I'm Ivy Clarke. Bartender, best friend, and disbeliever in love.
And now I'm in over my head, trying to flip a house all by myself.
I'm not too proud to admit I need some help. Too bad the only one who can help me is the same man I want to throw out this house's second-story window.
Jackson Gamble and I can't be in the same room together for more than a minute without devolving into a sparring match.
Except for that one time…
But enough about that. Jackson's looking for forever, and I don't believe in love, remember?
Get in. Renovate. Get out. Keep my heart firmly in tact.
Because it's much easier to fix up a house than a broken heart.
Full of humor and dripping with delicious tension, Nailed It proves that every heart can be ready for a little rehabilitation, if only you're willing to open it up.
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|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
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About the Author
Cindi Madsen is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and young adultnovels. She sits at her computer every chance she gets, plotting, revising, and falling in love with her characters. Sometimes it makes her a crazy person. Without it, she’d be even crazier. She has way too many shoes, but can always find a reason to buy a pretty new pair, especially if they’re sparkly, colorful, or super tall. She loves music and dancing and wishes summer lasted all year long. She lives in Colorado (where summer is most definitely NOT all year long) with her husband and three children.
You can visit Cindi at: www.cindimadsen.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter to get all the up-to-date information on her books.
Follow her on Twitter @cindimadsen.
Read an Excerpt
"How could you not want to fall in love?"
I clenched my fruity, embellished-with-a-heart-swizzle-stick drink tighter, wishing I'd mixed it myself so it'd have more than a splash of alcohol. Damn. My plan to be invisible has failed.
Without looking, I knew Aunt Velma would be to my right, basking in the success of the engagement party she'd set up on the sprawling lawn behind her house. She wasn't technically my aunt, but once Savannah introduced you to her family, you were kind of part of it. No matter how hard you tried to resist it happening.
The Gambles were nosy and opinionated, which was one reason I'd tried to resist so hard. It was also why my attempts to keep them at a distance were futile.
I steeled myself for what would inevitably come next — something about how amazing love and marriage was, naturally.
Velma gestured to the betrothed couple. "I mean, how could you not want someone to look at you like that?"
I glanced at Velma, then followed the crisscrossing strings of light overhead. They cast a soft glow on the tables and chairs overflowing with well-wishers and hung lower over the merry couple, leaving them in the spotlight.
My cousin Linc and my best friend Savanna were freshly engaged and disgustingly in love. Since I adored both of them, and they truly were perfect for each other, I was happy for them. Considering I'd introduced them to each other in college, I was taking credit for the match, even if it took a few extra years for them to get their happy ending.
Just call me Cupid.
Was it a prerequisite for Cupid to believe in love?
Technically, I didn't not not believe in it. It just didn't have any place in my life. I'd seen the havoc and destruction love left in its wake. I'd witnessed the unsteadiness of it, the self-reliance on another person, and the sharp, slicing words fired at will by people who claimed to love each other.
I liked my feet on the ground and my head in the logical cloud-free space it belonged in.
As a dating guru and creator of the 12 Steps to Mr. Right program, my best friend didn't understand my commitment aversion and possibly even believed that someday I'd meet my very own Mr. Right and change my mind.
But I had my own set of rules that I lived and died by. Well, there'd been no dying in the literal sense, obviously, but before I'd started following them, I'd had days where I definitely didn't feel alive, and I was never going back.
I referred to them as 13 Ways to Avoid a Broken Heart (and other loveborne illnesses). One more step than Savannah's program totally meant mine was better. For me anyway. Plus, I'd always liked the number thirteen, black cats, walking under ladders, and anything else people were superstitious about. It made people nervous, and I liked making people a little nervous.
I flashed Velma my best grin. "Girl, I have guys looking at me like that every night in the bar." Honestly, the looks I received while bartending at Azure didn't have that my-world-revolves-around-you edge Savannah's and Link's did, but the unabashed lust, I got plenty of.
