The friend zone just got a lot hotter...
Stacey Winters is in love with love, but so far, she’s only found Mr. Dud, Mr. Cheater, and Mr. Boring. Even though her best friend Grant isn’t an option, at least being around him offers her a window into the male psyche—and sets the bar high for her future Mr. Right.
But then she accidentally crosses the friend zone and kisses him, and it starts to feel a little too much like he might be what she’s been looking for...
Grant Phillips doesn’t do relationships. A casualty of the foster care system, he knows people are just looking for a reason to bolt. "No attachments" is his hard and fast rule. There's only one exception: his best friend, Stacey. He refuses to jeopardize what they have.
But now that he knows how good it felt to kiss her, felt the addictive slide of her body against his, Stacey Winters is indelibly stamped onto Grant's brain—and not just as his friend.
He is so screwed.
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Stacey Winters stopped outside her apartment door, steeling herself with a breath of cool, central Oregon air. This was it. Her boyfriend was back in Milestone, and tonight, they were taking their five-week relationship to the next level. Leo had texted that he'd picked up the key she'd left at the music venue where he'd perform this week, and would be on the other side of her door, waiting.
Stacey shivered. With anticipation, of course. This guy was "the one," she was sure of it.
It didn't make her any less nervous, though.
Focus. She slid her key into the lock. Seriously. How come the first time with a guy was always so nerve-racking? Leo was rock-star hot — fitting, since music was, in fact, what he did for a living. Really, she needed to just relax and enjoy the ride.
She paused in the doorway. Wait. Was that an Ariana Grande ballad drifting down the hallway from her bedroom? She blinked, and fluttering butterflies took flight in her belly. He'd put on something she enjoyed instead of playing his own music on a constant loop? That was ... unexpected. And very, very sweet.
Softly closing the door behind her, Stacey surveyed the dim room ... and spotted a trail of rose petals leading down the carpeted hallway. She pressed a hand to her chest, like she could actually touch the melty giddiness coursing through her. That was exactly the kind of romance she loved, and here he was, serving it up on a rose petal — covered platter.
Further proof that she and Leo were meant to be together, right?
She grinned. The rest of her life was clicking into place — all that was missing was her lifelong, hopelessly romantic dream of being part of a head-over-heels-in-love couple. After a string of failures, it was about time she found her real match.
Anticipation gripped her heart as she followed the trail of fragile petals. Tomorrow she'd gather them and preserve them in a keepsake box. It'd be fun to have something to show her and Leo's grandchildren. But right now, it was time for the best kind of adult fun.
Her bedroom was like the deep end of a cave, thanks to the blackout curtains she'd installed, but soft snores filled the space. From the sound of things, Leo was jet-lagged. Three weeks touring with his band in Asia was bound to catch up with him. At least he was here.
She bit her lip. Should she wake him up or let him sleep? He'd been just as eager to do this when they'd last spoken ...
Seize the moment. The phrase might be clichÃ(c)d, but Stacey had sworn by it since she was a child. In a world that only rewarded action, you had to create what you wanted. Case in point, she was in the middle of turning her passion project, Dinners for Two, into a thriving company.
Waking him up it is. If he wasn't interested, she'd settle for a night of snuggling.
She pulled off her boots and socks, then moved on to her jeans. Leo would have plenty of opportunities to take her clothes off tomorrow. It was a shame he wouldn't see her new coordinated panty and bra set, though. The lace brushed against her nipples when she pulled her sweater off to join the pile of clothing on the floor, and she shivered. She'd felt bold, brazen, and totally in control the second she'd slipped on the pieces earlier that afternoon, and she clung to that confidence as she stood in her pitch-black room, trying to decide the best way to tempt a sleeping man back into consciousness.
Hands out, she shuffled forward, groping for her bed. It wasn't quite the same thing as strutting across the room in a thong and high heels, but that was okay. She'd rock his world once she got into bed. If she could find the dang thing.
Her hands found their target and she crawled in. But instead of warm male skin, she encountered denim. Stacey frowned. Leo was still fully dressed and lying on his side, facing the framed print of Chinaman Hat that hung on her wall.
That he was facing that particular print made the situation even more exciting. At her sister's urging, Stacey had followed local folklore and burned an offering at that very mountain a couple of months ago, all in order to find her true love.
Shortly after that, she'd met Leo when he and his band played at the resort near Chinaman Hat at the exact time she'd set a Dinners for Two event. It seemed fitting to have found the love of her life on the same night she'd helped another couple with their own happily ever after.
How was that for fate?
She leaned toward him, breathed in deeply, and frowned. The allergy meds she'd taken earlier must be messing with her because he smelled ... different. Familiar, but not what she expected. Maybe she'd forgotten what he smelled like. It had been a few weeks, and they hadn't spent that much time together before he left.
Never mind that, though. Concentrating, she reached out a hand and trailed her fingers over his upper arm.
Leo didn't move.
