About the Author
Monique Makena lives in Washington, DC, where she has worked as an operative at the International Spy Museum and a docent at the Smithsonian. She enjoys Love Songs with Delilah, red wine, and her cockapoo, Snuggles. Her accents are acquired while people watching on the National Mall.
Read an Excerpt
Her Backup Boyfriend
A Sorensen Family Book
By Ashlee Mallory, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Ashlee Mallory
All rights reserved.
Sheesh. It was hot as Hades in here.
Despite the brisk early October chill and the fresh white snow that powdered the ridge of the Wasatch Mountains that she could see from the window, Kate Matthews could feel beads of moisture forming on her upper lip. She tugged at the cuff of her wool blazer and tried not to squirm while her boss finished his phone call. Her curiosity at the reason for this impromptu meeting had become overshadowed in the last couple of minutes by her longing to throw off the stupid jacket.
But unless it burst into flames, that wasn't an option.
She cursed her haste in running out the door this morning without taking her usual perusal in front of the full-length mirror. If she had, she would have noticed the white tag billowing like a flag at her waist and realized her new silk blouse was on inside out. Unfortunately, it wasn't until she'd arrived and was sprinting toward Tim's office that she'd noticed the slight wardrobe malfunction.
At the time, the best solution had been to take the ten seconds to slide on the spare jacket she kept behind her office door.
She hadn't expected it to be, like, a hundred and ten in here.
Kate took a quick peek from the corner of her eyes at the other participant in today's last- minute conference. Nicole Bancroft, the latest addition to Strauss and Fletcher's litigation division, didn't seem to be having any problems with the temperature of the room if the smooth, shine-free polish of her clear, porcelain skin was any indication. Her shiny raven-black hair was secured in an elegant chignon Kate couldn't help but envy. She resisted the impulse to pat her own bristly red hair already escaping from the confines of her hair clip.
No wonder Michael was in love with this paragon of perfection.
At least, according to the rumors that linked the pretty new associate with the firm's most eligible bachelor — and Kate's ex-boyfriend. Kate had been trying to convince herself that the rumors didn't bother her. Sure, they had dated for three years, and she might have been expecting a proposal — not a plea for space — when he'd broken up with her. But that had been fourteen months ago. Give or take eight days. All the same, it still stung to be sitting next to such flawlessness.
Why were they both here, anyhow?
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Tim," Kate offered the moment he hung up. "I had a meeting this morning." She decided not to mention the meeting was personal. She doubted Tim would care she had waited over an hour for a contractor to give her a bid for her home renovation, or that he'd failed to show up. Firm business always first.
Tim nodded brusquely. "You're probably wondering why I called you both here today. I had a call this morning from the CFO of McKenna and Associates. Our client is anxious to present an aggressive defense at the upcoming depositions."
Kate almost sighed out loud. The McKenna case was her slam dunk into making partner at Strauss, one of Salt Lake City's most preeminent law firms. Even if the client was more demanding than all of her clients combined. And a jerk. But a jerk who had ties with several of the senior partners.
"Although they think you've done a great job of things so far, Kate," Tim continued, his blue eyes cool and discerning, "they want to make sure we hit the other side hard and have asked for more manpower. I decided Nicole would be an excellent second chair."
Kate's stomach tightened. Sure, she understood. She was a team player; she could work with another attorney.
But did it have to be her?
Kate glanced over and met Nicole's gaze. They smiled briefly, and Kate noticed the clean, straight line of the woman's teeth. Instinctively, she pulled back her own smile, conscious of her two slightly crooked front teeth that she had always wanted to get fixed.
"I know you've spent a lot of time preparing for the upcoming depositions, but perhaps you can give Nicole a chance to look over your notes. She might give you a new perspective on things you haven't seen." With a glance at his Rolex, Tim stood. "I've got to run. I'm sure you two will be able to handle this without any problem."
"Absolutely," Kate assured him, a response echoed by Nicole that he acknowledged with a wave.
And then they were alone, the room quiet and growing hotter by the minute.
Nicole spoke first, brisk and businesslike. "If you can have your assistant drop off the file this afternoon, I should be able to get a feeling for the issues. We can meet tomorrow to discuss our plan."
"Of course. I look forward to hearing your thoughts."
There. They almost sounded like friends. Almost.
Up to this point, Nicole's hands had remained clasped together on her lap. Now, as she came to her feet, she stretched her fingers out in front of her. A gleaming explosion of light beamed from her left hand. Kate's carefully held composure deflated into shock.
Oh, dear God of all that is good and holy, please say that isn't what I think it is.
As if aware of Kate's gaze, Nicole held her hand out to catch the light.
Kate had to say something. Anything.
"Wow. Is that an engagement ring?"
