Hannah Daniels reads steamy romance novels to forget her last trip on the love roller coaster shredded her heart and tossed it like confetti. Her instincts about men stink, but at work they’re on point. Only, her busy schedule means she reads whenever she can make time. Like at the laundromat while sitting on top of a washing machine. Don’t judge.
Firefighter Mason McNally has searched his whole life for a woman who stirs his soul. When he finds her, she’s nose-deep in a racy paperback atop a vibrating washer. Her beauty, boldness, and raw sensuality ignite his interest. But there’s a problem. He’s forgotten he’s wearing a wedding ring.
No amount of hasty explanations that it’s for his brother’s psychology experiment convinces her to give him a chance. But he’s rushed into fiery situations before, and this woman is totally worth the risk. He’ll just have to prove to her that first impressions can be wrong and their spark of attraction is oh so right.
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|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
By day, Jenna Bayley-Burke is faster than a speeding toddler, stronger than a stubborn husband, able to leap tall Lego structures in a single bound...but by night, while the family sleeps, she writes romance novels where no one ever has to scoop up after the dog, change diapers, clip coupons, drive carpool, do laundry, mop floors, get Silly Putty out of hair, vacuum, empty the vacuum bag (gross!), exercise, count calories, apply Band-Aids, clean up puke...wait where was this going? Oh, Jenna writes romance because it is glamorous.
Read an Excerpt
Scanning the line for the third time, Hannah crossed her legs tighter and tried to concentrate. But to no avail. The sensual scene unfolding on the pages proved no match for the sound of pocket change tumbling around in the dryer. With a reluctant sigh, she set aside her book, mentally chanting the page number.
She jumped off the washing machine and went to the wall of dryers to listen for the clanking of the loose change, leaning close to the machine spinning her jeans to be sure. She opened the door with a tug and reached in to remove the mood-breaking quarter. With a yelp, she tossed the hot metal in the air. Shaking her singed hand, she watched as the coin rolled across the floor, right to the payphone. Well, isn't that just ironic?
Ignoring her lost change, Hannah lifted herself back atop the washing machine. She found her place in the book and grinned as the washer below her kicked into the spin cycle. She'd timed it perfectly. Her sweaters would be ready to take home and lay out at the same time the rest of her laundry finished drying. The efficiency of her weekly washing routine thrilled her almost as much as what was transpiring on the pages she eagerly returned to.
The roguish hero, a modern-day pirate, finally kissed the heroine. Hannah's eyes scanned the pages, rushing the duo to the good parts. His finger tweaked a rosebud nipple as Hannah began to feel herself warm to the vibration of the washing machine.
"Lose something?" a gravelly voice said, far too close for comfort.
Flustered, Hannah closed her book. "Excuse me?" she asked, keeping her head down and praying the heat rising from her shoulders did not look like a blush. She didn't want to be caught doing anything blush-worthy in the neighborhood laundromat.
"I think this is yours." She noticed the gold band on his left hand and decided not to bother with his face.
"Oh, thank you," she replied, taking the quarter and plunking it beside her.
"Maybe it's a sign," he said.
Hannah reminded herself to be nice, neighborly even. Maybe he just wanted to make conversation.
"A sign?" she asked, finally looking up.
Wow. No wonder he was married. The man was designed specifically with breeding in mind. From the spiky tips of his warm-brown hair to the ends of his steel-toed black boots, he was yummy. The tight T-shirt with the fire department logo did nothing to hide his muscled chest. She even allowed herself to gaze down his navy work pants and check out the fit. Fantastic.
"The quarter rolled right to the payphone. Maybe there's someone who wants you to call." The single dimple on his left cheek made his cocksure grin all the more devilish.
Hannah smiled. "I don't think so." She turned to her book and pretended she hadn't just replaced the cover hero with this fireman in her fantasy.
"You sure? Your boyfriend maybe?" he asked.
