry Kaiser glared at her computer. Even Ninja Kitteh curled up in her lap, purring like a jet engine, wasn't enough to distract her. No matter how much she focused her not-inconsiderable willpower, the words on the screen didn't change.
She took a deep breath and looked around Cups and Kittens, the cat café owned by her best friend, Jules. Life went on, the cats in their usual places, lounging around the tables and in convenient sunbeams, the sole other human occupant reading a magazine and ignoring her completely. Just the way she liked it.
But the problem with nothing being abnormal was that she ran out of things to look at thirty seconds into her perusal.
She gave Ninja Kitteh another stroke and looked back to her computer.
A few years ago, the email sitting in her inbox would have made her elated enough to dance on the ceiling, but that was a few years ago. Right now it just represented all the things that were wrong with her life. She reread it for the twelfth time.
You've done it! You're cordially invited to a closed alpha test of the new Deathmatch in San Diego on June 3rd.
She knew for a fact these invites only went out to a handful of people, and part of her was screaming with sheer, unadulterated joy as a result. The Xbox game, Deathmatch ... Well, she wouldn't be completely dramatic if she said that it saved her life when she was a teenager. She'd lived in that little hellhole of a trailer with her shitty mother and her mother's equally shitty string of boyfriends, and there hadn't been a single person in her school whom she'd connected with. She'd been adrift and depressed, and then she'd picked up the game on a whim.
And found her tribe.
Her playing — her interacting with people who shared at least one fandom with her — had given her the strength to pursue her interests, to get the hell out and never look back. When she was sixteen, she would have done bodily damage to someone to secure an invite like the one sitting in her inbox. The intervening years hadn't done anything but deepen her love of the game and the community.
To say she was a fan was a serious understatement.
And this wasn't even a demo like the ones they'd hosted for large groups at the con in the past — this was a chance to be one of the first sets of eyes on the new game. Ten people were allowed in. Ten. It blew her mind that she'd been invited at all.
But accepting this invite came with such serious drawbacks, she could barely draw a full breath even thinking about it. She'd have to leave the little town of Devil's Falls, Texas and drive to California. If that wasn't bad enough, alpha test or not, she'd still have to go to Deathmatch's annual convention, DeathCon. Last year, there'd been five thousand people there, all crammed into one convention center.
Black spots danced across her vision, and she struggled to inhale. So many people, all outside her comfort zone. Even knowing how unbearable it'd be, she wanted to go. Good God, she wanted to go. It was more than getting the opportunity to play the alpha version of the newest Deathmatch. It was for bragging rights and prestige and a public recognition of how freaking amazing she was at this game.
It was the chance of a lifetime.
And she was going to have to turn it down.
Ninja Kitteh gave a meow, a sure sign that her best friend Jules — and probably Adam — were back from their football-watching venture. They'd invited her like they always did, but as much as she disliked organized sports, she disliked Quinn Baldwyn more.
He was a big brute of a cowboy, and he liked to poke at her just to get a reaction. She knew that's what he was doing, but that didn't stop her from practically hissing every time she saw him. It was bad enough that she had to share Jules now — though she was legitimately happy for her best friend of six years — but to have to share her time with him was nearly unforgivable.
"Honey, I'm home." Jules sailed through the back door and smiled. "How are things?"
Jules's cousin, Jamie, shrugged. "The usual, though Loki is in as foul of a mood as this one." She jerked her thumb at Aubry.
Jules pinned her with a searching look. "It must be the day for it."
"I can hear you." Aubry crossed her arms over her chest, doing her damnedest not to slouch down and glare harder. She knew she was the cranky one, the snarly one, the one everyone in Devil's Falls gave a wide berth.
Except that asshat Quinn.
Jamie took off like a little coward, leaving Jules standing there watching Aubry with a contemplative expression that she did not like.
Aubry grimaced. "No, I know your thinking face. That's not your thinking face. That's your hatching plans face. Don't try to talk to me like I don't know the difference."
Jules dropped into the seat across from her. "I wouldn't dream of it."
"What are you planning?" Aubry asked. Ninja Kitteh rearranged himself, and she held still so he could get comfortable before she started petting him again. "You might as well just tell me so we can get this over with."
"What's got you so upset?"
Aubry hesitated and then decided to let the subject change go. Jules could be as stubborn as a mule when she wanted to be, and she obviously wasn't willing to talk about whatever was wheeling around in that head of hers yet. When she was ready, Aubry would hear about it, whether she wanted to or not. She sighed. "I got an invite to DeathCon to play the new Deathmatch."
"I thought that didn't come out until next November."
"It doesn't. And that's Deathmatch IX. This is Deathmatch: Redemption." Even saying it was downright painful. "It won't be out until next November."
Jules frowned. "I think I'm confused. Shouldn't you be dancing around and doing your booty shaking victory wiggle?"
"I don't have a booty shaking victory wiggle. That's you." She normally settled for sitting there and looking smug. But there was no room for smugness in her current situation.
"Right. I forgot. All the same — spill."
It was like saying it aloud made her even more pathetic. She didn't want to admit how weak she was, even to Jules, who wouldn't judge her in the least — though she might give Aubry a well-deserved kick in the ass. "There're going to be thousands and thousands of people there — people I don't know — all packed in like people-shaped sardines." She shuddered. "If I believed in hell, this would be my version of it."
"Aubry, of course you believe in hell. You were just talking about how you'll own a nice little piece of property there when you die." Jules rolled her eyes. "But I'm getting off topic."
"Yes, you are, and I don't like you pointing out how I'm going to burn my way through the afterlife." Though the bantering was making her feel a little bit better.
"The point is that I still don't see why the glum face and lack of victory lap. This is a big deal, right?"
"The biggest deal." She clutched Ninja Kitteh closer, earning a warning growl. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Out of the millions of people who play this game, I'm one of ten they picked to test the alpha version."
Jules sat back. "I know you don't like people, but shouldn't you make an exception for this kind of thing? Just this once."
She wanted to. God, she wanted to so much she could barely stand it. "Would you go with me?" Maybe if she had a shield between her and the crowds, she'd be able to survive the encounter.
"I would ..."
Aubry cursed. "Sorry, I forgot. You have that trip planned with Adam and Lenora for his mom. I'm a horrible fucking friend for forgetting that." Adam's mom had passed away a month ago, and her dying wish had been to have her ashes scattered in the Gulf where she and Lenora had their honeymoon. They were leaving next week to drive down there and spend a few days doing a memorial of sorts. Right in the middle of DeathCon.
"It's not. How's Adam holding up?"
Jules sighed. "As well as can be expected, but he's talking to me about it, so we're working through it. This kind of loss isn't an easy bounce-back, no matter how long he had to come to terms with it."
Excerpted from Fool Me Once by Katee Robert, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2016 Katee Robert. 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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