A scandalized gasp escaped Velma, turning the tables right back in my favor.
Way #1:Always be in control. In life, with people, and most of all, when it comes to love. Once you fall in love, you surrender control, and safety is most definitely not guaranteed.
And that's how it's done. I tipped back my drink. "This might not be the strongest, but it is super yummy. I think I'll go grab another. You want me to get you one?"
Velma lifted the drink in her hand. "Thank you, but I'm still working on my first."
I ignored the implication that one drink was plenty and headed to the punchbowl for a refill. My skeptical side expected this party to be difficult to get through, not because I was sad that Savannah was getting married — because again, super happy, totally responsible for their meeting and giving her a push when she'd needed it a few months ago — but because I knew things would change.
Savannah was already so busy with her successful program, and Linc's sports reporting career was taking off, and everyone was moving on, and I was still tending bar. I'd always meant for it to be a temporary gig, but I made a killing in tips, and every time I went to apply for another job, I thought of the steady hours and sitting at a desk and then it felt like my skin was getting too tight.
I didn't want to be predictable. Didn't want to be boring. But I didn't want to be stuck, either, and for the past few months, I'd been in a rut.
No thinking about that. I'm in control and rocking this party ...
Only when I turned away from the table, I accidentally caught sight of Jackson.
Jackson, brother of the bride-to-be, guy who drove me crazy — both in the irritated and turned-on way — and, well, there might've been an incident where I'd slipped and had a one-week stand with him.
No, incident wasn't strong enough. I'd broken girl code, crossed lines with my bestie's brother, and momentarily let myself forget that sex would only complicate already-complicated things.
My sense of control had spiraled out of my grasp then, and as Jackson leveled his green-eyed gaze on me now, my grip slipped the tiniest bit. A shiver that I forced myself to cover traveled down my spine, and my sleeveless navy cocktail dress did little to conceal the goose bumps covering my arms. At least I knew the dark lace contrasted nicely with my pale blond hair, and my smoky eye was on pointe tonight. If a simple look was going to give me goose bumps, I needed the rest of me to be on its game.
It'd be so much easier to share the same space if I didn't remember what his lips felt like against mine, that mix of soft and scruff from his whiskers. If I didn't remember those big hands, callused from his contractor work, dragging across my skin.
Being in his arms.
I wasn't usually a girl who hung around. I left as fast as humanly possible or politely showed my gentleman caller to the door so I could be in charge of the leaving instead of waiting around for it to happen. Jackson was the only guy I'd let hold me afterward, and it killed me that I'd been so vulnerable in front of him because it made me feel vulnerable in front of him all the freaking time. Even more devastating, I hated how much I'd liked it there and occasionally longed to be there again.
Like when I lost my mind for a couple of seconds. Or before he went and opened his mouth.
Speaking of usually, I usually held back the memories better — my nights with Jackson were shoved away to the far corners of my mind. Unfortunately, they kept bobbing up, unbidden, to torture me. What I needed to do was remind myself of how ugly things turned afterward.
I lifted my chin, readying myself for a cool conversation peppered with verbal jabs, and he crossed the arms I'd just been reliving having around me, those damn muscles he got from all that manual labor popping out to taunt me.
He had this stupidly perfect hair, too. Nice and thick and longer on top, brown with a hint of copper that you only could see in the sun. It was styled as if he'd simply raked his fingers through it and let it do whatever it wanted, which was apparently to always fall flawlessly in place.
He gave me a tight nod. "Ivy."
"Jackson." Pre–blurred lines, we'd volleyed between passionately arguing and flirting with a daring, challenging edge, but afterward it was all animosity, and he'd been pretty clear that he wasn't starting a fan club for me anytime soon. I told myself that loathing was easier — his or mine, there was plenty to go around whenever our paths crossed. If I focused on that, I could keep hold of my control.
"I was thinking that for Savannah's sake, we could" — he dragged his fingers across his clenched jaw, looking like he was having trouble grinding out the words — "put aside our differences and play nice."
