A story of friends
with marriage benefits, by USA TODAY bestselling author Michelle Celmer
After all they've been through following the tornado that hit their Texas town, there's no way Dr. Lucas Wakefield will let his best friend, Julie Kingston, leave because of a green card mix-up. The only solution is to propose marriage. But what starts as a platonic arrangement quickly blooms into red-hot desireuntil Luc's ex-fiancée returns to reclaim her man and Julie questions whether happily-ever-after is in the cards. Good thing Luc has no intention of giving up his passionate new bride without a fight!
About the Author
USA Today Bestseller Michelle Celmer is the author of more than 40 books for Harlequin and Silhouette. You can usually find her in her office with her laptop loving the fact that she gets to work in her pajamas.
Michelle loves to hear from her readers! Visit Michelle on Facebook at Michelle Celmer Author, or email at email@example.com
Read an Excerpt
Julie Kingston stood and waited in the crowd, her heart overflowing with pride as her best friend and colleague, Lucas Wakefield, prepared to cut the ribbon marking the opening of the new, state-of-the-art Wakefield Clinic. It seemed as though the entire town of Royal, Texas, had shown up to mark the occasion.
The town's original free clinic once stood directly in the path of the F5 tornado that had ripped through Royal last October. In the blink of an eye, all that had remained of the structure was the concrete foundation. Patients from all over the surrounding counties had lost an important lifeline in the community.
Lucas, who had been a regular volunteer there despite his duties as chief of surgery at Royal Memorial Hospital, hadn't hesitated to donate the money to rebuild, using some of the proceeds from the sales and licensing of surgical equipment he'd invented several years ago.
Humble as he was for a multimillionaire, he'd intended to keep his identity as the donor a secret, but someone leaked the truth, and the news spread through Royal like wildfire. The town council had immediately wanted to rename the clinic in his honor. But of course Luc had protested when he'd heard about plans for the Lucas Wakefield Clinic.
"This clinic doesn't belong to me," he'd told Julie when she'd tried to convince him that he was being ridiculous. "It belongs to the people."
"This is a huge deal," she'd argued time and again. "You donated millions of dollars."
He gave her his usual, what's-your-point shrug, as if he truly didn't understand the scope of his own good will. For a man of his wealth and breeding he lived a fairly simple life. "It was the right thing to do."
And that was Luc in a nutshell. He always did the right thing, constantly putting the well-being of others first. But finally, after much debate, and a whole lot of coercing from his mother, Elizabeth, Julie and his colleagues in the Texas Cattleman's Club, he relented, allowing the use of his last name only.
Julie smiled and shook her head as she thought back on it. Lucas was the most philanthropic, humble man she had ever known. And at times, the most stubborn, as well.
Luc looked out over the crowd, and when his eyes snagged on hers she flashed him a reassuring smile. Despite his dynamic presence, and easy way with his patients and coworkers, he despised being the center of attention.
To his left stood Stella Daniels, the town's acting mayor. To his right, Stella's new husband, Aaron Nichols, whose company R&N Builders rebuilt the clinic. In the six months since the storm, the town's recovery had been slow but steady, and now it seemed as if every week a new business would reopen or a family would move back into their home.
"I'm so proud," Elizabeth Wakefield said, dabbing away a tear with the corner of a handkerchief. Julie knelt beside the wheelchair Elizabeth had been forced to use since a botched surgery a decade ago left her paralyzed from the waist down. In the months since Julie came to Royal last October, Elizabeth had contracted a multitude of infections that led to numerous hospital stays, and she now required permanent, round-the-clock care from a registered nurse. Though she was a beautiful and proud woman, she looked every one of her sixty-eight years, and a recent hospital stay for viral pneumonia had left her weak and vulnerable. Originally Luc forbade her from attending the ribbon cutting, but she insisted she be there. After much debate, he eventually caved, and it was more than clear to Julie where he inherited his stubborn streak.
"You have every reason to be proud," Julie said, patting Elizabeth's frail arm. "You've raised your son to be an amazing man."
"I wish his father could be here. From the day Luc was born he insisted that his son was destined for great things. It still breaks my heart that he didn't live to see how right he was."
Julie took her trembling hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "He knows."
The mayor completed her brief speech and handed Luc a pair of gold-plated scissors. With a quick swish of the blades the ribbon drifted to the freshly laid grass, and a round of applause erupted from the crowd. Luc's club brothers crowded around him to congratulate him and shake his hand, but Julie hung back, still clutching his mother's hand. Elizabeth looked proud but tired. The simplest of activities exhausted her.
"We should get you home," her nurse, Theresa, said. Too sleepy to argue, Elizabeth nodded. "Shall I call Luc over?" Julie asked. "So you can say goodbye?"
