Lance Townsend craves freedom after years living a structured existence in the Army. But just as he’s about to leave for the trip of a lifetime, Lance receives a letter written by his best friend before his death asking him to look after his daughter. The problem? The adorable little girl’s aunt is the one woman Lance has never been able to forget.
Between raising her adorable niece and living in a home that can only be described as a fixer-upper---emphasis on the fixer part--Carly Quigley is in over her head. So when the man who jilted her years ago shows up at her door claiming her brother asked him to check in on her and the house, she reluctantly accepts. Except having the sexy military man around is distracting, and all either of them can focus on is their undeniable attraction. But Lance isn't planning on staying, which makes him the wrong man for her. Unfortunately, the wrong man has become oh-so-tempting.
Each book in the Wrong Man series is a standalone, full-length story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Kissing Mr. Wrong
Book #2 Tempting Mr. Wrong
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Tempting Mr. Wrong
A Wrong Man Story
By Kerri Carpenter, Alethea Spiridon, Elizabeth Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Kerri Carpenter
All rights reserved.
Carly glanced around the playground she frequented so often it had become a second home over the last year. The sound of children laughing — and sometimes crying — mingled with the smell of peanut butter sandwiches and baby wipes.
But as she kept an eye on her niece playing in the sandbox, she took a moment to consider the adults today. In her opinion, there were all different kinds of parents. Carly was fascinated with the helicopter parents, the ones hovering over their kids, monitoring hopscotch and butting into playtime on the slide.
Of course, those kinds of parents were in stark contrast to what Carly deemed the cell phone parents. As if on cue, one walked by the bench where Carly sat, her cell plastered to her ear. She'd been pacing for the last twenty minutes, alternating between talking way too loud and checking her email with a sour look on her face. But at least she'd shown up at all, Carly thought. There were kids she saw every day at this playground whose birth parents remained a mystery. At least the nannies they hired were cool to hang with.
She stretched her arms high into the air and sat back on the bench. She really shouldn't judge because Carly didn't qualify for any of those groups. She wasn't a parent or a nanny. Not a real one anyway. She was only filling in.
"Aunt Carly! Aunt Carly!"
Her head snapped up to take in her beautiful four-year-old niece running toward her enthusiastically, bright red hair bouncing around her head. Carly pushed back her own hair, so similar to Mya's.
"Hey, peanut, what's shaking over in the sandbox?"
Mya giggled and stopped right in front of her. "Not much. Just stupid Justin being gross again."
"What's he talking about today?" Carly hid a smile as she eyed the kid in question, who was currently pouring a bucket of sand over his head. She stifled a laugh as her friend, and Justin's very frazzled nanny, reprimanded him.
"Boogers," Mya said, scrunching up her cute little nose.
"Yuck," Carly replied obligingly. "But are you having fun otherwise?"
Mya gave a big and emphatic nod, sending more curls springing. "Can we stay all day?" she asked.
"I wish, but we'll have to go home at some point."
Mya tilted her little head. "In case Santa Claus comes?" she asked hopefully.
"It's about three months too early for that." She ran a hand over Mya's hair.
"I thought Santa left that present for me last week, but it was Uncle Lance."
"Mm-hmm." Carly knew how excited her niece got when she saw a package from Lance, Chris's best friend, even if she had to clamp down on her own feelings regarding "Uncle" Lance.
It's not that she didn't like Lance. He was ...
"Uncle Lance is the best, isn't he?" Mya asked.
He was something. "Yep, he's great." Carly refrained from rolling her eyes. Any issues she had with Lance Townsend would stay firmly with her. No way would she let her irritation with the man cloud Mya's judgment of him. After all, he sent presents and cards to Mya all the time. He even had flowers delivered on her first day of preschool.
Plus, the man was Mya's godfather.
And she was Mya's aunt, Carly reminded herself. As her aunt, she couldn't exactly mention that godfather Lance had jilted her back in the day.
