New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Mansell captivates with a madcap tale of the games lovers play.
Who will make the next move?
How does one become accidentally engaged? That's what Suzy Curtis thinks when she suddenly finds herself very publicly engaged to handsome Harry Fitzallan, local town hero. Harry wants famous rock star Jaz to be his best man-only he's Suzy's ex-husband and a recovering alcoholic. Suzy's half sister Lucille loves getting to know the family she'd never met, but she can't help her attraction to Jaz, nor can Suzy quash her entirely inappropriate feelings for Leo, Harry's engaged brother!
With all these wild players at the table, mayhem is bound to ensue. As each new piece comes into play, everyone has more to lose, and the only way to win is if you're good at the games of love...
Praise for The Unexpected Consequences of Love:
"A perfect escape...full of the kind of joy that Mansell's readers have come to savor and that new readers will have a hard time resisting." -RT Book Reviews, 4 stars
"A charming and, at times, madcap romantic comedy." -Booklist
"Mansell will be your remedy for years to come." -Night Owl Reviews, 4 ½ stars, Top Pick
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|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Suzy fell in love with Harry Fitzallan the moment she showed him her husband's sperm sample.
The sample didn't really belong to her husband, of course. Chiefly because she wasn't married.
It wasn't a sperm sample either-it was a McDonald's cup containing the dregs of her strawberry milkshake. But when your brother's just been stopped for speeding and he really, really doesn't want to lose his license-well, sometimes you just have to improvise, do the best you can with what you've got.
Oh, and if she was being honest, it wasn't actually love at first sight either. Still, it was undeniably a healthy attack of lust.
* * *
"Oh, terrific, this is all I need." Rory Curtis, who never swore, let out a low groan as the police car moved smoothly in front of him, flashing its you've-been-caught sign, the driver indicating with a leisurely wave that Rory might like to pull over onto the hard shoulder.
"Bastard!" Unlike her elder brother, Suzy Curtis was partial to a bit of profanity. "Honestly, what is it with these people? Why can't they do something useful, like catch burglars? When are they going to stop harassing innocent motorists who-"
"This is bad news." Brusquely, Rory interrupted her tirade. "I've got points already. There goes my license." He exhaled heavily. "How can I do my job without a car?"
He was a worrier and a workaholic. Suzy, who wasn't, could feel his agitation as he braked and pulled over. She fiddled with the milkshake cup in her lap, quite tempted to take her own frustration out on it and crush it in her fist like an empty Coke can. Except if she tried this, she'd only get milkshake drips all over her navy agnès b. skirt.
Rory slowed to a reluctant halt behind the police car, and they watched the policeman climb out.
Suzy gasped, instantly diverted and whistling in astonishment because the sight of him was so unexpected. "Blimey, I'd have his babies any day."
"You could start right now." Rory's jaw was tense, his tone resigned. "It might distract him from booking me."
There was no getting away from it; this police officer was absolutely gorgeous. Suzy, clocking every delicious detail from the bright blue eyes that crinkled at the corners to a body that was, quite frankly, excellent in every respect, had to make a conscious effort to close her mouth. After all, there's nothing remotely attractive about a girl who drools.
Her fingers curled helplessly around the milkshake cup. Next to her in the driver's seat, Rory's breathing quickened, and a vein on his temple began to throb. As the policeman strolled toward them, Suzy fleetingly imagined having his babies. She glanced thoughtfully down at the cup in her hand and removed the straw.
"That's it, I'm booked," fretted Rory, massaging his aching forehead.
"Shhh, let me just give something a try." Suzy patted his arm, threw open the passenger door, burst out onto the grass shoulder, gazed at the most beautiful policeman she'd ever seen in her life...
...and burst into a torrent of tears.
He looked taken aback. "Oh, now-"
"Please, Officer, please. I know we were going a tiny bit fast, but-"
"A tiny bit fast? Ninety-seven miles per hour, according to our radar."
"But every second counts, and this is our last t-t-try," Suzy sobbed. "Six years of agony, four lots of IVF, and we just can't afford any more tries. Officer, I'm begging you..." Trembling, she held up the brightly colored milkshake cup advertising the latest Disney movie. "We have thirty minutes to get to the hospital. The doctors are all there, standing by. I've had all the injections... This is my very last chance to have a baby, and if you don't let us go this minute"-she clutched the cup to her heaving bosom-"they're all going to die!"
Suzy blinked, her lips bravely pressed together, unconcealed anguish in her eyes. Well, that was that. Couldn't say she hadn't given it her best shot. Heavens, he was gorgeous.
Calm down now, she reminded herself. Whatever happens, I absolutely must not flirt with him.