Hmm. She traced her fingers back toward his shoulder. Nice muscles. Better than she remembered. He'd been talking about hitting the gym when the tour ended, laughing that he'd need to bulk up if he were to keep up with her need for adventure, but clearly he'd gotten a head start. He must've wanted it to be a surprise, and she definitely wasn't complaining.
She'd joked with her best friend, Grant, that she could only get serious about a guy who was fit enough to mountain bike around the trails at Chinaman Hat. There wasn't a doubt now that he'd make it.
Slowly, deliberately, she rubbed her breasts against his bare arm, loving the friction so much her nipples tightened into hard peaks underneath the thin lace.
She brushed a kiss across his cheek, felt the stubble on her lips, and smiled. Stacey closed her eyes and, to the beat of Ariana Grande's sexy, sensual song, slowly trailed a line of kisses toward his mouth. He turned, capturing her lips and parting for her.
She whimpered. His lips were full, soft, the sense of familiarity and homecoming so palpable her heart ached. So good ...
The kiss started off gentle, sweet. His tongue swept into her mouth, teased hers until she moaned. Delicious tingles raced through her as the kiss deepened, intensifying until every nerve ending pulsed with an awareness Stacey had never experienced before.
She shifted, straddling him as he ran his hands over her hips, her waist ... She'd known she'd wanted Leo, but until now she hadn't realized how badly she wanted him. Anticipation pooled between her legs, his kisses searing her, touching a part of her soul. And that's when she knew deep down that she'd truly, finally found "the one."
It was about damned time.
* * *
Somethin' 'bout you makes me feel like a dangerous woman ...
Grant Phillips wasn't a big believer in dreams or what they meant, but he did believe in living in the moment, and so far, Ariana Grande was un- fucking-believable. If he made her feel like a dangerous woman, that was fine by him. The passion in her words translated to the hot kisses she trailed across his cheek, to the way she captured his mouth, and definitely to the way she pressed her tits against him.
Somethin' 'bout you makes me wanna do things that I shouldn't ...
And why not? They were both adults ...
Grant turned, wrapped an arm around her small waist, and let his hand trail up one side as she straddled him.
Oh yeah, baby.
He lifted his hips and deepened the kiss until she moaned and ground herself against him. A moment later, her citrus scent registered. She smelled like freshly picked lemons. He liked lemons. A lot.
Wait. There was only one woman he knew who smelled like lemons ...
He stilled his hands, forced his fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain into gear, and shifted just enough so he could reach for the bedside lamp. In the sudden circle of light, he blinked, felt the weight of the woman on him, and heard her gasp all at the same time as two things registered.
First, Ariana Grande wasn't there. Second, he hadn't seen his best friend so pissed off since the time he hid a harmless garter snake in her locker back in high school. Only now, it didn't make much sense. What was she —
"Grant! What the hell?"
He stared at the startled expression on Stacey's face, then glanced around the room. He was in her bed. She was straddling his lap, naked. Kinda naked, anyway. The barely-there black lace she wore didn't technically count as clothing, did it?
Then the whole evening came rushing back at him in stunning clarity. That night's awful first date ... the need to hash through the gory details with his best friend while they watched Netflix ... Only, when he'd arrived at her apartment, Stacey's jerk boyfriend was already there.
By the time he'd gotten rid of the guy, Grant was too tired to pull out the laptop and load an action flick. He'd put some music on and crashed on her bed instead. Just like he'd done countless times.
"What the fucking hell are you doing here?" she demanded again.
Oh, shit. He really wasn't dreaming.
"Stacey." His voice was hoarse. From shock, no doubt. After all, how often did a guy see his best friend almost as naked as the day she came into this world?
She crossed her arms over her breasts and scrambled off him, but not before he got an eyeful of her gorgeously ripe nipples pushing against the black lace, or saw the mortification stamped on her face.
The hell of it was, his dick hadn't gotten word that the woman he'd been playing a tongue duet with had turned out to be the one woman whose friendship he'd never risk losing. His hands, either, because they tried to grab her back. He fisted the sheets and hoped she didn't cut them off.
The look she shot him was hard. Carbon steel hard, and he was pretty sure if they were back on their old grade-school playground, she'd deck him. Hell, he wasn't convinced that right now, crouched on the floor and peeking up at him, she wouldn't attempt something like that again. "Where's Leo?"
Leo? Oh, right. Her latest in a long line of guys she'd sworn was "the one." "I threw him out."
"Why the hell did you do that?" The words were quietly spoken, but she was pissed. All that anger would erupt into a firestorm in about three ... two ...
"You had no right to throw him out!" Her voice inched up an octave, which, given how long they'd known each other, wasn't much of a surprise. Indignation and rage rose out of her eyes like steam from the copper still at Mile High Desert Distillery where he worked.
Her eyes continued doing the fire and brimstone thing. "Just who the hell do you think you are, Grant Phillips? The King of Milestone? I want you out of my apartment. Now."
He frowned. Did she really not know her boyfriend was a cheating bastard? Did he want to be the one to tell her the guy'd had his wedding ring on and was talking to another woman when Grant had let himself in?