Nicole held her hand up higher and the light flashed off the enormous chip of ice. "It's beautiful, isn't it? I'm still getting used to it."
A boa constrictor seemed to be wrapped around Kate's neck, squeezing ruthlessly as she managed, "Congratulations." With the back of her hand, she tried to covertly swipe the dampness from her upper lip.
Nicole's cool green eyes gazed back at Kate at that inopportune time and her upper lip curled in vague disgust. But her tone remained polite, if not chilly, as she said, "Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow."
Kate barely heard Nicole's footsteps retreat from the office as sharp pain stabbed her in the chest, and she worked to suck in oxygen.
Michael was getting married.
But not to her.
* * *
Why hasn't this idiot gone already? The light changed five seconds ago.
Kate gritted her teeth. The driver's left arm rested on the truck's open windowsill, his hands tapping to some unknown beat. Kate counted another five seconds, then released her foot off the brake. Her car rolled forward until it was inches from the offending fender. She hit the brakes.
Message received, the guy lifted his hand in a brief greeting and puttered through the intersection. But his speed didn't pick up measurably. The truck crept down the street.
Kate stifled a screech of frustration and, for the sixth time since leaving her office, pressed redial on her Bluetooth headset. Don't go to voicemail. Don't go to voicemail, she prayed.
"Hi, Kate," Payton answered, out of breath. "Sorry I missed your calls. I've been meeting with a wedding videographer for the past hour and had my phone off."
Two months before, Payton became engaged to someone whose trust fund miraculously exceeded her own. Massive planning had since ensued, not only for the wedding but for the upcoming engagement party. Payton was a Vaughn, after all, as her mother would say.
It also left Kate with not just one but two parties for which she needed to find a date.
In short order, Kate relayed the events of the afternoon — particularly the massive diamond perched on Nicole's slim finger, still conscious of the fact the truck in front of her was cruising at an easy speed of twenty-one miles an hour.
In a twenty-five-miles-per-hour speed zone.
"You're kidding me. Nicole and Michael are engaged," Payton mused. "How are you holding up?"
Kate sighed. "Been better. I'm on my way home."
"Before eight? That's a record. Wait a minute, you're not listening to that depressing Bonnie Raitt song again, are you?"
Kate paused just as the familiar refrain about making someone love you when they didn't streamed loudly from her speakers. Too late to turn it off now. "Maybe."
"I thought I tossed that CD a year ago."
She had. But that was the beauty of everything being digital. Kate only had to repurchase it and add it to the breakup playlist she'd created months ago. For moments like this.
"You should go home and have a bottle of wine. I'd come over but I'm running a few minutes late for my appointment with the caterer for the engagement party. Supposed to finalize the menu. But I'll call you later?"
"No, don't worry about it. I plan on drowning my sorrows in a large bubble bath and a pint of coffee ice cream. If I can get my bathwater above a balmy sixty-four degrees, anyway."
"I warned you about buying a fixer-upper. You've got to find someone who can help."
"I'm working on it." Ahead of her, the truck eased to a halt at the four-way stop. Kate said a hasty good-bye and disconnected. Reaching forward, she flipped the volume of the radio back up and glanced at the road.
Shit! She slammed on the brakes, almost careening into the truck, now stopped in front of her at the stop sign. Her cell phone flew out of the center console and clunked to the floor somewhere around her feet. Great.
The truck idled for a moment and she said a quick prayer he would hang a right or go straight. As long as he got the hell out of her way.
He took a left. Frick.
Kate turned left in reluctant pursuit. Up ahead she could finally see the roof of her newly purchased two-story house. The down payment alone had rivaled her total student loan debt, but the century-old home, built in the esteemed Avenues neighborhood just east of downtown Salt Lake, had all been worth it.
Nirvana was a moment away. A wave of calm drifted over her.
Until she realized the guy had slowed down. A lot.
Oh. Lord. What if this guy was one of her new neighbors? Although she'd moved in almost a month ago, with her late nights at work, she hadn't met anyone save for her next-door neighbor, Glenda, a friendly widow who'd brought over a batch of cookies the day after Kate moved in.
He crept past her house, and Glenda's, and the next house ...
Phew. Relieved, she turned left into her driveway. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the white truck make a U-turn. He stopped at the curb in front of Glenda's.
Kate parked her Audi and slumped down in the soft beige leather seats. How much worse could this day get? She considered waiting him out in the haven of her car, maybe pretending to be rooting for something in her purse until he went away. But that would have been the coward's way out, and she was anything but cowardly.
A glance in her rearview mirror showed the guy had eased open his own door. A crown of coal-black hair appeared over the top of the cab and the guy stepped around to the front of the truck. An unbuttoned light blue chambray shirt acted like a jacket over a white T-shirt that hugged his taut upper body. Loose, ripped jeans hung from narrow hips.
