Billionaire Sebastian Cabral loves his family, he just doesn’t love their reality TV show, The Cabral Empire. So when his ex-girlfriend tries to rekindle their relationship on camera, Sebastian decides that drastic measures are in order.
By day, Chelsea Hall is a happy-go-lucky, rough and tumble roller derby skater. By night, she’s still living in fear of her past. Most of all, she just doesn’t want to be alone. And she really, really doesn’t want to date.
So when their mutual friends’ upcoming wedding turns Chelsea and Sebastian into fast friends, they realize they can solve both of their problems with one life-changing lie: a quick trip down the aisle.
But with one kiss, Chelsea and Sebastian suddenly realize that their pretend relationship is more real than either of them expected....
Includes an exclusive preview of Last Hope, the latest Hitman novel from Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick
Praise for the Billionaire Boys Club novels
“Blazing hot.”—USA Today
“Ms. Clare had me at billionaire.”—Fiction Vixen
“Great storytelling…delightful reading…It’s fun and oh so hot.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Your mother has cancer.”
Sebastian Cabral rubbed his mouth in shock. He didn’t know what to think. Dread and worry shot through him, and he pictured his mother and how devastated she must have been when she found out the terrible news. “Damn it. That’s horrible. Why didn’t she say anything to me?”
“It’s this season’s story line.” His lawyer had the grace to look embarrassed. He nudged a pile of paperwork toward Sebastian and pointed at a paragraph. “It’s detailed here on page sixteen. ‘Mama Precious, aka Elizabeth Cabral, will undergo exploratory treatments for cancer. She will seek out all kinds of remedies, from holistic spas to shamanistic treatments.’ I’m told she will be given an all clear by the time the season finale rolls around. It’s a scare intended to drum up ratings.”
Sebastian sat back in his chair, unable to believe what he was hearing. His jaw dropped. “Wait. You mean to tell me that a cancer story is being fabricated by the network and she’s fine? All so she can go rub crystals on herself with a shaman?”
“That is what I have been told, yes.”
“That’s fucking atrocious.” He couldn’t believe it. Making up cancer? Really? When so many people out there had cancer or a loved one suffering from it? When his own grandmother had died of the disease? It was low. Lower than low.
That was reality TV for you.
Sebastian was ensconced in his lawyer’s office in downtown Manhattan, reviewing contracts and information for the upcoming season of The Cabral Empire. It didn’t matter that he absolutely refused to be on the show. The rest of his family was on it, and therefore Sebastian was pulled into the media frenzy surrounding them.
The fact was, his family had made themselves famous by being ridiculous and over the top on a reality TV show. His father was a Portuguese eighty-year-old billionaire with inherited money, aka “Daddy Money.” His mother was a fiftyish ex-model with a plastic surgery addiction and loopy hobbies, aka “Mama Precious.”
He didn’t call them that. The rest of the world did, but Sebastian still preferred Mother and Father like a normal fucking human.
But his mother had always wanted to be famous. It wasn’t enough to be an ex-model married to a billionaire nearly twice her age. She craved notoriety. By the time Sebastian had hit his midtwenties, his mother had gotten into contact with a TV producer looking for new reality TV shows. Mrs. Cabral had immediately volunteered her family. The first season was all about his mother purchasing a new home for the family in NYC and her shopping trips to spend her husband’s money. It was stupid, nothing-going-on TV that quickly consumed her daily life. Sebastian’s younger siblings hadn’t been spared the TV show, either. Dolph and Cassie went to local colleges instead of going away for school, all so they could stay on the show. Amber was homeschooled by a wacky tutor. Even the maid was a staple on the damn thing.
It was asinine. His family members were a bunch of nobodies who happened to have money and did stupid things to spend it. It shouldn’t have been a success. It should have appeared on the air and quickly disappeared again.
As fate would have it, The Cabral Empire was a massive cable hit.
Suddenly the Cabral family was showing up at ritzy premieres, hawking cheap products, and showing up on the covers of tabloids. It didn’t matter how embarrassing or egregious it was—if it involved notoriety, a Cabral was on it like flies on shit. Sebastian was the only one who didn’t want anything to do with it. He found it ridiculous and more than a little humiliating.
The problem was, the more he resisted the show, the more the show’s producers and fans seemed determined to bring him in. Cameos of him visiting his mother showed up on TV spots. Tabloids speculated about his “mystery” and why he wouldn’t be on the show. His picture and the fact that he was an heir to his father’s billions meant that he got more attention than he wanted. The world wanted more of the sexy, aloof billionaire Cabral heir.
Said heir wanted nothing to do with the world.
So here he was, meeting with an entertainment lawyer to go over what they could and couldn’t show about Sebastian on The Cabral Empire. No promo would be allowed to include Sebastian. No images. No marketing, and certainly no merchandise. Definitely not any story lines that would involve him. It was bad enough that if he showed up to visit family, someone ambushed him with a camera.