Here we go. "No boyfriend. And it takes more than a quarter to make a phone call these days," she said without looking up.
"Lucky for me." Confidence dripped from his words. Not even worth playing with in her fantasies now. What a shame. Back to the cover model.
She ignored the jerk as he cocked a hip on the washer, close to her knee.
"Hey, this thing is on." He placed his hand on the top, much too close to her hip.
She wasn't about to let him pass judgment on her for adding spice to her reading by selecting an inspiring location. Or broadcast the fact to the entire establishment. "I'm sure you have things to do," she shot at him without looking up.
"Actually, I'm thinking after you're done here we could do something together. A drink or a cup of coffee?"
"Really?" She looked up at his face. His eyes were a beautiful middle-of-the- ocean blue. Too bad he was such an ass. "I don't think so."
"If you already have plans tonight, I'm off tomorrow."
"You're off all right." The three dryers opposite her powered off one by one. As if on cue, the washer beneath her ran down.
"Hmm?" he asked, watching as she gathered up her clothes.
Not bothering to fold, she stuffed the laundry into pillowcases and turned to go. "I don't date married men."
"What?" A look of horror flashed across his face.
"Next time, you might want to take the ring off first." She pointed to his left hand.
"Oh man. I forgot that was there." He tried to say something more, but the words flew behind her as she marched out of the building.
From the landing of her building next door, she noticed he'd actually followed her outside. She quickly ducked up another flight of stairs. At the next landing, she peered out. He stood on the sidewalk, playing with the ring on his finger.
Forgot it was there. As if.
* * *
"Your experiment was a total bust." Mason flung the gold ring across the booth at his brother. "I don't know what I was thinking. Thanks to you, the hottest woman I've ever seen thinks I'm a total sleaze."
"Really?" Derek immediately opened his notebook. "Tell me your observations."
"I'm not one of your experiments. If I hadn't been coming off a twenty-four-hour shift, I never would've let you put that thing on my hand."
"Interesting. Hostility." Derek scribbled a few notes. "Tell me more," he said as a pretty blond waitress set down a pitcher of beer and two mugs.
"I guessed you'd want the usual, Mason," she said, batting her eyelashes.
"Thanks, Tanya." He gifted her with a grin as she left.
"She likes you," Derek stated the obvious. "Have you two, you know?"
"No." Mason shook his head. "Tanya's only interested in one thing from me."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"Have at it, Derek." Mason poured the pilsner into a frosty mug. "I prefer someone I can have a conversation with, too."
"Yet you were just talking about the hottest woman you'd ever seen. Were you interested in her physically or intellectually? Tell me more about that." Derek pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up his Roman nose.
"You're creeping me out with your psychologist talk. Knock it off." Mason took a long, slow drink. Derek had a point, but he didn't have to know that. "I just came to give you your ring back and tell you your hypothesis sucked. Women do not come on to married men more than unmarried ones."
"It's a working theory. I have to tweak it a bit before I present it at the university." Derek stared down at his notes. "Exactly how many women came on to you?"
"Four," Mason admitted. He'd already gone through with the experiment as his brother asked, so he might as well tell him what happened. "Two at the grocery store, a waitress, and a florist."
"Tanya doesn't count. You had the ring off, and she seems to know you."
"I'm not counting her." Mason smiled. "I made sure they all plainly saw the ring, just like you said. The florist actually gave me her number on the back of a card."
"Tell me that's unusual for you."
Mason shrugged. "Not really."
Derek shook his head. "Why were you at a florist anyway? Trying to impress the hottest woman you'd ever seen?"
Mason leaned forward, narrowing his eyes. "Tell me you didn't forget Mom's birthday."
Derek's eyes widened. "Damn. You didn't remind me. Is it today or tomorrow?"
Mason shook his head. "You so owe me. For doing this stupid experiment, and for putting your name on the card. When I find this woman, you will make her understand you're the one who put me up to wearing that ring."