"You mean..." Perplexed, he pointed at the cup, then at Rory in the driver's seat. "He...into a milkshake cup?"
Suzy prayed he wouldn't ask her to take the lid off. Strawberry, bit of a giveaway.
"Well, it has to be put into something." It came out as an indignant wail. "What would you use, a wineglass?" She bit her lip and brushed the tears from her eyes. "Oh, look, I'm sorry, forgive me; it's all been such a terrible strain. They have a room set aside at the hospital, for the men to...but my husband can't... Um, it's all so impersonal, you see... He prefers to do it at home. Go on, take a look if you don't believe me!" Going for broke, Suzy took a step toward him, eagerly offering him the cup. "But please, whatever you do, don't drop it. Those are my babies in there."
As he hesitated, the passenger door of the patrol car swung open, and the second officer hauled himself out. He was fattish, fiftyish and wheezy, with a face the color of a baboon's bottom.
Hmmm, no danger of inadvertent flirtation there.
"Oh, please, please let us go," begged Suzy, her face crumbling once more-but not unattractively so. "Don't you understand? Every second counts!"
The good-looking one glanced over his shoulder at his colleague. Then turning back to Suzy, he nodded at the car.
"Better get a move on, then. No time to lose."
"Oh, thank you, thank you, Officer!" Suzy was so overjoyed she almost threw aside her milkshake cup and flung her arms around him. Instead, she confined herself to imagining how it would feel to fling her arms around him. All that scratchy blue serge against her warm naked body-heavens, there was definitely something about a man in uniform. "You don't know what this means to me!"
"Good luck." He gave her a regretful smile, as if-under other circumstances, of course-he wouldn't have minded discovering for himself how her warm naked body might have felt clasped masterfully to his blue serge chest.
"You're not even giving them a ticket?" The ugly one looked disappointed.
Ignoring him, Suzy said, "You must tell me your name."
"I meant your first name."
"Oh." He smiled, blushing fractionally. "Harry."
Rory was holding the passenger door open for her. Feeling as if they were Bonnie and Clyde about to make a nifty getaway, Suzy slid into the car and buzzed down the window.
"If we have a boy, we'll name him after you," she yelled, waving to him as they sped away.
* * *
A fortnight later, on the last day of July, Suzy piled the employees of Curtis and Co. into the bar of the Avon Gorge Hotel to celebrate a record-breaking month of business. She had even managed to persuade Rory to take a couple of hours off from working himself into an early grave and have a couple of hard-earned drinks instead.
The rest of them had more than a couple. Suzy, who had exceeded her sales target by 300 percent, launched happily into the tequila. Martin Lord, her fellow agent, matched her drink for drink. When Donna-their hugely efficient Gothic secretary-spotted a noisy crowd from Slade and Matthews, a rival agency in Clifton, Martin soon had them engaged in a raucous game of Truth or Dare.
"Dare!" roared their opponents when Martin refused to strip down to his socks. "One lap around the terrace with Suzy on your back, singing ‘My Way' and whipping you with a leather belt."
"Dare?" Martin grinned. "That's been my fantasy for years."
"Don't you dare drop her," Rory warned as Suzy, joining in, hitched up her skirt and leaped onto Martin's back. "She's my star saleswoman."
"Not to mention a brilliant singer." Leaning forward, Suzy lovingly ruffled her brother's dark hair. "Donna, I need a bit of help getting started. Give me a C minor."
Donna, patting the pockets of her long black dress, said, "Haven't got one."
"Never mind, I'll have a Marlboro instead." Precariously, Suzy tilted sideways, grabbed a half-empty wine bottle from the table, and whisked a lit cigarette from Martin's fingers. "All I need now is a pair of spurs. Hi ho, Silver, off we go, watch out for those tables..."
Everyone was cheering madly, but it was a dare too far for Martin, who had drunk seven tequila slammers on an empty stomach. He swayed, ricocheted off the edge of one of the tables, and lost his balance before Suzy even had a chance to burst into song. Which was just as well, probably, since her singing voice was woefully off-key.
"Aaargh!" As she toppled backward, she dimly wondered if her bottom was up to the task of cushioning the blow. She felt herself falling in slow motion. Her arms reached only fresh air. Behind her, a chair clattered to the ground, and a pair of strong arms, appearing out of nowhere, caught her as she fell.
Amazed, Suzy gazed at the unfamiliar hands clasped firmly around her waist. Someone with reflexes like greased lightning had rescued her from a truly horrible fate, and she couldn't even see his face. Furthermore, her thighs were still wrapped around Martin's waist.