"Oh no, don't bother him. I'll see him at home later tonight."
Julie kissed her papery cheek and said goodbye, then joined her friends Beth Andrews and Megan Maguire several feet away.
"She doesn't look so good," Beth said as Theresa wheeled Luc's mother toward the parking lot to the van Luc had custom-built for her. When it came to taking care of his mother, he spared no expense.
A stab of sadness pierced Julie's heart. In the six months since she'd moved to Royal, Julie had come to consider Elizabeth a dear friend. She was the closest thing Julie had had to a mother since her own mother died giving birth to her sister, Jennifer. Her father waited to remarry until after she and her sister had left home, and though he dated, he'd never brought a woman home to meet his daughters. He traveled extensively, so they were raised by nannies and the other house staff. Homeschooled by tutors.
And when he was home? Well, she didn't like to think about that.
"I don't suppose you'll have any free time to volunteer this week," Megan said. "Just an hour or two? Someone left a cardboard box of three-week-old puppies on the doorstep. They need to be bottle-fed every hour or so and I'm ridiculously understaffed this week." Manager of the local animal shelter, she was known for taking in strays. Animals and humans alike. She had certainly gone out of her way to make Julie feel welcome when she arrived in Royal. Her significant other, as well as Beth's, were members of the Cattleman's Club with Luc.
It was shaping up to be a very busy week, but Julie could always make time to help a friend. And sadly, this would probably be the last time. "Of course," Julie said. "Just let me know when you need me."
Megan sighed with relief. "You're a lifesaver!"
They stood chatting for several minutes, before Julie heard a familiar voice say, "Good afternoon, ladies."
She turned as Luc joined them, smiling brightly to hide the deep feeling of sadness that seemed to radiate from the center of her bones. She could tell by the way he tugged at his tie that he was already irritable. No sense in making him feel even worse.
"It's a wonderful thing you've done," Megan told him, and Beth nodded in agreement.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said, pouring on the Texas charm. Though he was her boss, and they had never been more than friendsbest friends, but just friendsthat drawl sometimes gave her a warm feeling inside her bones.
"Can I give you a lift home?" he asked Julie. Her apartment was within walking distance from the clinic, and it was a sunny and pleasant day for a stroll, but she suspected he was looking for any excuse to leave.
"If you wouldn't mind," she said, playing along, noticing a look pass between Megan and Beth, as if they knew Luc was eager to escape.
"Good to see you ladies," he said, nodding cordially, that hint of Texas twang boosting his charm somewhere into the stratosphere.
Julie followed him to his car, his stride so much longer than hers she practically had to run to keep up.
"What's your rush," she said, though she already knew the answer.
"Damn," Luc muttered, pulling at his tie as if it were a noose. "Why does everyone have to make such a big deal about it?"
Seriously? "Because it is a big deal, doofus. You're a hero."
"It's not as if I built it with my own two hands," he said, using his key fob to unlock his Mercedes. "I just wrote out a check."
"A ridiculously enormous check," she reminded him as he opened the door for her. He'd also remained involved through the design stage and the construction process, to be sure that everything was built to his exact specifications. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, this was, in many ways, his clinic.
As they drove through town, sadness and regret leaked from every pore. In the six months she'd been here, Royal had become her haven. The US felt like more of a home to her now than her native South Africa, and now she had to leave. She had no idea where she would go, or what she would do, and she had little time to figure it out.
Silence filled the car, and as they pulled into the gated community where she was currently staying, Luc said, "You're awfully quiet. Would you like to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?" she asked, dreading the inevitable conversation. But Luc could always tell when she was upset. She could swear that sometimes he knew her better than she knew herself.
"Whatever is bothering you." He parked outside her condo and turned to her. "Did I do something to upset you?"
"No, of course not." She'd hoped to put this off a little while longer, so as not to dampen his special day, but there was so much concern in the depths of his eyes, it seemed only fair to tell him now.
"So, what is it?"
As her brain worked to find the appropriate words, tears burned the backs of her eyes. Maybe the parking lot wasn't the best place to do this.
"Can you come inside for a few minutes? We need to talk."
His brow furrowed, he killed the engine. "Of course. Is everything okay?"
No, not at all. "Let's talk inside."
Gentleman that he was, Luc took her keys as they reached her door and unlocked it for her. He didn't even do it consciously. It was just his way. His mother, born and bred in Georgia, was old-fashioned when it came to matters of social grace. He claimed that from the day he was born, she'd drilled him with proper Southern manners.
Whatever she'd done, it had worked. He was one of the most courteous men Julie had ever known. In all the time they had been friends and worked together, he'd never said a harsh word, or once raised his voice to her. Or to anyone else, for that matter. He had such a commanding presence, he never had to. People took one look at those piercing hazel eyes and that GQ-worthy physique, heard the deep baritone voice, and spontaneously bent to his will. Women especially.