"We should think about dinner for tonight, so why don't you go finish playing? We'll leave soon."
Mya's lip puckered out in a pout, but just as quickly, she giggled and ran back toward the sandbox and Justin's taunting ways.
Carly greeted her friend with a smile. She patted the bench next to her. "Maria, I didn't think you guys were going to show up today."
"We almost didn't. Justin had a bit of a meltdown this morning. We had to get over that, suffer through a time-out, eat lunch. You know the drill." She sat on the bench and gestured toward the sandbox. "How's Mya?"
"Perfect angel, as usual."
Carly laughed when Maria stuck her tongue out.
"I think Justin was irritating her," Maria said.
"Mya hasn't realized yet that Justin's references to boogers are his way of flirting."
"Young love. Can't wait for their wedding someday." Maria rummaged in her large tote, pulling out some animal crackers and offering them to Carly. "Speaking of love, any hot dates lately?" Carly snorted. "Oh yeah, with all the time I've had to date, totally."
"Girl, you gotta make some time. I told you I'd watch Mya for you."
Justin pulled Mya's hair, and Carly suppressed a laugh as her niece pushed him back in the sand. How long had it been since someone had pulled her hair? Metaphorically or otherwise. The sigh escaped her lips before she could stop it.
"See," Maria said knowingly. "You're lonely."
Carly rolled her eyes and popped an animal cracker in her mouth. "I'm not lonely, just busy. The temp agency has me acting as secretary at this super-boring accounting firm this week. If I didn't know how to alphabetize and file before, trust me, I could win an Olympic medal in office work now."
"That's what I'm talking about. You're working full time —"
"Was. My assignment ended yesterday. Hopefully I can get a lead on a good full-time gig."
"Like I said," Maria said. "You're working full time, looking for a new job, taking care of Mya, keeping up that huge house."
Carly shrugged. "It's not that big. Anyway, I'm fine. We're fine," she amended, nodding toward Mya.
"I know, sweetie." Maria leaned over and squeezed her leg. "You're doing an amazing job."
Carly's eyebrow rose. "But?" she prompted.
"But nothing." Maria tossed an animal cracker in her mouth. "Okay, just this. You still have to make time for yourself. You don't need to become a nun just because you have a four-year-old. Plenty of single parents date."
"I date," she said, but even Carly could hear the defensiveness in her voice. She used to date at least.
"Oh yes, let's discuss the barrage of, um, interesting men you used to introduce me to."
Carly turned to her friend, a bemused look on her face. "Hey, are you criticizing my taste in men?"
"Oh girlfriend, definitely."
"What's wrong with the guys I've dated?"
Maria averted her gaze. "Well ... there have been some real winners."
"Oh shut up. Everyone's made a mistake or two in the dating pool."
"True, but you also have this tendency," Maria said slowly, as if talking to one of the kids.
"Yes?" Can't wait for this. Carly relaxed against the bench.
"I've noticed," Maria said, "that you get really close to people really fast, without getting to know them."
"What can I say? I was raised by two army parents and a handful of relatives. I never knew how long I would stay in one place, so of course I make friends fast." Carly didn't say "duh" out loud but she sure as hell thought it.
"Can I be honest with you?" Maria asked and Carly nodded. "I'm worried about you. You have such a big heart, and big hearts are usually the first ones to be trampled on. I don't want to see you go through any more pain. I may have loved getting to know you the past couple of years, but I know it's been rough for you."
Glancing down at the ground, Carly shuffled her feet in the dirt. Of course it had been a hard year. She missed her brother and sister-in-law. Every day she worried that she wasn't doing something right with Mya. Sometimes she missed the freedom that she used to have. But she'd grown up moving from place to place, living with different relatives while her parents had been serving in the army. Carly considered herself to be the most adaptable and flexible person she knew.