Which was embarrassing, and not what you'd call elegant.
Slowly, Suzy disentangled her legs. By a stroke of luck, she had managed to hold on to both the cigarette and the bottle of Pouilly-Fumé. To steady her nerves, she took a deep drag on one and a glug of the other. Thankfully, in the right order.
Then she turned around to see who had hurtled so magnificently to her rescue.
For a moment she didn't recognize him, so strongly associated was he in her mind with scratchy blue serge. Then Suzy saw the way his eyes crinkled at the corners, and every detail of their last meeting came flooding back: Hatless this time, his dark hair was curlier than she had realized. The eyes were as blue as ever. And now that he was wearing a pale yellow polo shirt and fitted jeans, she was able to appreciate the finer points of his body, which was fat-free, well-toned, and clearly up to the task of lifting sizable weights when the occasion arose.
Well, sizable-ish. Nothing wrong with being 130 pounds.
"I really hate to say this," said Suzy, "but it looks like I've been caught out."
"Does really," Harry Fitzallan agreed, his expression sorrowful. "Smoking, drinking, piggy-back racing, not to mention your husband over there, watching you gallop around on another man's back."
The tequilas she had so recklessly downed earlier were making Suzy's head spin. She said, "Actually, he's not my husband. He's my brother."
"In that case, I really hope that wasn't his sperm sample you were in such a hurry to get yourself inseminated with."
"What can I say? I told a big lie." Suzy tried hard to look suitably ashamed. "It was strawberry milkshake."
"And there was me, thinking I was being such a nice guy." Harry gave her a rueful look. "Doing the decent thing and all that. I kept thinking about you, you know. Afterward. Hoping it would work out for you and your husband..."
"But when I do have a baby," she told him earnestly, "I absolutely promise to name him after you."
He raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You can't even remember my name."
Suzy, who could, waved her arm and declared, "I shall call him Constable."
It came out as Conshtable.
Harry smiled. "You're drunk."
"I know, I know." She nodded vigorously, entranced all over again by the astonishing blueness of his eyes. "But as Winston Churchill once said, ‘When I wake up in the morning, you'll still be beautiful.'"
"He almost said it. Well, he almost said something vaguely like that."
"So what happens now? Are you going to arrest me?"
"What for? Being drunk in charge of a Marlboro?"
He watched her try to flick the inch and a half of ash into an ashtray and miss. Suzy shook her head and tossed back her long tawny hair, narrowly avoiding setting fire to it.
"Come on, you know what I'm talking about. Perspiring-no, no, conspiring to pervert the course of justice...that's what I did, wasn't it?" Oh, it was so easy to repent your sins when you knew you weren't going to be punished! "Oh, Officer, how can I ever make it up to you?"
Harry grinned. "Let me just check something out first. Are you married?"
"Me, Officer? Crikey, no." Swaying a bit, Suzy located her almost-empty glass on the table and solemnly held it up. "Totally single, that's me, Officer. As single as this tequila."
"In that case," said Harry, "you could always come out to dinner with me tomorrow night."
Yes, yes, yes!
Triumphantly knocking back the last few lukewarm drops of her drink-clunk-Suzy congratulated herself on an excellent result. It was like selling a fabulous house within hours of it going on the market. But this is even better, she thought happily. A date within a matter of minutes. Damn, I'm good.
Uh-oh. Lifting the empty glass up to the light, she realized that her mouth was no longer leaving prints around the rim. And if her lipstick had worn off, that meant her face had more than likely gone shiny too. Not to mention her hair being in need of a damn good brushing.
Basically, it was time for her midevening tidy up.
"You know what I hate?" Harry's head was tilted to one side, his tone conversational. "I hate it when I ask a beautiful girl out to dinner and she doesn't say anything. Just stares at her glass. So do I take that as a no?"
"Wait here." Suzy reached for her bag. "Don't go away, don't move a muscle." By way of explanation she waggled her fingers in the direction of the ladies' room, which was out in the hall by the reception desk.
"I don't even know your name," Harry protested. "At least tell me that much." He looked worried as Suzy moved toward the double doors. "You're not going to run out on me, are you? Do that Cinderella thing and disappear?"
What, leave behind one of her beloved black patent Manolos? Was he joking? They'd cost a fortune!
"I'll be back in two minutes." Suzy blew him a kiss. "Promise."
* * *
She'd been right about the shine factor. Relieved that at least her eye makeup was still intact, Suzy pulled out her makeup case and began to repair the damage. Matte powder first, to restore much-needed order to her hectic complexion. Lipstick next-no lip brush, she couldn't be bothered with all that-then a slick of lip gloss for that extra-pouty finish. Lip gloss was a nightmare, of course, if you were planning on kissing someone, because (a) all men cringe at the very thought of it, and (b) if they do manage to overcome their fear, you both invariably end up with glossy chins.