He began to sit up. "Stace —"
"Don't you dare move." She glared at him, her brown eyes on the verge of becoming lethal weapons.
"Leave. Don't move. Make up your mind, already." He leaned back again and looked pointedly at her. "Why don't you put a robe on or something?"
"Turn on your side."
No problem there. He rolled away, only to catch her reflection in the glass covering the framed print of Chinaman Hat on the wall. He tried to pull his gaze away, but damn it, his brain seemed to have decided he liked what he was seeing.
She had curves. Gorgeous curves. On someone so petite she could've appeared plump, but she wasn't. She was perfectly proportioned. Her long, brown hair, normally in a ponytail, flowed freely down her back. Tugging on it could be a lot of fun ...
What the hell was he doing? He shouldn't be thinking about things like that, and he shouldn't be staring, either. After all, Stacey was like a sister to him. They'd grown up together, and she was the first friend he'd made when he'd been sent to live with his foster parents. His first set of foster parents.
She was his best friend, damn it.
He pulled his gaze away from the glass when she yanked her closet door open. "You've got some nerve, you know that?"
He swallowed, then took a stab at the conversation, hoping she hadn't caught him staring like a prepubescent boy. "For what? Throwing Cleo out? I was doing you a favor."
"Leo," she said. "His name is Leo."
"Leo the liar," he muttered. If there was one thing Grant couldn't stand, it was liars. Like the foster parents who'd sworn over and over there was nothing wrong with him, even as they turned him over to his next set of temporary parents.
Damn it. He hated to be the one to tell her. Really, it was disappointing. Hadn't he taught her enough about his species to make an intelligent choice in the guy department? "What the hell were you thinking, giving a complete stranger a key to your place?"
"We've been dating for five weeks, moron."
"Yeah, and he's been gone for three of those five weeks." He'd heard enough of her pining after the idiot to know that much. "Do the math. He's practically a stranger. Plus, he had that stupid trail of rose petals to your bedroom."
"It's romantic. Not that you'd understand."
Romantic? He rolled his eyes. "Guys only do stuff like that so they can get laid."
"Maybe I wanted to get laid."
He grimaced, but not for the right reasons. He did not like the idea of that asshat touching her. "Should we be having this conversation? You know, since I'm in your bed and all?"
"Very funny. You can turn around now."
He turned over, then scooted to a sitting position on the bed, just like all the other times he'd been in it while they watched Netflix and ate popcorn. One thing was for sure, he'd probably never be able to watch another movie in bed with her without remembering the feel of her body on his.
"Look, Stace, if he really cared about you, he'd have made a trail to the kitchen where there'd be dinner. But instead, what'd he do? He had his dick ready and waiting in your bed." Sort of, anyway. When Grant had walked in, the guy was pacing her living room, telling some "babe" that he was in Cleveland. He'd even had the nerve to hold his finger up in the universal signal for Grant to remain quiet. And that's when he'd seen the wedding band. Bastard.
Shit. If he was gonna tell her, there wasn't ever really a good time, was there? Might as well get it over with. "He's married."
"What?" Her eyes widened. "He is not married." She slowly enunciated every word and crossed her arms, then her eyes narrowed into thin slits. "How could you say that?"
"Because it's true." He shoved a hand through his hair. "Look, do you think I'd tell you something like that if it wasn't true? Think about it. The guy's never in Milestone except for a few days here. Just enough time to play a couple of concerts, then he's off to the next stop. Or so he says. What do you really know about him, Stace?"
She stuck her chin out, a mixture of defiance and flat-out adorableness.
He gave himself a mental shake. Adorable wasn't how he should be referring to his best friend.
"If that's true," she said, "how come he's never pressed me to sleep with him?"
"Do I really have to answer that?" Grant knew his species, knew that guys like Leo would prey on any female who seemed remotely willing. And if one said no it didn't matter, because there was always one who would say yes.
He took a deep breath. "I saw his wedding ring."
"Oh, God." The whispered words tugged at his heart, made him clench his fists. He should've punched the asshole before throwing him out.
Her shoulders sagged and her face crumpled for a moment, just long enough for him to recognize the pain and disappointment. But there'd be no tears. As sensitive as Stacey was, he hadn't seen her cry since they were in grade school. And back then it was because she'd given a boy a black eye for pulling on her braids.
She swallowed, lifted her chin, and her face morphed back into a woman in control. "I guess he wasn't the guy I thought he was after all."
"Hey, I'm sorry."
"That's it. I'm done with this conversation." She stared at him, her eyes flashing as she crossed her arms. "Get out. Now."
Not until he'd done damage control. He folded his hands behind his head and settled in. "Shouldn't we talk about this? You know, they say couples should never go to bed angry."
"I've seriously had it, Grant."
"Fine." So much for trying to lighten the mood. Under normal circumstances she'd have taken his lead and they'd be laughing by now. He blew out a breath and rolled off the bed, then reached for his sneakers. "For the record, you were the one kissing me."
"Because I thought you were someone else."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Best Friend Incident"
Copyright © 2018 Melia Alexander.
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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