"Whatever," Derek said, not looking up from his notebook. "Why bother if she thinks you're some adulterous loser?"
"You didn't see her. She's absolutely stunning. Silky brown hair and creamy skin with freckles. And her eyes were two different colors. They were both kind of hazy gray, but one is blue and the other is green."
Derek's head popped up. "You're not supposed to be attracted to that. It's asymmetrical. Symmetry is what's attractive."
Mason shrugged. "I think it's hot."
Derek shook his head. "It must be her waist-to-hip ratio. That can overrule facial attraction in men."
Mason sighed. Her waist-to-hip ratio had been pretty spectacular. But those eyes had made him cross the room. The fact that she had been reading a romance novel while sitting on a washer during the spin cycle had kept her in his thoughts ever since.
* * *
"Another pig?" Kate asked, gulping down her apple martini.
From their perch at the corner table, the three women had a perfect view of the happenings at Portland's hottest martini bar. Just right for people watching, or more typically, laughing at the latest disasters in their lives.
"I'm telling you, it's like they have radar or something." Hannah ran her finger around the rim of her wine glass. "They must see me and think, Hit on her, she'll never guess." She waved her hand through the air, making the candle on their table flicker. "Please."
"At least someone is hitting on you," Molly chimed in, all sunshine and light. "That has to be flattering, right?"
"Leave it to you to look on the bright side, sweetie." Kate turned in her seat to catch the bartender's attention and signaled for another round of drinks. "Before happy hour is over," she explained.
"They're all cheats, pigs, or dogs. The whole lot of them." Hannah watched the lights reflect in her white wine as she swirled the glass.
"Not all of them," Molly said sweetly. She'd married her high school sweetheart, Troy, the week after college graduation. Hannah liked to think Troy's continued fidelity had something to do with the drunken threat she'd made the eve of his wedding to castrate him if he ever dared cheat on her sister. But it probably had a lot more to do with her sister's extensive lingerie collection.
"Troy is an anomaly," Hannah replied as a waitress delivered the second round of drinks. She eyed her sister's cranberry juice with a twist of lime, hoping Molly was just tired like she claimed. Her baby sister had been married for five years, while she'd yet to meet a single decent guy. If Molly had a baby, she'd have to throw in the towel and get a dozen cats to truly fit the definition of spinster aunt. Hannah closed her eyes against the ugly thought. Turning thirty filled her mind with thoughts of marriage and babies and all the things she'd thought she'd have done by now.
She had almost a full month until she was officially out of her twenties. And she wouldn't be twenty again for all the shoes in Nordstrom's. No, she liked being wiser. She just didn't like feeling that somewhere along the line, she'd missed a step and fallen behind.
"Did I tell you I have to spend six weeks in Klamath Falls?" Kate sipped the bright green liquid in her glass. "They moved up the trial date for my toxic- mold case. I'm heading down on Monday to do some prep work. I'll be there clear through the holidays. You'll have the apartment all to yourself."
"Won't you be coming home on weekends?" Hannah asked.
"No way." Kate took a long draw of her martini. "I get a plane ticket every weekend. Why waste it coming back to Stumptown? I have to be here the rest of the year. I'm thinking somewhere where the sun actually shines."
Hannah held up her glass, and the others joined her in a toast. She'd miss bumping in to Kate in the bathroom. She needed to talk to someone on a daily basis who didn't speak in retail acronyms, especially during the mad crush of the holidays.
Her sister's warm hand rested on her arm. "Come over next week. I'll have a dinner party."
Kate laughed and swallowed the last of her drink. "I'm glad I'll be out of town. Your fixer-upper parties are a mess."
Hannah laughed as her sister and friend squabbled over the merits of matchmaking. It was like being in a cartoon and watching the angel and devil battle it out on her shoulders. Yin and yang. She always sat between them, or Kate might come out swinging, though Molly's quiet barbs were far more lethal.
