Start Me Up

Start Me Up

by Nicole Michaels

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Overview

WHY DO DO-IT-YOURSELF

Single mom Anne Edmond can handle—and hand-make—just about anything. From table settings to party favors, floral arrangements to nursery décor, there is no project her creativity and a glue gun can't tackle. But dating? That's a whole 'nother story. Case in point: Mike Everett. He's a gorgeous mechanic and known car-whisperer, a man who can work with auto parts like nobody's business. And he has thrown a monkey wrench into Anne's carefully-crafted life…

WHEN YOU CAN DO IT TOGETHER?
One look at Anne is enough for Mike to know that she's no fixer-upper. She's perfect just the way she is—and the chemistry between them works like a charm. Mike's always been a no-strings kind of guy, but Anne's impressive self-reliance—and gorgeous exterior—gives him pause. This time, a fast joyride just doesn't seem like enough. But first he has to convince Anne that he means to take her all the way…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466862227
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/03/2015
Series: Hearts and Crafts , #1
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 141,105
File size: 835 KB

About the Author

When she's not writing, cooking, or hanging out with her husband, NICOLE MICHAELS is a portrait and wedding photographer. She enjoys writing love stories with happy endings and lives outside of Kansas City with her family.


When she's not writing, cooking, or hanging out with her family, NICOLE MICHAELS is a portrait and wedding photographer. She enjoys writing love stories with happy endings and lives outside of Kansas City with her husband and three sons. Blame It on the Mistletoe is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Start Me Up


By Nicole Michaels

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Nicole Michaels
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6222-7


CHAPTER 1

The only way to improve a Saturday full of coffee, naps, and mindless television was to end it with a beer and a beautiful woman. Fortunately, for Mike Everett that was the plan. Right now the coffee was French roast and hot, and tonight the woman was blond and even hotter. The past few weeks had been filled with plenty of innocent, and not-so-innocent, flirting with his attractive neighbor. Last Saturday, however, at the dive bar near his auto shop and makeshift apartment, she'd hinted that getting laid was almost a foregone conclusion. And thank God because it had been a while.

Unfortunately, one sip into his second cup of coffee and the lounging part of the equation was derailed by a frantic call from his sister, Erin. Her husband was called out of town on business, and as usual she needed a favor. Despite years of trying, Mike had never been good at telling her no, which explained why thirty minutes later he was walking up to a small yellow bungalow hand in hand with his six-year-old niece Bailey.

The exterior was meticulously groomed with natural stone pavers leading to the porch, and small pink flowers lining the path. Everything about the quaint house screamed fairytale perfection. Not really unusual for a small boutique town like Preston, Missouri, but still intimidating for a guy who currently resided in a space that was more than likely an extra-large storage room at one time. It was certainly convenient to live on site at his shop, but this did have the whole homey thing going for it.

A multicolored pennant banner was draped along the white porch railing while gigantic bouquets of pink and blue balloons bracketed the entryway. There was no way anyone would doubt this was where the party was.

"It's so pretty!" Bailey bounced beside him as they stepped up to the front door. "Don't you think, Uncle Mike?"

"Sure is, Boo." Truthfully, it seemed a little much for a kiddie birthday party, but what the hell did he know.

Beside the front door was an easel with a fancy handmade chalkboard sign, again all pink and blue. Bailey read it out loud, slowly sounding out the words.

"The ... parrrrty is ... under ... wwway, chhhoose your cost ..." There was a long pause and Mike shifted the wrapped purple gift package to rest under his other arm and decided that his sister really needed to define what a "small" favor meant in her world. Lucky for her, Mike loved his niece more than anything else on earth, so he tried to ignore his agitation, and the ruin of his plans to squeeze a nap in before his date with Katie.

"Choose your costu—" He tried to help, thinking about the worn couch in his office that was calling his name.

"Don't help me, Uncle Mike. Mommy always lets me read." A tiny fist rested on her hip. She was so like her mother with that quick temper.

He couldn't help but smile. "Sorry, Boo, you were doing great."

"Chooose your costume ... so you ... can stay." Bailey turned and grinned up at Mike. He returned her enthusiasm, allowing his pride to show on his face. She was his favorite person these days, and that sweet face could make him do nearly anything. Apparently that included digging through a trunk under the chalkboard that was filled with pink, pink, and glittery pink accessories. Glasses, tiaras, feathers, and tutus spilled onto the welcome mat as he helped her make a dress-up selection.

Just as he put the finishing touch on Bailey—a ridiculously large pink beaded necklace—the front door swung open and a mixture of screams and giggles flowed from around the back of the house.

"Bailey!" Another tiny female launched herself into his niece's arms, her blond hair twisted into tiny knots on each side of her head. She pulled back and snatched the gift from Mike's fingers. "Ooh, my present."

Kids.

"I'm so sorry. She's a little overexcited," a smooth female voice said as his niece was dragged inside.