The phrase "play nice" brought on a barrage of images that were more dirty than nice and definitely not something I should be thinking about in the company of his family members, who were more on the proper debutante and southern gentlemen side of the fence. It was a side I didn't belong in, not by a long shot. Luckily, Savannah never cared about that kind of thing.
"I suppose I can manage to play nice. But with you ...?" A smile tugged at my lips, and I went ahead and let it free, steering it into syrupy sweet range. "Only for an hour or so. Two tops."
An evil gleam lit his eyes. "As I recall, there's only one way to ensure you're saying more yeses than nos, and it was usually closer to two hours."
My jaw dropped as the blood in my veins boiled with a mixture of anger and desire that I never could properly sort out around him. I quickly snapped my mouth closed and muttered through gritted teeth, "You wish, you cocky jackass."
He clicked his tongue. "Is that any way to start our temporary truce?"
I glared at him. He glared right back. Then he had the audacity to grin.
I wanted to hold my drop-dead stare for longer, but no place was safe for my eyes. The guy always filled out his jeans and T-shirts nicely, the rugged look making it nearly impossible for my hormones to behave themselves. But the button-down shirt, casually open at his chest, and sports jacket combo was equally hot-flash inducing.
I'd scold myself for ogling him — a habit I'd tried really hard to quit — but his eyes dipped to take in my mid-thigh skirt before traveling back up to my face, so I wasn't alone. Fighting off a wave of heat that had little to do with the warm September evening, I reached up and twisted a strand of hair around my finger, doing my best not to remember the way he'd once driven his fingers through it and told me he liked it wavy and wild, the way it was right now.
Jeez. What's with me tonight? It didn't take a sex scientist (a job I was far more qualified for than the Cupid one, FYI) to figure it out. I was sexually frustrated. While I used to be onboard with mutual adult fun, lately when I met guys, I just couldn't get into it. Not the flirting and definitely not trying to turn the flirting into more. Sometimes it was because talking with them for more than a few minutes revealed the beer bottle in their hands had a higher IQ than they did, but I used to not need conversation.
Ugh, why did my brain have to function all the time?
Because that's how you stay in control. Now get it together and say something to Jackson, and don't you dare do the flirty voice thing. This is a temporary truce for Savannah's sake, that's all. It's not like it's admitting defeat or anything.
"So, did you do the big brother thing and tell Linc that he better take care of your sister or else?"
"While I do love a good threatening, I didn't bother. Velma already did it, and I'm man enough to admit that she's scarier than I'll ever be."
I snorted a laugh, which made Jackson laugh. I think both of us were a tad tipsy. Although I wasn't tipsy enough to keep from noticing the deep timbre of his laugh or how he shifted closer to me.
If I drank more, staying in control would be slightly more difficult, but for some reason, I was having a hard time remembering why I needed control so badly. Some of my best times with Jackson involved being totally and utterly out of control. All passion, no thinking ...
Until it caught up with me.
Which was why I schooled my hormones and shoved away all thoughts of going down that painful, land-mine-filled path again. "Has Velma given you the 'don't you want someone to look at you like that' line yet?"
"I actually got the 'isn't it about time you find your other half and settle down' one." Jackson tugged at the sleeves of his jacket — clearly he wasn't used to wearing one, in spite of looking like he could model for Lumberjacks Gone GQ monthly, a catalog I'd absolutely subscribe to if it didn't only exist in my imagination.
"Ah, classic," I said. "As if you've just been walking around as half a person until now. I thought you looked lopsided."
"Hey." He ran a hand down his shirt. "I look sexy as hell."
"I'd like to argue, but ..." I bit my lip. Damn it. That crossed into flirty territory, didn't it?
He leaned closer, his hand going to my lower back and his breath skating across my neck. "You don't have to freak out. I know better than to read more into comments like that from you."
