“Romantic comedy at its finest . . . Readers will not want to put it down.”—USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog
Gage Barrett’s reputation as a ladies’ man has been greatly exaggerated, but none of that matters after a drunken bet lands him on Jilted, a reality TV show that matches runaway grooms with wannabe brides. Now he’s stuck at a Hawaiian resort with nineteen women competing to drag him back to the altar—and one contestant who’s even more miserable than he is. Gage has no idea how feisty, independent Ellie Wright wound up in the cast, but it’s obvious she hates his guts. And if there’s one thing Gage likes, it’s a challenge. . . .
Ellie can’t believe she let her best friend talk her into exchanging her dignity for a glorified bikini contest. Still, she could use the exposure—her business is struggling—and she’ll probably be one of the first to get eliminated anyway. But Gage isn’t the shallow jerk Ellie anticipated—and he’s in no rush to send her home. As stolen kisses turn into secret trysts, she finds herself losing track of what’s real and what’s for the camera. With the wedding finale looming, this runaway groom is tempting Ellie to start believing in storybook endings.
Praise for Runaway Groom
“Lauren Layne gets the red rose for this one, and fans of The Bachelor will fall in love with this thoroughly charming story.”—Kate O’Keeffe, bestselling author of One Last First Date
“It’s the perfect beach read—or snow day read, if you’re stuck in cold weather like me!”—All About Romance
Lauren Layne’s New York Times bestselling Oxford Novel series can be read in any order:
I WISH YOU WERE MINE
SOMEONE LIKE YOU
I KNEW YOU WERE TROUBLE
I THINK I LOVE YOU
Don’t miss any of Lauren Layne’s hot reads:
The Love Unexpectedly series: BLURRED LINES | GOOD GIRL | LOVE STORY | WALK OF SHAME | AN EX FOR CHRISTMAS
The Sex, Love & Stiletto series: AFTER THE KISS | LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH | JUST ONE NIGHT | THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE
The Redemption series: ISN’T SHE LOVELY | BROKEN | CRUSHED
The I Do, I Don’t series: READY TO RUN | RUNAWAY GROOM
Includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I hang up on Marjorie. She’ll understand when I explain later.
Sugar. Crap, sugar, and the f-word too.
“So,” I say, forcing a smile at the unsmiling man leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. “Awkward, right?”
Gage says nothing.
The light coming from the cracked door is enough to let me know it’s him, but not enough to let me read his expression.
I start to slip my phone into my back pocket, but he wordlessly holds out a hand.
I give him an incredulous look. “Um, no. I’m not going to just hand over my phone because Hollywood commands it.”
“No phones allowed,” he says. Gage pushes away from the wall and plucks the phone out of my hand. He glances down at it, his thumb moving across the screen, as he unabashedly snoops through it. “Who were you talking to?”
“Give it back.” I try to grab for it, but he holds it higher, still snooping. “I’ll turn it in, I swear.”
He gives me a skeptical look but finally hands the phone over, and I shove it into my back pocket and glare up at him.
I’m a little surprised by how tall he is.
I always heard that actors were shorter in person, but Gage has to be at least six-two, and he towers easily over my five feet four inches.
He’s wearing shorts and a button-down linen shirt, but the casual attire does nothing to diminish his masculinity. A fact I’m pretty sure he knows, because he steps closer, then grins when I back up and stumble over a bucket.
Gage reaches out a hand to steady me, big and warm on my waist. For a second I think he’s lingering, but then I realize his fingers are simply testing the fabric of my T-shirt.
“So, this is the business,” he murmurs. “Looks like a men’s undershirt to me.”
I bat his hand away. “The cut of a man’s undershirt doesn’t adequately account for a woman’s—” I break off.
He lifts his eyebrows. “Yes?”
“Never mind,” I mutter, not about to say the word breasts or boobs when I’m in very close proximity to a man who’s making me too aware of my boobs.
He drags his eyes from my shirt up to my face. “The person you were talking to. Was this the same friend that made you come here?”
My eyes narrow. “Why are you saying it like that? Like you don’t believe me.”
“You just don’t seem like the type of woman who can be made to do anything.”
“True. I’m the sort of woman who will do what it takes to make her business a success,” I say, trying to move around him. “I just . . . went too far with this one.”
He puts up an arm, blocks my way. “Hot and hollow, huh?”
His eyes are oddly intense, as though my answer somehow matters, and I wince, hating that he heard my careless assessment of him.
Still, I’m not out to make this guy like me, and I sort of meant it. Any guy who thinks he’s going to find his true love on TV in the span of a month? Hollow.
Or at least really dim.
I study him. “I know why I’m in this closet. Why are you?”
“Cleaning fetish,” he deadpans. “Brooms and buckets really do it for me.”
I narrow my eyes and ignore the sarcasm. “You were hiding.”