He could have said no footage at all. None. Zero. Zip. But the network had insisted, and his mother had wept and cried and told him that the TV executives were threatening to pull the plug if he didn’t have the occasional walk-on. So he’d consented, because even though his parents were approaching full-on crazy, he loved his family.
But cancer? That was a new low. “I refuse to be part of any sort of cancer story line. Absolutely, positively not. In fact, the less I’m in the show, the better.” It hadn’t mattered that he’d been in three entire minutes of last season; it had been enough to ruin his social life for a long damn time.
Now Sebastian wanted out.
“I’m afraid that the cancer story line is not the only story line that could be problematic,” his lawyer said. The look on his face was nothing short of pained.
Sebastian groaned again. His head pounded. “What on earth could they possibly be dragging out of the gutters that could be worse than a fake cancer scare?”
“They’re bringing Lisa back.”
Oh, damn it all.
Lisa Pinder-Schloss was his ex from several years ago, back when the show had first come on the air. She was a model and an ex-NFL cheerleader with a lovely face and an even better body. She was fun and lively. The thing that had come between them? The Cabral Empire. She wanted to be on the show regularly, and he did not. Consequently, he found himself being surrounded by cameras when they went out on dates.
They broke up not long after that. Lisa became a regular on the show for a season or two, and then went on to “other things.” He guessed those “other things” hadn’t panned out and now she was returning. “Why would they be bringing her back?”
“Her story line is that she wants a reunion with you.” The entertainment lawyer pointed at the bullet point on the contract. “You know what that means.”
Sebastian groaned and buried his head in his hands. “Why is it that I have a fleet of lawyers and I can’t manage to keep my damn face off of TV?”
“Because, Mr. Cabral, you signed a very egregious contract when the show started, and they have indefinite, but very specific clauses that allow the show to film you when you are present with another regular. And since you signed that, I can’t change it.”
He gave the lawyer an annoyed look. “I didn’t think my own mother was going to hose me.”
“Your mother is faking cancer for ratings.”
Damn it, the man had him there. “She wasn’t like this a few years ago. I swear she wasn’t.” Or else he’d never have signed what they put in front of him to make his mother happy. He’d thought the show would be on some ass-end network for a few weeks and then disappear.
He wasn’t that naïve anymore.
“I’m afraid you’re going to be a staple this season whether you want to or not. The cancer thing you can probably skate out of, but the Lisa story line means you’re bound to get confronted several times for them to film.”
Sebastian groaned. He could just imagine. “What are my options?”
“Leave New York until they finish filming. They can’t catch you on camera if you aren’t here.”
He shot the man an irritated look. “I’m not going to hide from the world for months. My friends and my businesses are here.” Hell, he was going to an engagement celebration tomorrow night. He was sure as hell not going to bring that up in case his lawyer had loose lips and liked to spill details to the show’s staff. That had been a problem with the last entertainment lawyer he’d hired . . .
. . . Who was also now a staple on the damned show.
“Visit family in Portugal? See the roots? Doesn’t your father have a castle there?”
“Two, actually.” Sebastian drummed his fingers on the table, thinking. Then he shook his head. “They’ll follow me there if I go.”
“Then I would suggest preparing for a new round of media.”
He stared at the paperwork in the lawyer’s hands and fought the urge to rip it up out of annoyance. “What if I got a restraining order against Lisa?”
“You think that won’t show up in the papers? It’d be a media frenzy. And the show would milk it for all its worth.”
Okay, he had a point.
“You need to think up an alternative,” the lawyer said bluntly. “Be creative. Unless you want to get back together with Miss Pinder-Schloss?”
“God, no.” Lisa had gone from being a sweet if somewhat clueless girl to a woman obsessed with her appearance and making sure her every moment was documented by the paparazzi. “Lisa and I were a momentary thing. The only reason it lasted longer than a few dates was because we ran into my mother while she was being filmed.” It was a total setup, which he hadn’t known at the time.
Again, he wasn’t quite that naïve anymore.
“Then you need something that’s going to get this woman off your case.”
He did. But what?
* * *
He was still pondering his options as he finished his meeting and had his driver take him home to his town house. Most of the rooms were artfully bare and tastefully decorated in a minimalist fashion. He’d hired decorators for that, the best that Manhattan boasted. But he bypassed the rest of the attractively decorated house and headed straight to the study, which he liked to call his “thinking room.” He kept the door locked so the maids wouldn’t wander in to straighten up, or pick through his art.
Because, like every seven-year-old boy in the world, Sebastian Cabral had liked to draw. Unlike every seven-year-old boy in the world, he’d never grown out of it. His family, more interested in making money or swanning about with society, had never really quite understood his need to “doodle.”