Suzy rolled it on anyway because (a) it looked sexy, and (b) she had no intention of kissing Harry this evening.
I might be a bit drunk, she thought with pride, but I can still play hard to get.
Oh no, let him wait.
Until tomorrow night, at least.
* * *
The door to the ladies' room crashed open less than a minute later. Suzy, bent double in front of the ornate gilded mirror, vigorously spraying the roots of her just-brushed hair with hair spray to give it oomph-and experiencing a bit of a head rush-let out a shriek, as for the second time that evening she was grabbed unexpectedly from behind.
So to speak.
Heavens, it was like déjà vu, only really happening. Except this time the hands doing the grabbing were bigger, hairier, and...um, there appeared to be quite a few of them.
"One, two, three, heave," bawled one of the crew from Slade and Matthews. Rather ungallantly, Suzy felt. The walls of the bathroom began to spin as she was thrown over a burly shoulder.
"Right, I've got her. Mike, you bring her bag. Si, get the door open. Hold on, my lovely, you're coming with us."
"Don't want to," Suzy gasped, her out-of-control hair flopping over her face as she clung on for dear life.
"No choice, darling. Truth or Dare, that's the game, and this is what we were dared to do."
Si held the door open. Denzil, Suzy's kidnapper, propelled her through the doorway. Mike brought up the rear, clutching her handbag in one hand and the can of hair spray in the other.
Suzy, jiggling up and down on Denzil's sturdy shoulder as they raced through the lobby, panted, "You don't understand, I have to go b-back. I'm in the middle of arranging a d-d-dinner date."
They were outside the hotel now, heading up Princess Victoria Street and attracting curious glances from passersby. Suzy prayed her panties weren't on display.
Denzil gave her bottom a reassuring pat.
"With a policeman. We know, Rory told us. That's why we had to kidnap you, darling. To save you from yourself."
"But he's g-gorgeous!"
"He's not; he's a traffic cop." Denzil was scornful. "Imagine if you married him. He'd arrest you every time you squeezed the toothpaste tube in the middle, or left a tea bag on the side of the sink."
"You don't understand," wailed Suzy. "He's not like all the others. And he has these incredible blue eyes."
They had reached the Clifton Wine Bar, where a tremendous Friday night party was in progress. Still carrying Suzy in a fireman's lift, Denzil pushed his way into the noisy, heaving throng.
"You stay here with us, darling. Trust me, it's for the best. Never tangle with policemen; they've all got a thing about handcuffs." By way of consolation, presumably, he patted her bottom once more before lowering her-somewhat bumpily-to ground level. "Besides, think what it'd do to your street cred."
They were joined minutes later by Rory, Martin, and Donna.
"Was he still there when you left?" With her free hand, Suzy clutched her brother's arm. The other remained firmly locked in Denzil's grasp.
"Who, the boy in blue?" No great drinker, Rory was as befuddled after two pints of lager as the rest of them after ten. "I think he might have been." He frowned at Suzy. "Why, was he bothering you?"
"He was asking me out!"
Brothers, honestly. Sometimes couldn't you just kick them?
Rory grimaced sympathetically and gave her shoulder a clumsy consoling pat.
"Bad luck. Still, never mind, we didn't tell anyone where we were going. He'll never find us."
Denzil's hand remained clamped around Suzy's wrist for the next hour.
Until nature called.
"If you think you're dragging me into the men's bathroom with you," Suzy told him, "well, you're just not, OK?"
Denzil pulled a twenty-pound note out of his wallet.
"Be an angel and get the next round, then." He broke into a slow, leery smile. "Hey, you're gorgeous, you know that?"
"What are you doing working for that brother of yours, when you could be working for us?"
"Denzil, I like it there."
"Fancy being headhunted?"
"No," Suzy said patiently.
"Come on, you know you're crazy about me. We'd be fantastic together."
"I'm fantastic where I am, thanks."
Nature was by this time hammering on the windows and bellowing through a megaphone, demanding to be taken notice of.
"I'm breaking my neck here," Denzil told her-romantic or what? "Go order some drinks, there's a good girl. I'll be back in no time at all."
It was a good thing he was a real estate agent and not a prison officer, thought Suzy as she slipped out of the wine bar and hurried back down Princess Victoria Street, her high heels clacking on the cobbles like castanets.
Please be there. Please, please still be there...
But, of course, when she reached the bar at the Avon Gorge Hotel, he wasn't.