Life had handed her some really shitty lemons. A lot of people would have made lemonade, but she'd taken it a step further and made a Lemon Drop Martini. She'd made sure Mya was acclimating to all of the changes in her life by having her talk to a counselor. Recognizing the inner diva in her niece, she enrolled her in ballet classes and she made sure Mya attended playdates and birthday parties.
They were doing okay. Maybe it would be nice to have someone in their lives. After all, her childhood had been erratic. It only made sense that she would want to find some stability now. A proper family — mom, dad, kids, dog. What was wrong with that?
Carly pinned her friend with a stare. "So you're telling me that I give my heart away too easily, yet you still want me to get out there and date? How does that make sense?"
"Because I want you to date a nice man. Not one of your typical weirdos. A good guy with a promising job — or, you know, a job at all." Maria bit her lip before continuing. "And I just happen to know —"
"Mariaaaaaa, no." This time she couldn't stop the eye roll. "I don't want to be set up."
"Well, too bad. His name is Myron and he's going to give you a call either tonight or tomorrow."
"Are you serious?"
"Just give him a chance. He's really nice. He's my accountant."
"Ugh." Carly sat back and blew an errant hair out of her face.
Maria opened her mouth, but any words she was going to spit out were cut off by a scream from the fountain in the middle of the playground. They both flew to alert standing positions, taking in the scene.
Since Carly had been coming here with Mya, she'd been totally jealous of this playground. Back in her younger years, she only remembered a couple of swings, a metal slide, and those stupid things you sat on and bounced back and forth. Playgrounds had come a long way, and this one was equipped with many amenities her generation hadn't had, including a small wading pool with a sprinkler/fountain situation. Of course, the sprinkler had been turned off after Labor Day when the kids returned to school. But water remained in the little pool — water that was currently being occupied by her niece and Justin.
"Oh holy hell," Maria said, taking in the scene.
Justin was holding a bucket — the same bucket he'd used to pour sand on his head earlier — and Mya was standing next to him, completely drenched.
"Oh man, I'm so sorry, Carly. I think I have a towel in the car."
Carly took a step toward her niece, who was standing with her mouth open, lips beginning to quiver. No way was Carly going to let Mya cry. She ran to her.
"Aunt Carly, Aunt Carly," Mya wailed. "Look at what Justin did. He ruined my princess shirt and I'm all wet."
The tears began and it broke Carly's heart. So she did the only thing she could think of. She kicked off her sandals and stepped into the fountain.
"Aunt Carly, what are you doing?"
In a show of female solidarity, Carly grabbed Justin's bucket, filled it up, and dumped it over her head.
"Now we're both wet," she said with a firm nod. Mya froze for a second, taking in her aunt. Finally, a smile blossomed across her little face. The tears turned to giggles.
"Yay, we're both in the water now."
Carly grabbed Mya's hands and they twirled around a couple times. Then Mya latched onto her legs, tilted her head up, and said, "I love you, Aunt Carly."
She might be wet in the middle of a playground, she might need a full-time job, and she might continue to dream of having a stable family and putting down some roots. But her niece's words made everything better. Including when Justin picked up his bucket and doused both her and Mya with even more water.
"Water fight!" someone yelled.
Carly heard kids running, nannies yelling, and the splashing beginning. But all she could do was hug her niece tighter.
"I love you, too, peanut."
... The number of times Lance Townsend graced a playground full of screaming, sticky children during the last twenty years could be counted on half a hand.
Half a hand belonging to an invisible person.
Assessing the scene from a safe distance on the other side of the tree-lined fence, Lance took stock of the situation. Perhaps his military training was kicking in as he evaluated the site much as he would a grenade-strewn field in the Middle East.
A piercing sound at that very moment had him popping up to full attention even as he felt his back stiffen and his hands clench into fists. Eyes quickly darting around the perimeter, he searched for the cause of the distress. But the scream was followed by a fit of giggles as the bomb-like-sounding child rushed down the twisty slide and continued his combination of laughter and yelling as he geared up for another turn.