But for Sebastian, working with his hands released a lot of anxiety. He sculpted sometimes, and every now and then he painted. Mostly, though, he sketched. Not landscapes or fantastical monsters or anything like that.
Sebastian liked to sketch women. He supposed it was the red-blooded male in him that appreciated the female form in all its aspects—thin, waifish girls with big eyes, or curvy, buxom women with big smiles and bigger breasts. Sebastian drew them all.
He sat down at his drafting desk and pushed aside a stack of papers full of half-finished sketches. More sketches lined the walls of the small room, pinned up in a haphazard fashion. He pulled out charcoals and a new sheaf of paper and began to outline the gentle curve of a woman’s cheek, then began to fill in eyes, a nose, and a hairline. No one in particular, though with the right hairstyle, this could be Bettie Page. He just liked to let loose and draw. Sometimes, when he dated a woman, he’d draw her.
He’d never drawn Lisa, though.
Didn’t feel the urge to start now, either.
Chelsea Hall adjusted her knee pads and then checked her elbow pads and wrist guards one last time. She wiggled her ankles, testing them, but her skates were tight. Game on.
Next to her, Kid Vicious smacked Chelsea on her purple helmet. “You ready to kick some ass, Chesty LaRude?”
“Born ready, baby,” Chelsea responded, and elbow-checked her.
Kid Vicious grunted. “You don’t play fair.”
“Fair’s for the after-party.”
The music started and the announcer’s voice reverberated through the arena. “Let’s give a warm welcome for the Broadway Rag Queens!”
With a cheer, Chelsea and the girls on her roller derby team strutted out onto the track to Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious.” They skated several laps, flexing their arms and showing off. One by one, the roster was called out.
“Good Whip Lollipop, number 1!”
“Morning Whorey, number 3.14!”
“Lady ChaCha, number 18!”
“Chesty LaRude, number 34DD!”
Chelsea raised her arms and waved, blowing kisses at the audience. She cocked her hip and skated on one leg, the other bent, and vamped for the crowd. Her pigtails fluttered on her shoulders and she flipped up her skirt, showing off her bright yellow panties with the NO CROSSING street sign emblazoned on them. It was fun to play up the crowd. Roller derby was a sport, but it was also about confidence and fun.
“Kid Vicious! Sandra Flea! Tail Her Swift! Gilmore Hurls! Cherry Fly! Rosa B Ready! China Brawl! Pisa Hit! Grief Kelly!”
Once the team had been introduced, they stepped off the track to their bench. The opposing team, the Diamond Devils, were the next onto the track, and they skated their intro. Chelsea put in her mouth guard and their coach, Black HellVet, pointed at her. “All right, ladies. Our starting blockers are Chesty, Grief, and Pisa. Vicious, you’re in the pivot panty, and Lollipop’s the jammer. Any questions? No? Good. Let’s do this.”
They pounded forearms, then, hooting and hollering, took their places on the track.
Chelsea was in the pack. As a blocker, she wasn’t one of the “stars” of the show. That was just fine. Blockers got the most physical on the track. While jammers skated ahead, trying to score points, and the pivots kept the pace, the blockers got to try and cause mayhem, and that was where Chelsea wanted to be. When the whistle blew, she immediately slammed herself into the Diamond next to her, then skated forward. She was known for being brutal on the track, and she put it all out there.
That was how she rolled, pun intended. For the next half hour, she blocked and cruised around the track, flinging herself at opponents and launching herself bodily when nothing else worked. She was going to have bruises aplenty in the morning, but all that mattered was the game. The Rag Queens were up by four points, but it was tight. One good jam and the Diamonds could pull ahead again. It made her lean in to her blocks a bit more, and she ended up slamming more than one girl out of bounds.
Then it was halftime, and the ladies retreated to their locker room. They crowded in, ready to discuss strategy for the second half, when all those bottles of water she’d drank before the game hit Chelsea at once. “Gotta pee,” Chelsea announced. “Don’t start play discussions without me.”
Cherry Fly groaned. “You gotta pee again? Jesus, Chesty.”
“Can’t help it. Blocking makes me have to go.”
Cherry paused. “You want company?”
Chelsea shook her head. It was just a quick trip to the john. She’d be fine. Chelsea winked and popped out her pink mouth guard, set it in its case, and then skated out of the locker room toward the restrooms. There was a toilet in the locker room, but it was under construction and smelled like Sandra Flea’s old knee pads, so she skated out to the public ones. There’d be a huge crowd there thanks to halftime, but people usually let a derby girl cut in line.
The halftime show must have been banging that night, because there was zero line at the restrooms. Probably a raffle, Chelsea mused, skating up to the door to the women’s restroom.
A hand tapped her shoulder. “Excuse me, miss?”
Her entire body froze. Her muscles locked. Blackness flicked at the edges of her eyes, and for a moment, Chelsea thought she was going to pass out.