She swallowed with some difficulty. He certainly was something to look at.
Even from here, his light eyes stood out against warm, sun-kissed skin. Watching her.
* * *
Dominic Sorensen stood outside of his truck, well aware he was under the she-devil's scrutiny. Other men might have lost their temper at the crazy woman's display of road rage, but he found it ... amusing.
So this was his aunt's new neighbor. The lawyer Glenda had been trying to get him to meet since she'd moved in. His aunt was delusional if she thought for a moment the two of them were remotely compatible. Her Audi cost more than his entire income last year. He'd made the mistake once of thinking that he would be enough for a woman like that. And it had only earned him heartache when she left, claiming he lacked sufficient ambition for her taste.
Still, he'd better go introduce himself or his aunt would never let him hear the end of it.
Her door swung open as he drew near but she was hunched forward, not aware of his arrival. From what he could tell, she was searching for something near her feet. Probably the cell phone three inches from her right foot. So focused in her search, he didn't want to interrupt.
Particularly since the top of her shirt gaped open to reveal an interesting amount of cleavage. He was human, after all.
Phone in hand, she sat up and her eyes widened when she saw him waiting outside her door. Gray eyes, maybe blue. Whatever their color, they were bright and blazing in contrast to the hot, fiery red of her hair that, even tied up, seemed to glow under the fading autumn sun.
Glenda had said she was pretty, but that was only half the story.
He delivered his most charming smile. "Never known anyone to drive so ... determined."
She stepped out of the car and stood to an impressive height. But even with her heels, he still towered over her. "I'm afraid I was only concerned with your well-being." Her tone was friendly enough but the sarcasm was clear. "Seeing as how you were traveling ten miles under the speed limit, I thought you might be elderly and had lost your way or perhaps were suffering the sudden onset of a stroke ..."
"Gee, and I thought you were trying to get close enough to check me out."
Her eyes narrowed. "Hardly."
"Hey, it's been known to happen."
The screen door of his aunt's house creaked open and a familiar blond head poked out. "Dominic? Is that you?"
Without taking his gaze from Kate, he smiled even wider. "In the flesh."
For a woman just shy of seventy, Glenda Sorensen moved remarkably fast as she sprang down the steps and the steep driveway that ran parallel to her new neighbor's.
"You're earlier than I expected, but I sure am glad to see you," she said and wrapped her arms around him in a hug, then stepped back. "Kate, I'd like you to meet my nephew Dominic Sorensen. Kate's the lawyer lady I was telling you about, Dom. She works for one of those fancy law firms downtown. They usually have her working long into the night. Although, come to think of it, you're home awfully early." She glanced down at her wristwatch. "It's not even close to eight o'clock."
"Yes, well, I had some stuff I thought I could work on from home." Kate dropped her gaze and lifted her bag up. He caught sight of a laptop and several file folders peeking from the top. "Speaking of which, I should get going."
"Why don't you join us for dinner tonight, Kate? I made lasagna and there's more than enough. I even made apple strudel for dessert." He had to give his aunt an A for effort in her obvious attempt at matchmaking. It was a like a conspiracy between her and the rest of the women in his family to see him dating again.
"That does sound delicious," Kate said. "But I ate a late lunch and don't think I could eat another bite. Thank you for offering."
She'd been careful to keep her gaze from his but he couldn't help but notice the slight pink around her lids that, at least with his two sisters, had usually been caused by tears. Maybe she had a heart, after all.
"Another time then, dear. Oh, by the way. About ten minutes after you left this morning, a guy in a truck advertising a carpentry service showed up. Were you looking for someone to do some work around your house?"
Glenda didn't wait for a response but placed her hand on Dominic's arm, and he repressed a groan, knowing what was coming.
"If you are, you should look no farther than this man before you. His family runs a construction company, mostly large commercial projects, but Dominic has always had an eye for restoration. He does wonderful work. I bet he could probably give you a reasonable quote."
"I will definitely keep him in mind," the redhead said in a tone Dominic knew meant no way in hell, even if his aunt wasn't as perceptive. "I really have to go. It was nice meeting you, Dominic."
He inclined his own head slightly in return. "Pleasure was all mine."
Before Glenda could make any further interruptions, Kate turned and strode up the driveway. Her long legs made quick work of the distance and he couldn't help but appreciate the generous curves that even her boring black skirt couldn't hide.
Glenda was saying something about the length of time until dinner was ready, and he nodded while he continued to watch Kate's exit. She pocketed a business card squeezed in the doorjamb and turned her key in the door. From out of nowhere an orange tabby cat shot up the porch steps and wrapped itself around her feet. She took a moment to disentangle her heels from the feline and they both disappeared inside.
Excerpted from Her Backup Boyfriend by Ashlee Mallory, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2015 Ashlee Mallory. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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