Mike looked up and froze, his eyes widening as he took in the gorgeous blonde in the doorway. It hadn't occurred to him there might be an attractive female at this birthday party, but he certainly wasn't going to complain. Her welcoming smile faltered a little, her eyes darting around awkwardly near his feet. It was then that he realized he was standing there staring like an idiot with a pink boa draped around his ankle. He leaned down to grab it and toss it in the trunk as she spoke again.

"Would you like to come in?" she asked. He could tell she held back a laugh by the way she bit at her lip.

He hesitated. What would happen if he did? His sister had just asked him to drop Bailey off. In fact, he recalled her specifically saying there was no need to stay. But suddenly he wanted to stay just a little longer. Just for a minute. He had to admit the incredibly pink atmosphere and tiny feminine squeals coming from the back of the house were a powerful man repellent, but she most certainly was not.

"I mean, you don't have to. You can just come back at three." She obviously sensed his hesitation and began to step back into the house. His arm reached out instinctively to the wooden frame, signaling her not to close the door.

"Maybe, just for a second. Make sure Bailey's okay," he said. Her expression called bullshit. You only had to be around Bailey for half a second to know she'd never met a stranger or been in a situation she couldn't manage, much to her overprotective uncle's chagrin.

"Okay, well, come on in. You're very brave. A couple of other dads practically ran." She laughed, and the sound was so genuine and sexy. He couldn't recall being so turned on by just a laugh, but hers was—simply perfect.

He entered the house and was instantly met with a familiar floral smell. He wasn't sure if it was a candle or just the natural scent of her home. Two plush couches were loaded with enough brightly colored blue and red pillows to stack all the way to the ceiling. Shit, he wouldn't mind taking a nap right here, but no, the beautiful woman in the room was more appealing, and as she led him through the house he admired every inch of her.

She was curvy—her hips were full and her ass round. A body that most women would stupidly think needed improvement, but guys thought was just right. She turned to face him in the kitchen as she said something about what the dads who'd left would be missing and he nodded in agreement while he tried not to be too obvious about checking her out.

Her pink dress was snug around her shapely chest, with a white flower pinned over her left breast. Was it a corsage, like you'd wear to a prom? Or just a piece of jewelry? He didn't understand, but he also didn't care because it drew his eyes right to her cleavage. Her legs were endless and bronzy, and her pink sandals were once again adorned with flowers. Good God, what was with the flowers and why did he suddenly find them so hot? She grabbed something off the table and he spotted yet another bloom on the smooth ponytail at the back of her head, nothing out of place, no detail forgotten. And then suddenly it occurred to him what she'd just said and what she must be assuming.

"Oh, I'm not Bailey's father. I'm Uncle Mike." And he was officially an idiot. Uncle Mike? Oh well, he was no doubt two seconds away from being introduced to her Ken doll husband who probably drove a foreign car, liked sushi, and was the ideal father. Did he look like he'd just been imagining her wearing nothing but flowers? He needed to pull his thoughts out of the gutter.

"I'm sorry. I just assumed. Well, it's nice to meet you. I'm Anne Edmond, Claire's mother, obviously." She opened the screen door that led to the backyard then stopped to look over her shoulder. Her lips quirked and her eyes were a sparkly blue this close up. His gaze dropped to her lips as she spoke, her words leaving parts of his body in a state that just might cause a problem. Then her voice dropped into a conspiratorial whisper that he was sure she hadn't intended to be hot as hell, yet it was. "You better brace yourself for this, Uncle Mike."

He stepped onto the patio and into a little girl's dream come true, which thankfully proved an instant cure for the rising problem in his jeans. He now knew exactly why the other dads ran. The backyard was meticulously landscaped, which he could appreciate, but the party decor was so over the top he didn't know where to start. Every direction he turned he encountered an explosion of crafty shit; his eyes had trouble focusing on one thing.

Giant pink and blue paper flowers hung down from the wooden pergola above the patio. An antique wagon was painted white and held all the gifts, the trees in the yard were strung with tiny pink lights, and even the grass was dotted with striped pinwheels. Everything coordinated and looked like it was handmade just for this day.

Pink and blue cupcakes stood on various cake stands on the food table, colorful candies filled bowls, and little zigzag-painted bags that were decorated with all the guests' names sat off to the side in an oversized tin bucket. Seriously? He'd been to weddings that weren't this over the top.

The little girls were taking turns batting with a stick at a flower pinata in the yard, and a loud whack pulled him from his fog. He stopped gawking long enough to notice the group of four women staring at him from the grass near the patio. They were obviously the other moms. Shit. Why had he chosen to stay again? Everything about this situation was out of his element. Was it too late to run?

A finger tapped him on the shoulder. "Here ya go, you can have a grown-up drink."

Anne said it with a wink, which made him think a lot of grown-up thoughts until he glanced down at her outstretched hand and the ... jar drink? The kind of jar that his grandmother would have filled with pickles, okra, or tomato sauce, but this one was filled with a bright-pink beverage and a blue-and-white-striped straw. Jesus, what the hell was he doing here?

Apparently he was going to drink pink lemonade from a jar, because she was waiting. He gently pushed the straw to the side. "Not really a straw guy."