No, no, no. You can’t. That’s when he can do whatever he wants.
Forcing herself to turn, Chelsea shrugged the man away. She didn’t know him. He was a stranger. Some guy in a concert T-shirt and a baseball cap. Looked like a frat boy.
The sight of him filled her with dread.
“You Chesty LaRude?” He held up one of her trading cards. “I’m a big fan. Can I have an autograph?”
Her mouth worked silently. She was frozen in fear. Normally Pisa, her derby wife, was at her side. She knew better than to leave Chelsea alone. But Chelsea’d been high on game endorphins and had left Pisa tightening the screws on her skates.
And now she was here alone in the hall with a strange man.
Her breathing rasped in her throat. Panic shot through her. She couldn’t breathe. Her sweaty hair stuck to her neck and she managed a small shake of her head. She didn’t think she could hold a pen at the moment if she tried.
His lip curled at her denial. “You think you’re too good for me? Fuck you.”
She wanted to say something. Protest. Tell him to go fuck himself. But she couldn’t speak. Chelsea was utterly frozen.
She had to get away. Had to. She stumbled forward, crashing into the swinging door of the bathroom. “Leave me alone,” she managed to choke out.
“Fucking bitch,” he called after her.
She skated into the bathroom, her steps jarring, desperate.
A moment later, she heard the door crack open, and for a frantic second she thought he was going to come in after her.
It was going to be just like last time. Not again. Not again. No. Please.
The light flicked off and she heard a ridiculous juvenile laugh. The door swung shut again.
A prank. Nothing more. He was just trying to freak her out.
But the lights off was just as bad—maybe worse—than a stranger touching her. Chelsea whimpered and dropped to her knees, hugging them. Her skates rolled her forward and she gently bumped against the wall. She collapsed against it and hugged her knees tighter to her chest. Hot tears poured down her face.
She hated the dark.
Someone had to find her. Help her. Please. I’m here. Someone find me. The words swirled in her mind but wouldn’t make it past her throat. It might have been ten minutes or a hundred. Chelsea sat there, unable to move, frozen in fear.
Pisa’s voice. But she couldn’t answer. She was frozen, just like before.
The lights in the bathroom flicked on. A moment later, Pisa skated in, her eyes wide. “Oh, my god, honey. Are you okay?”
“Someone turned the lights off,” Chelsea said in a small voice. She sniffed and rubbed a hand over her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, sugar, it’s okay.” Pisa moved to her side and hugged Chelsea against her. “Everyone was wondering where you were. Did . . . did someone touch you?”
Pisa knew Chelsea’s secret. The reason why she froze in fear. The reason why she couldn’t stand the dark. She’d understand why Chelsea had just shut down in a stupid public restroom.
Chelsea shook her head. “Just a fan wanting an autograph. He . . . startled me.”
“Prick.” Pisa remained next to Chelsea. She rubbed her arm. “You’re shaking like a leaf. Do you need meds?”
Chelsea shook her head. “I’m fine. I promise.”
“Uh huh,” Pisa said, but she stood up and helped Chelsea back to her feet. “Call me crazy if I say I don’t believe you.” She leaned forward and wiped at Chelsea’s face. “Your eyeliner’s running all down your face, sugar. Black HellVet’s gonna take one look at you and bench you for the rest of the game if you don’t shape up.”
She nodded. “I’ll pull my shit together. I promise.” Somehow.
“You should have waited for me,” Pisa said, grabbing paper towels and wetting them so she could help with Chelsea’s makeup.
Chelsea nodded again, but even as she did, she hated herself a little. Why couldn’t she keep her cool enough that her friends didn’t have to treat her like a baby? Why was it the moment a guy touched her, she lost her mind? Hadn’t years of therapy gotten her past this point?
There had to be a way to get past this. Had to.
Or else she was going to be fucked up the rest of her life.
Gretchen couldn’t stop hugging Chelsea as they stood in the doorway to Buchanan Manor. “I can’t believe it’s been three years since we’ve seen each other and I had to get married to pull you out of hiding!”
Chelsea laughed, squeezing her old friend and ex-roommate tight. “Oh, please! I’m not in hiding. I’ve been busy with derby. You’re the one who’s in hiding, what with all the book deadlines. I didn’t even know you were dating someone.”
“Aww, I miss you too.” Gretchen adjusted her nerd glasses and scanned Chelsea. “You look amazing, by the way.”
“Thanks, lady. You don’t look half bad yourself.” Gretchen was wearing a simple plain black cocktail dress with a long peplum ruffle at the hips that should have made her look stumpy, but instead, she looked curvy and luscious. With her vivid red hair and glasses, she was adorable.
“No, seriously.” Gretchen held up Chelsea’s hand so Chelsea could twirl like a ballerina. “That dress could be painted onto your body. And look at your legs. Damn, girl!”