It should reassure me, but instead my heart splatted in my chest. "I —"
"Do my eyes deceive me, or are you two actually having a civil conversation?" Savannah stepped up to us and eyed us with a healthy dose of skepticism, like it might all be a big ruse where we shouted "psych" and then went to town on each other.
Since my brain hated me, it flooded with images of kissing rather than punching.
"Consider it an early wedding present," Jackson said. "Don't expect anything else, though."
Savannah shoved him, and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in for a side hug. "Congrats, little sister."
"Thanks. Maybe now Mom and Aunt Velma will finally stop giving me crap about being a single dating expert."
Jackson nodded. "Probably. Next up, questions about when you'll be popping out a few kids."
Savannah groaned. "The hint about grandchildren has already been dropped. I just want to focus on how I'm finally getting married to my very own Mr. Right." She turned to me, and an embarrassingly strong wave of emotion hit me. I liked to keep that all bottled up, but it was dangerously close to exploding out of me. I lunged forward and hugged her tight.
Very little was constant in my life. I spent my entire childhood moving more times than people on the run from the mob did and had enough stepdads or almost-stepdads to create my own dysfunctional army of men I mostly couldn't trust. Life had been one big merry-go-round until I'd met Savannah.
She was my person and had been since we'd first met. I'd even tried to keep my guard up, simply because I'd learned to never get attached, but she charged right through like the Kool-Aid man.
I heard her sniff.
"Don't start crying, or I'll start," I said, choking back the tears clogging my throat. "And you know I'd rather eat worms than cry in public."
Savannah laughed. "I'd hate for people to think you were an actual human girl with feelings."
"Me too. That's exactly what I'm saying." I couldn't help but glance over her shoulder at Jackson, worried that I was giving him ammo to later use against me.
He'd taken a step back, allowing us some space, but he gave me a consoling smile when our eyes met, and then it was all I could do to stifle the urge to cry. If even he was taking pity on me, it was worse than I thought.
"If an engagement party makes me this damn emotional, I'm not coming to your wedding," I teased.
"I'm pretty sure it's required for the maid of honor to be at the wedding." Savannah pulled back to shoot me a serious look. "So don't even talk like that."
"Oh, great. You're going to be one of those bridezillas, aren't you?"
"Oh, for sure. Isn't that the point of a wedding? Forget happily ever after. I want to strike fear into everyone around me."
"Here, here," I said, lifting my palm so she could slap it.
We broke into laughter, and then Linc came over, also looking dashing but slightly uncomfortable in a button-up shirt and jacket. I gave him a hug for good measure. He was one of the other constants in my life, even though he'd gone and left me for minor league baseball for a handful of years before returning to Atlanta.
My two constants were about to marry each other and form two halves of one whole or whatever, and I told myself that I'd be okay. I was a grown up. I had years and years of experience in basically being on my own.
But I was afraid the past several years with my makeshift family might've made me soft.
Before we could get a decent conversation going, Velma called over Savannah and Linc, insisting they pose for more pictures.
Jackson stepped up next to me. "You okay?"
I exhaled a shallow breath and glanced at him. "Of course." He raised an eyebrow as if he wanted to challenge me on that, and I raised one right back. "You're not going to mess up our truce already, are you? The hour's not even done yet."
He held up his hands as if he were surrendering, a little too much amusement for my liking curving his lips.
A flicker of hope sparked — maybe we could go back to how it was before. We'd never really agreed on much of anything, but our exchanges used to be more like good-natured verbal sparring matches that sometimes ventured into fiery passion, each of us waving our red flags, taunting the other to charge like a bull.
These days, if and when our paths crossed, there was only arguing with barbed words meant to slice. Muttered insults like "succubus" — him about me, and "jackass" — me about him. I racked my brain for a neutral subject, but I wasn't very good at small talk, and he and I could manage to get into a fight over the weather.
Excerpted from "Nailed It"
Copyright © 2017 Cindi Madsen.
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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