"Oh ... of course."

He lifted the jar to his lips, his eyes on her, her eyes on his mouth, which made him wish he'd picked up a razor this morning. The drink tasted decent, a little sweet for his taste, but standing here with her was worth sipping a girlie beverage. He smiled. "It's good. Thank you."

"There's just a touch of champagne in there. It is a children's party, of course, but I like the parents to enjoy themselves, too."

"I'm impressed. You think of everything." He meant it: This was quite a party.

She looked pleased with herself and placed a hand on his biceps. The innocent yet forward gesture surprised him. Glancing down, he noticed her nails were also manicured pink with blue tips—the same shades as all the decorations—and her hand was warm on his exposed skin. He instinctively flexed and then felt like the biggest douchebag. She began to pull him toward the group of women. Talking to the mommies wasn't exactly what he wished to do, but as long as her hand was on him he was following. He needed to think of something to say, a distraction.

"Your nails are pink and blue. They match. Nice touch."

"Oh, actually everything is raspberry and aqua, but—" She stopped and removed her hand from his arm. "Oh gosh, I'm sure you think I'm ridiculous, but this is kind of ... I don't know, my thing."

She shrugged and tilted her head with a brilliant smile. The kind of smile that would make a man take up an interest in whatever hobby she was into. He grinned at her, glancing again at her amazing full lips. "No, you're not ridiculous. I kind of like ... your thing."

God, he was a total asshole. He was hitting on a mother and wife in her expertly decorated backyard at her daughter's birthday party, and the heat he saw in her eyes verified that she wasn't completely uninterested. He should leave, but the look on her face made his body respond, tensing from head to toe. She didn't seem to be offended at all. Mike had done a lot of things he wasn't proud of in his life, but home wrecking wasn't on the list. He needed to down this fruity drink, get the hell out of here, and not return until the clock hit three like Erin originally suggested. He'd heard enough stories about bored suburban housewives, and becoming someone's piece on the side was not his style.

"I'll introduce you to everybody." She didn't give him a chance to decline the offer so he walked with her over to the group of women, who were obviously very curious about the conversation they'd just tried to appear not to notice. If he knew anything about females, they hadn't missed a thing.

Anne introduced him to the four women and pointed out what child belonged to whom. There was no way he would remember the information and he honestly didn't care. He couldn't stop staring at Anne as she spoke and laughed with the other women, her large blue eyes sparkling.

She was gorgeous; everything about her seemed so effortless and graceful. She made mother and wife look like something he wanted to have in his life. An interesting epiphany for a twenty-nine-year-old bachelor who'd planned on getting married someday, but as of yet hadn't given it any serious thought. Usually his next beer, next restoration job, and next lay were the only items on his immediate agenda. But she made the whole white-picket-fence thing seem like it was what made life worth living.

How nice would it be to lie on a couch with matching pillows instead of ones that smelled like spilled beer? Anne's house was warm and cozy, made for napping and all sorts of feel-good activities. He had married friends, and they seemed happy enough—but until now he'd never envied them. Anne was Betty Crocker, Martha Stewart, and Playboy Playmate wrapped up in striped aqua paper with a raspberry flower pinned on top. What man wouldn't find that appealing?

All these thoughts floated through his mind as he absently watched an overwhelming number of girlie toys opened, games played, and pink and blue cupcakes eaten. He even managed to avoid several awkward conversations with the nosy moms. He tried to shut out their voices as they gossiped about teachers, PTO, and how beautiful Anne's "tablescape" was. What the hell did that even mean? Were they talking about the table or the landscaping?

It wasn't until he checked his watch and it was two fifteen that he realized it didn't make sense to leave and come back. Plus watching Bailey laugh and have fun made him happy, although hearing the "awwws" from the women every time she called for "Uncle Mike" was getting a little annoying.

It also ticked him off that when Anne escaped to the kitchen to get a trash bag for the pile of wrapping paper and paper plates, the other women began to talk—about her.

"I swear to God, I don't know how she does it. I mean, she stenciled chevron onto the goodie bags. I'm lucky if I get a cake ordered from the grocery store." The offending woman took a long drink from her grown-up jar as nods of agreement erupted from the other ladies.

"If Ellen thinks she's getting a party like this, she's crazy," said another woman. "Have you seen some of the pictures on Anne's website? It's ridiculous what people are willing to pay her for."

"Right?" the first mom said again. "I mean, I pin things like this all day long, but I know I'll never actually do any of it."

As far as Mike was concerned, these women were speaking a foreign language, and he was getting more than a little annoyed at their tone regarding Anne. Why? He had no clue, but they were just jealous bitches as far as he was concerned. He felt only respect and amazement when he looked around at what she'd done for her daughter, but he also wasn't a woman, and as every man knew, women could be a little crazy. One of the comments made him curious, probably too curious for his own good, but he wanted to know more. He found himself leaning into the woman closest to him. She must have sensed his presence and tilted her head toward him, a wide smile on her face.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Start Me Up by Nicole Michaels. Copyright © 2015 Nicole Michaels. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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