“I work out a lot,” Chelsea said with a grin. She’d worn her wavy blonde hair down and loose around her shoulders to complement her tan. Her dress had no sleeves and was a tight body sheath in champagne that showed off her figure. She’d paired it with a tall pair of nude pumps and a single bracelet. “Lots and lots of skating. Wearing heels feels weird compared to something with wheels on it.”
“I’ll bet,” Gretchen said, eyes wide. She gave her head a small shake and then gestured at the grand house. “Welcome to the new home. I’ve traded up in roommates since you and I lived together. This one’s really fucking good in bed.”
Chelsea gave her a wry smile as she entered the immense manor house. “You’re a little out of the city now, though.”
“I don’t mind that. So who are you rooming with?”
“Pisa Hit. She’s my derby wife.”
Gretchen blinked. “Did you turn to the other team while I wasn’t paying attention? Because I’m seating everyone boy-girl tonight, but I can change that—”
Chelsea waved a hand. “Derby wife is a term for bestie. Pisa is my roomie and we hang a lot. Her real name’s Felicity.” Not that they ever called her that. Pisa would have punched her in the arm at the thought. She knew no one really liked to talk derby half as much as a derby girl, and tried to steer the conversation in a different direction. “So . . . what are you writing now? More of that space stuff?”
Gretchen made a face as she led Chelsea into the spacious mansion. “God, no. I’m writing nothing, and it feels amazing. I’m noodling with the idea of a cookbook, but for now, I’m a kept woman. Don’t tell Audrey.”
Chelsea grinned. “How is your sister?”
“Super pregnant and bloated.”
That was startling. “Wait. Did she get married, too?”
“Yep, but hers was more fly-by-night.” Gretchen squeezed Chelsea’s arm. “Told you that you’ve been out of the loop.”
“I have. Derby takes up a lot of time,” Chelsea said faintly. The truth was, derby was a good excuse for hiding from friends and social functions. She didn’t have to practice seven days a week, but she did. She didn’t have to volunteer for every community service event and training and away games and setup, but she did. As long as she wasn’t alone, she was cool. She could handle things. It was when she was by herself that things got sketchy and the fear kicked in.
“You seeing anyone, then?”
“Nope, not at the moment.” This was the first “event” she’d been to without Pisa at her side in the last while, and she was a little wigged out. Normally Pisa handled things for her, but she couldn’t exactly drag a friend to an engagement party that she wasn’t invited to. So they’d come up with a plan to make Chelsea comfortable without divulging her issues: She’d pretend to be on the lookout for a new guy and get introduced to all of them right away. Then, no one would be a stranger. Her mind and body wouldn’t freak out on her.
Everything would be good.
So Chelsea put on her cheeriest grin. “I am an extremely single mamacita. You gonna introduce me to a bunch of eligible guys that you’ve picked out as groomsmen?”
“Maaaybe,” Gretchen said, trying to hide her eagerness. “You cool with that?”
“Only if they’re hot and hold decent jobs. I make artisan soaps for a living. One of us has to bring in money.” She winked. “But . . . let’s make sure we don’t bring up the derby, all right?”
“Oooo, is derby a big nasty secret now? I always thought it was cool.”
“You should play,” Chelsea offered. “It’s very therapeutic to shoulder-bash someone off the track.”
“I think I’ll pass. I’m afraid of pain.” Gretchen wrinkled her nose. “So no derby mentions.”
“If we can avoid it. It tends to scare men off. They either think we’re strippers on wheels or they hate that it takes up so much time. Pisa’s last boyfriend made her choose between him and derby.”
Gretchen’s red brows rose over her glasses. “And?”
“And I’m told he sucked in bed anyhow.” Chelsea shrugged. “I figure it’s not worth the hassle when meeting people. If anyone wants to know about me, I make soaps and love movies.”
Gretchen snickered. “And clocking bitches, but I guess we’ll keep that on the down-low.”
“Yes ma’am.” Chelsea grinned and tucked her hand into Gretchen’s arm. “So show me all these eligible men.”
* * *
A short time later, she’d met everyone in the wedding party. There was Hunter, the groom, and the man Gretchen spent most of her time staring at adoringly and occasionally grabbing his ass. He was pretty scarred up, but Gretchen always loved a good story, and Chelsea guessed he had an interesting one. He seemed to adore Gretch, which made him a prince in Chelsea’s eyes.
There was Edie, who was kind of surly, and her sister, Bianca, who seemed nice enough but wasn’t interested in chatting with the women. Bianca had already found herself a man and latched on to him. One of those girls, Chelsea supposed, who thought all women were competition. In Chelsea’s eyes, they weren’t competition unless they were on the track.