Hannah stopped smiling, realizing what she'd be subjected to. Dinner party to Molly meant a chance to play matchmaker. Without Kate there to laugh at their prospects, she'd be forced to play nice. The horror.
* * *
Pretty Eyes had to live around here. It was the only explanation Mason could come up with. She must have ducked into a neighboring building as soon as she left the laundromat. He hadn't been that far behind her.
Standing on the opposite side of the street, he surveyed the buildings. At street level, the buildings housed various storefronts, with apartments and offices filling the floors above. The two stories above the laundromat were offices. He'd already gotten that much out of the man who sold the soap. She wasn't in his building. He'd asked a couple of tenants already. They'd looked at him like he was crazy. Even he had to admit it was a little odd to be infatuated with someone he knew so little about. He'd even taken the book she'd left behind when she'd raced out of the place.
The paperback was steamier than anything he'd ever read in Penthouse. And it had him dreaming of doing every single trick in the book to her. A woman that beautiful and brazen enough to read erotica while sitting on a spinning washing machine in public — well, it made the seam of his jeans feel a bit too tight. She was quick and had principles. Definitely intriguing.
Derek was wrong. He wasn't obsessed because she had turned him down. It was more about the way he'd felt standing there next to her. Electric, aroused, alive with possibility. He had to find her, even if only to find out he'd imagined it.
He'd narrowed it down to three buildings. He'd find out if any had washers and dryers in the units. Scanning the storefronts again, he spied a coffee shop. Of course. If he planted himself in there, she just might happen in for her morning latte, if she drank coffee. Mason shook his head. Everyone drank coffee.
* * *
Hannah loathed the stench of coffee that permeated every inch of the back offices of Mendelssohn's Department Store. She'd never understood why someone would drink bean water when they could just as easily get hopped up on diet cola. It might have a strange aftertaste, but at least it didn't create that vile coffee breath the store manager spewed onto his staff.
He filibustered on the importance of signing up as many customers as possible for instant credit accounts. "Whether they qualify or not. Our bonus isn't based on the actual number of approvals but on the applications."
She listened to the hum in the room and fisted her hands to keep from rolling her eyes. Instant credit accounts were valued because store-card customers averaged eighty dollars more per trip than other customers. Gary missed the point behind the bonus incentive, but then he always did. He'd been a store manager for over a decade, his career stalling because of his shortsightedness.
"You'll lead up the credit team for the holidays, Hannah." His beady eyes zeroed in on her.
"Christy does a great job with credit," she offered. She wouldn't contradict him publicly, but she'd be damned before putting her name on his unethical policy.
"You have much more experience than she does," Gary said without looking at the crestfallen woman beside the desk. Hannah bit her cheek. She would never cut down an employee in front of an audience.
"The district training project is my responsibility. If you think credit is a bigger priority, I'll change the schedule so I have more time to focus on it." No way would he mess with the district manager, or the schedule. He had ten days off this month, more than any other store manager.
"You're right. The district training program comes first. Christy, I know you can do it. We're all counting on you."
Hannah tried to stay cool for the rest of the meeting. She'd severely underestimated the challenge of working for this man when she'd transferred in the spring. He'd manipulated the numbers to make the store look better on a few key reports, the ones bonuses were determined from. But upper management had seen through his front and put her in place to make sure things ran smoothly through the holidays. Once the season ended, Gary would be asked to retire, and she'd be in the running for a store manager position.
So many places in her life were empty because of all the time she devoted to her career. She needed the promotion. She needed the validation that she was good at something. If that meant placating Gary and keeping a ready supply of extra-strength breath mints on hand, so be it.
* * *
Hannah rolled over and flipped on the lamp. Just like every night for the last week, sleep eluded her. The numbers on her alarm clock mocked her, a digital reminder she had to be at work at five in the morning to get the markdown team rolling through the store.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Just One Spark"
Copyright © 2018 Jenna Bayley-Burke.
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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