His expression flickers, and I know I’m right. The man practically lives on camera, and yet he sought out a cleaning closet for a moment of solitude that I’d disturbed with my thoughtless trash talk.
I feel a little stab of regret—not because I was wrong about him, but because I wish he hadn’t heard it.
Still, maybe I can use my faux pas to my advantage, getting me out of here before I can cause any more trouble for myself.
I step back and look at him steadily. “Look. We both know that I never should have made it to this round. No doubt you were hoping that people would vote me home, but . . .”
I spread my arms to the sides, intending it to be a self-deprecating gesture to put him at ease. Instead, he rakes his gaze over me and the mood in the tiny closet is anything but easy.
“Interesting,” he says finally, breaking the silence.
“What is?” I look longingly toward the door. Toward escape.
“That you label me hollow, and yet you’re the one openly admitting to using the show—to using me—to sell T-shirts.”
“Oh, come on. Surely, you’re not so naive that you don’t know what this show is—what we’re all doing here. The goal is ratings, not happily ever after.”
“That’s the network’s goal. Not mine.”
“Right. You’re here for . . . what was it again? To find your one true love?” I don’t bother to keep the skepticism out of my voice.
He surprises me by grinning. “Why do you think I’m here?”
“Don’t know, don’t care,” I say, waving my hand breezily as I again attempt to ease by him.
He reaches out to stop me, his fingers resting lightly against my stomach, his fingers seeming to burn through the thin fabric of my shirt, and I’m embarrassed at the way my breath hitches.
Gage Barrett is touching me.
Marjorie and my mother would die.
Gage grins wider at my response, and the cocky reaction is exactly what I need to get myself together. I push his hand away. “Surely there’s a more willing contestant to go molest in a closet somewhere.”
“No doubt,” he says with a laugh.
I step back. “Is it true you left two women at the altar?”
He meets my gaze dead-on. “Yes.”
“Why are you so dead set on leaving?” he interrupts. “Got someone at home that doesn’t like his girl flirting on camera?”
“I’m not flirting. Contestants aren’t allowed to be involved in romantic relationships. It’d be in breach of contract.”
“That’s a stupid answer. Do you have a boyfriend or not?”
“It was a stupid question,” I toss back. “And not your business.”
“Not my business,” he says under his breath, shaking his head. “I could potentially marry you, but no, your love life is absolutely not my business.”
“I’m not marrying you. I am leaving now,” I say, a little impatiently, as I realize the other girls will likely be wondering where I am.
He opens his mouth, but before he can respond, voices come from the hallway. Acting on instinct, I place my fingers across his mouth to keep him from talking and giving us away.
Gage’s eyes flare a little at the contact, and my breath does that annoying chopping thing again. His eyes are green. Have I noticed that before? I always thought they were blue, or maybe hazel, but they’re more like . . .
“Your eyes look like guacamole,” I whisper, once the voices pass without anyone opening the closet door.
He chuckles, his breath warm on my fingers, and I snatch my hand back. “Are you going to say this stuff on camera?”
“Probably,” I admit. “Which is why it’s in both of our interests if you send me home first thing.”
“I don’t know about that. The producers have told me in as vague a way as possible that I should keep the contestants that make for good TV for as long as possible.”
I’m disgusted but not surprised. We contestants were basically told that we’re welcome to make a spectacle of ourselves in the name of entertainment.
“Ah, yes, above all we must entertain the people,” I say, reaching for the doorknob. “It’s a wonder they don’t just set up a tent in the front yard, dress us in something sparkly, and have us walk around in a slow circle to creepy circus music.”
“We talked about it,” he says, stepping closer, his breath warm on my neck. “Decided that dressing you all up in bikinis and having you splash around in the pool would be even better.”
“Gross,” I mutter. I turn my head slightly to meet his eyes. “Send me home, Gage. Please. It’ll be better for both of us.”
He studies me. “You really want that?”
“I’m a businesswoman, not a groupie.”
He’s silent for a moment. “True. You did compare my eyes to avocados.”
“Exactly. You usually get, what . . . moss?”
His lips twitch, although the smile doesn’t reach his mossy eyes. “Emeralds, mostly.”
I turn away with a snort, opening the door slowly, listening for voices. When I’m met with only silence, I stick my head out.
The hallway’s empty.
“All clear,” I say, stepping hurriedly into the hallway. It’s open-air, as much of the villa is, and the faint scent of tropical flowers is vastly preferable to the astringent smell of the cleaning supplies.
I inhale and turn around to face Gage, who’s closing the door to the closet. I extend my hand with a confident smile. “So. We have a deal? I’m the first one home?”
He looks at my hand, then his gaze flicks up to meet mine. His eyes do look a little more like emeralds than guacamole in this light, but I’m not about to tell him that.
Finally Gage reaches out and shakes my hand. “Sure. First one home.”