There were the other bridesmaids—Greer, an old buddy and ex-roomie from the time she and Gretchen had a third roommate. Audrey, Gretchen’s pregnant and glowing sister. Taylor, their college buddy and a computer nerd who’d rather be at a laptop instead of at a party, and Kat, Gretchen’s loudmouth literary agent. She’d met most of them before, though it had been a few years. Nothing like a wedding to bring old friends back together. Actually, for all Chelsea knew, they were all hanging out every weekend while she was slamming into people at the most recent derby bout.
Chelsea was the friend who had drifted away, not Gretchen.
But she’d had reasons. Coping mechanisms, really. But they were reasons nevertheless.
The guys were an interesting mix. Asher was one of the groomsmen, which had made Chelsea laugh and hug him in greeting. He’d been an old buddy and part of their crew when she’d been running amok in the streets of New York with Gretchen, Greer, and Taylor. He was a few years older, a lot richer, and a lot less open and friendly. Something must have happened to the guy. She wondered briefly if Greer still had her crush on him. A few years ago, Asher had been the reason for Greer to wake up every morning, and . . . Asher didn’t even know Greer existed. Maybe she’d grown out of that.
People changed over time.
There was Magnus, a big, built guy who was into video games or something and had piercing green eyes. His brother, Levi, was also a groomsman, and was all over Edie’s sister, Bianca, so she’d barely managed to say two words in greeting to him.
There was her old buddy Cooper, the first in their “crew” to get a real job . . . and a receding hairline. She hugged him and rubbed his balding head. “You look awesome, Coop!”
“You never change, Chels. As pretty as ever. How are you? How’s the soap making?”
“Oh . . . you know. Slow.” She wiggled her eyebrows at him. “How’s the coffee shop?”
“It’s great. Business is booming. If you ever need a job, I’m sure I can squeeze you in.” He beamed at her and his gaze strayed to Bianca, too.
“Aw, thanks, babe. I might take you up on that,” she lied. It was too many people. Too many strangers. Too many opportunities for someone to take advantage. She was more protected in derby, when women pushed and shoved each other good-naturedly (and sometimes not-so-good-naturedly) and paired up for everything. But when Gretchen urged Chelsea on, she was glad to get away from Cooper. Everyone in her past would want to know why she was hiding out, and she wasn’t prepared to deal with that sort of thing.
Next she met Reese, Audrey’s new husband, and a total scoundrel with a goatee and a wicked smile. He was the type who would have made her exceedingly nervous to meet in any sort of situation post-trauma. It was the confidence, the devil-may-care, the ladies’ man mentality. Only the fact that he was doting on his pregnant wife made her okay around him, but she did her best to keep her greeting short.
Gretchen dragged her along through the room of mingling people, frowning. “I don’t see Sebastian anywhere. He’s Hunter’s friend.” She grimaced. “Well, as much as my boo has friends. More like he has work acquaintances that he doesn’t hate, and we didn’t want to stack the wedding with his, uh, college buddies, because they just did that in another wedding. So we searched around for groomsmen, and Sebastian’s some guy with family money. His family’s crazy, though.” She looked at Chelsea apologetically. “I paired you up with him for the wedding stuff. I hope that’s okay. It was either him or Magnus and I thought your coloring would look good with Sebastian because he’s swarthy and you’re so cute and blonde. Bitch.” She grabbed a pair of champagne flutes from the passing butler and offered one to Chelsea. “Drink up. I know how much you like your bubbly.”
Chelsea’s smile grew tight and she held the glass in her hand to be polite, when all she really wanted to do was hand it back. “Thanks.”
“Oh, we’re all sitting down to eat now,” Gretchen said, releasing Chelsea’s arm. “Come on. Sebastian should be around here soon.”
“Join you in a sec,” Chelsea said, her panic rising. It was stupid, really. Sitting next to some random guy in a room full of friends shouldn’t throw her into a tizzy. But Pisa wasn’t here to troubleshoot. She’d be by herself. And who knew what would happen then?
Stop it, she told herself. These are your friends. Indeed, walking into the room and seeing so many familiar faces was like a hug from a distant relative: comfortable but still somehow awkward. She shouldn’t be freaking. But she needed a minute to calm down and chill, to get her head in the bout.
And to dump her damn drink, because its presence was bugging her.
So she excused herself and made a beeline for the bathroom. Inside, she wasn’t alone. To her surprise, she saw tiny Greer, desperately trying to fix her makeup. One of her eyes looked . . . off.
Greer gave her a panicked look as Chelsea entered. “Chel! Oh. Thank god. I need your help.” She pointed at her eye. “My eyelashes are gone! Does it look bad?”
Chelsea peered at her face. “Well, it looks like one of your eyes is bald. Is that what you mean by ‘bad’?”
“Oh, no,” Greer moaned, and leaned in close to the mirror, squinting. “I can’t tell. I’m not wearing my glasses tonight.”