As they stepped inside the apartment, afternoon sunshine and fresh spring air poured in through the partially open window in the living room. Luc shrugged out of his suit jacket and dropped like a lead weight onto the sofa, looking far too masculine for the floral printed chintz. The furniture, which was too formal and froofy for her taste, and not all that comfortable, either, came with the apartment. Expecting good news when she'd filed to renew her visa, she'd been tentatively window-shopping in her spare time for furniture more suited to her. She wouldn't be needing it now. Not here, anyway.
She wasn't even sure where she would live. Other than a few distant aunts and uncles, she had no family left in her hometown. And when her father had passed away, his wife, whom Julie never had the pleasure of meeting, sold off the entire estate before the body was cold.
Julie had so much to plan, and so little time to do it.
She set her purse on the coffee table and sat beside Luc, fisting her hands in her lap. There was nothing she hated more than giving good people bad news.
Luc unknotted his tie, tugged it off and tossed it over the sofa arm on top of his jacket. Relaxing back against the cushions he undid the top two buttons of his dress shirt. "Okay, let's hear it."
She took a deep breath, working up the nerve to tell him. "I heard back from immigration yesterday."
One brow rose in anticipation. "And?"
Just say it, Jules. "My application to renew my visa again was denied."
In a blur of navy blue Italian silk and white Egyptian cotton, Luc was on his feet. "Denied? You can't be serious."
Tears pricked the corners of her eyes. Now was not the time for a messy emotional display. She'd learned years ago that crying only made things worse. "According to your government I've overstayed my welcome. I have two weeks to pack up my things and get out of the US."
"How is that possible? You're on a humanitarian mission."
"Technically I'm on a work visa."
"I still don't see the problem. You're still my research assistant. Gainfully employed. What changed?"
"Remember how I told you that in college I attended several protests."
"Well, what I didn't tell you is that I was arrested a few times."
"Were you convicted?"
"No, but I was afraid that if I put it down on my application I would be denied."
"So you left it out?"
She bit her lip and nodded, feeling juvenile and ashamed for having lied in the first place. But she would have done almost anything to come to the US and help her best friend. Now that one serious lapse in judgment was coming back to bite her in the rear. "I screwed up. I thought that because the charges were dropped, and it was a peaceful political protest, it wouldn't matter anyway. I was wrong."
"There has to be something we can do," he said, pacing the oriental rug, brow deeply furrowed. "Maybe I could talk to someone. Pull some strings."
"The decision is final."
His chin tilted upward. "I can't accept that."
She rose from the sofa, touching his arm, stopping him in his tracks. "You don't have a choice. It's done."
He muttered a curse, one he wouldn't normally use in the presence of a female, and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. She rested her head against his chest, breathed in the scent of his aftershave. It wasn't often that they embraced this way, and she found herself dreading the moment he let go.
The stubble on his chin brushed her forehead as he spoke. "There has to be something we can do."
There was one thing, but it was too much to ask. Even of him. Especially of him. "At this point all I can do is accept it. And move on."
He held her at arm's length, and she could see the wheels in his head spinning. But this was one situation all his money and influence couldn't fix. "Where will you go?"
"South Africa for a while, until I can find another research assistant position. Maybe in Europe, or even Asia."
"I'll do whatever I can to help. I'll write such a glowing recommendation people will be clamoring to hire you."
The problem was, she didn't want to work for anyone else. She used to love moving from place to place, meeting new people and learning new cultures and customs. Now the only place she could imagine living was right here in Royal. It was the first place in her travels that had genuinely felt like home. The first place in her life really.
There had to be something she could do.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyed very much
I love this series. Looking forward to the next one
My Thoughts: I read the first Texas Cattleman's Club: After the Storm novel, Stranded With The Rancher, and thought it was absolutely lovely. I remember this "story" being hinted at and thought, "I'd really like to read more about that," so when this one came my way, BOOM! I was all over it. Who doesn't love this kind of love story? "I have to get married to [insert whatever it is that's about to ruin their life unless they get married here]." There's just something about it. Put best friends Luc and Julie together and it's an easy fix. Then when it comes time to kiss the bride, they discover they enjoy the kisses... a lot. Well, then, there goes the whole simplicity of this arrangement. Is it possible for two best friends to fall in love after they've already gotten married? More Than a Convenient Bride was an adorable ride. I loved it more than the first book in the series. Luc and Julie were an amazing pairing. The chemistry from their friendship translated beautifully to their relationship once they married. I will absolutely be reading the rest in this series, AND more by Michelle Celmer. My Rating: Very Good