Exhaling a breath, he narrowed his eyes. Kids. He could safely say that he knew more about dismantling an IED than he did about humans under the age of eighteen. That counted double for a four-year-old girl. Lance loved barbeques, rooted for the Dallas Cowboys, favored old Western movies, and had zero, nada, zilch experience with children.
The only thing he knew less about than children was how to be a father figure to one of them. Two boys, probably around the age of four or five, ran up to the edge of the playground, clearly in the middle of a race. When they touched the black linked fence, they stopped for a moment.
"I win. You smell like poo."
"Nuh-uh. You smell like the worst gunk on Earth, with mud on top of it. Plus booger farts."
With that, they both laughed and then flew to the other side of the playground.
Lance had to stifle a laugh at the colorful descriptions the boys used. He had plenty of experience with horrible-smelling gunk, having just lived with hundreds of smelly, sweaty soldiers.
He eyed the two boys again who were now throwing sticks at each other. He couldn't stop the laugh this time.
Shaking his head, he returned his attention to the two women having a conversation on the bench near the far side of the playground. Lance would have recognized Carly Quigley anywhere. Hard not to — the petite, yet curvy, woman wasn't exactly hard on the eyes. With her mane of bright red, curly hair tumbling down her back like cascading flames, she'd stick out in any crowd.
He hadn't seen Carly in person since her brother's wedding, but she still looked as beautiful as he remembered. At twenty-six, she was older now. More mature, but that aura of fun still surrounded her. He could tell just by watching her interact with her friend on the bench.
Plus, twenty-six was a lot different than twenty. And she had those tantalizing lips.
Down, boy. She's still Chris's little sister.
To get his libido back in check, he took a moment for a quick glance around the playground. Lance had to admit that Carly didn't exactly fit in with the other parents, and not only because of her hair. She wore a long, flowy skirt in bright blues and purples and a fitted white T-shirt. She looked like she'd stepped off the pages of some bohemian chic magazine.
Lance felt a little bad. He hadn't told Carly he was coming to Pine Springs. After having every second of his childhood planned and his military career mapped out before he'd even entered college, Lance had decided it was time to be a little adventurous. He'd earned some time to travel, explore, and most importantly, not be accountable to anyone but himself. He couldn't wait to start ticking items off his bucket list, but first he needed to make sure his goddaughter and her gorgeous aunt were okay.
His gaze drifted toward the sky. "Anything for you, buddy," he said quietly.
Even though he knew her, Lance had done extra research. After a quick online search, Facebook provided him with numerous selfies of her and Mya. LinkedIn informed him that she'd recently finished up grad school, and she was working for a temp agency at the moment. Twitter let him know that a couple months ago she'd had two bad first dates in a row, reminding him of Chris's letter and the fact that he was supposed to keep Carly away from losers.
"This should be interesting," he mumbled under his breath. Christ, she looked just like Chris. If she was anything like her brother, Lance knew he was in for quite the ride. After all —
He couldn't finish the thought. Carly had just popped up off the bench and was rushing toward a little pool where two kids — one of them his goddaughter, who was growing up to closely resemble both her dad and her aunt — were arguing, water slushing off one of them. He couldn't believe it. Without missing a beat, Carly had shed her shoes and was wading through the water, her skirt floating on top of the shallow pool.
Inching toward the entrance to the playground, Lance couldn't take his eyes off her. A panicked expression crossed her face for a split second, before she snatched a bucket out of the fountain, filled it with water, and threw the liquid over her own head, completely soaking herself. It reminded him of when all those celebrities were doing the ice bucket challenge for charity a couple years ago. Only there were no celebrities around, even though with her looks, Carly could pass for one.
"Whoa." Before Lance could do or say anything more, water was splashing all around the three of them as more kids joined in on the impromptu water battle.
Excerpted from Tempting Mr. Wrong by Kerri Carpenter, Alethea Spiridon, Elizabeth Pelletier. Copyright © 2016 Kerri Carpenter. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.