“Uh, why not?” From what she knew of poor Greer, they were some mighty strong glasses. She was always a bit of a mousy thing, shy and sweet and prone to fading into the wallpaper. “Don’t you need them? Did you get Lasik?”
“I don’t qualify for Lasik, and yes, I do need them.” Greer shot her an unhappy look. “Asher’s here tonight and I wanted to look . . . pretty.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Greer was a sweetheart, but she wasn’t Asher’s type. Was she still hung up on the arrogant SOB? He liked them tall, leggy, and busty. Kind of like Chelsea herself, but Asher was an old buddy and the thought of dating him was kind of gross.
“Please,” Greer said, her voice barely a whisper. “Please, can you go looking for it? I was in the library earlier. It must have dropped off then. I can’t go to dinner without looking my best. Please. Please please.”
“Well, all right.” It’d make her late for dinner if it took a while, but a task might be the thing to get her focused and soothe her rattled nerves. Plus, it’d help Greer. And who was she kidding? It’d help her because she could avoid dinner that much longer. “But on one condition.”
She held out her champagne. “Drink this.”
Greer’s brows drew together and she looked at Chelsea’s face, then at the drink. “Why, does it taste bad?”
“No clue. I don’t want it and couldn’t figure out a way to politely hand it back.”
“Mmm, okay.” Greer took the glass and dunked it back, swallowing a huge mouthful. She pressed a small hand to her mouth and then burped delicately. “Now. Eyelashes. Library.”
“Gotcha. Show me the library and I’ll show you an eyelash hunter.”
It took three tries for Greer to find the library. In addition to being a bit blind, she was also tipsy from Chelsea’s champagne. Total lightweight. Once they were able to find the library, though, Chelsea paused. She could hear the partygoers down the hall, no doubt gathering for dinner. “You want to come in with me and look? I could use the company.” She didn’t like being alone.
Greer snorted. “I can’t see five feet in front of me, but sure, I’ll ‘help.’” She made air quotes and then wobbled in after Chelsea. “I’m not going in to sit next to Asher with a bald eyeball, that’s for damn sure.”
The lights in the newly deserted library were for ambiance only, a few pretty Tiffany lamps casting a glow. Other than that, the room was crowded with furniture and shelves, and darker than she’d like. It made Chelsea’s nerves ratchet up a notch, and she went through the room, flicking on light switches.
“I’m pretty sure I was over here by the fireplace the entire time,” Greer said.
“I’m still turning on all the lights,” Chelsea told her. She hated the dark. Couldn’t function with it. Light was warmth and safety. Once they were all on, she relaxed a bit.
Greer flopped into a nearby chair, fanning her face. “Is it hot in here to you?”
“No?” She moved toward the fireplace. “Over here, huh?” The carpet was a busy Persian rug and it was going to be hell finding a set of fake lashes on the pattern, but that was all right. It’d waste time, and right now she was keen on finding time-wasters.
“I think so,” Greer said in a breathy voice. Then she made a little “hurp” noise. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Um.” She looked down at the expensive rug she knelt on. “Is there a trash can around here?”
“Really, really sick.” Greer pressed her fingers to her mouth.
Not good. “Why don’t you head back to the bathroom and I’ll look?” Chelsea’s fear of being alone flicked again, but she could hear the partygoers down the hall, and she didn’t want Greer puking everywhere. She could be by herself for a minute. Just one. “I’ll join you once I find it.”
Greer nodded and stumbled away. Alone now, Chelsea got down on her hands and knees and began to sweep her palms over the carpet. Moving slowly, she inched forward, crossing the room.
It took a few minutes before her efforts bore fruit. She spotted something that looked like a dark, spiky caterpillar under the desk. How the heck had Greer managed that? She scurried forward on her knees, tucking her dress hem between her legs. Reaching for the eyelash didn’t quite do the trick, so she had to crawl under the furniture.
Her body was partially tucked under the large wood desk when someone entered the room. She froze for a moment, and then scuttled farther under the desk so no one could see her.
The plan backfired. A moment later, a big man slid into the chair behind the desk and she was facing two long legs and a pair of enormous feet encased in expensive Italian loafers.
Well . . . this was awkward.
Chelsea clutched the eyelashes, unsure what to do. For some reason, her anxiety wasn’t ratcheting. Maybe it was the fact that she had another woman’s lashes stuck to her finger and she was crotch-height with a man’s dick under a desk and it was just too absurd to be freaky?
Or maybe it was the low hum of laughter and talking voices from the party a few rooms away?
She didn’t know, but as she heard fingers drumming over a phone in texting, she wondered at what point she should say something.
A moment passed. Two.
Surely he was going to notice her under here, wasn’t he?
The stranger sighed and then began to text rapidly again. He swiveled in the chair, his knee nearly boning her in the breast.
Okay, maybe he wasn’t going to notice her.
Time to take action. When the man didn’t move, she put her hands on his thighs, pushed his chair backward, and slid out from under the desk.
A quick look told her this had to be Sebastian, the man she was going to be partnered up with at all of Gretchen’s bridal events. She had to admit that Gretchen had great taste. If it weren’t for the fact that Chelsea was turned off of men for maybe forever, he’d have been right up her alley. Dark, thick hair with the barest hint of wave was swept back from a strong-featured face. His brows were heavy and framed an almost too-large nose. His mouth was sensual and full, but the most stunning thing about him were the green eyes set against dark olive skin. He was tall, too, and his dark blue suit was impeccably tailored, showing off big, rangy shoulders.
And he was shocked at the sight of her emerging from under the desk onto his lap. No, actually, shocked didn’t begin to describe the expression on his face. Appalled, maybe. Horrified.
That made her feel better. In charge. He didn’t look like he wanted to take control of the situation—and her. He looked like he wanted to run away.
It gave her confidence. So she gave him her perkiest smile. “Hi, there.”
When Sebastian sat down in the study to answer his endlessly buzzing text messages, he’d thought he’d get a few moments of privacy. He’d already excused himself to the hostess, Hunter’s quirky but vivacious fiancée, and planned on rejoining the party in a moment.
Mother: Answer me, Sebastian. Why are you trying to cock-block me on your contracts???????
She’d sent the same text seventeen times in three minutes. Knowing his mother, she’d probably handed the phone to an assistant to keep hitting the Send button until he responded. It was annoying as fuck, but his mother knew how to get under his skin like no one else. So he texted her back.
SC: Ma. If you don’t stop texting me I’m going to shut my phone down. I’m more than happy to talk about contracts with my lawyer present. But not without him.
Mother: You don’t trust me? Your own mother?!?! And don’t call me MA! I’m fifty two, not eighty. Call me Mama Precious.
SC: You know I’m not going to do that. And I trust you, Ma. I don’t trust the network, and we both know that if I show up over there, someone’s going to shove a camera in my face. So I’m avoiding you until everything’s signed. It’s not personal. You know I love you.
Mother: Nugget, it’s opportunity. When is something like this going to fall into your lap again?
He was about to furiously text back that he didn’t want to be called Nugget since she’d only made up that nickname after the show started, when two hands appeared on his thighs under the desk and his chair rolled backward. Shocked, Sebastian stared as a gorgeous blonde emerged from under the desk and practically propelled herself into his lap.
She was perfect. Utterly perfect.
He stared as the woman stood up and straightened her tiny strapless dress. It was a buff color with a bit of spangly stuff on it, but if he squinted, it looked like skin. Lots and lots of skin. She was tall and gorgeous and fit, with an impressive rack and even better legs. She had a heart-shaped face and big blue eyes and loose blonde curls. The look she gave him was utterly mischievous and not apologetic in the least.
“Hope I didn’t scare you. I was trying to figure out the best moment to escape.”
“What . . .”
She stuck her finger out and showed him something that looked suspiciously spidery. “I was on an eyelash-finding mission.” With a wiggle of her brows, she dragged one long leg over his, momentarily straddling him, and then moved past him, flashing him an incredible, tight ass . . .
And a big bruise on her upper thigh that disappeared under the hem of her skirt.
That cooled his impromptu erection instantly. Where did a bruise like that come from? It was a rather intimate place, and it wasn’t like he could ask politely.
“So are they all out there?” She gave a little shimmy and adjusted her short dress, covering the bruise.
“From what I can tell, yes.” Sebastian’s brows drew together. Should he introduce himself? Ask her what she was doing under the desk? He honestly had no idea how to handle this. She’d shown up in a blatantly sexual pose and then acted like it was no big deal. Hell, thirty seconds ago she’d practically had her head in his lap. He nodded at the eyelash stuck to her hand. “That yours?”
She looked at it and then chuckled, shaking her head. “Performing a rescue for a friend. Too bad she won’t return the favor.”
“You in need of rescuing?”
She waved her hand at the sound of the distant voices. “Just from an evening of party conversations and everyone asking what I do.” She turned around and looked at him. “I make soap, by the way.”
“You’re one of the bridesmaids, I take it?” Her chatty conversation was rather amusing, he had to admit, even if she puzzled him.
“Oh!” She turned and gave a little bounce, heading to his side, then stuck her hand out. “I’m Chelsea, the officially designated bridesmaid to your groomsman. We’re also going to be sitting together at dinner. Gretchen’s matchmaking.”
He looked down at her hand. It still had the false lashes stuck to the back of it. “Uh.”
“Oh, right.” She chuckled and it was the most charming sound. “We’ll just pretend we shared a firm and hearty handshake, then.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well I've read the all in serias some twice. I have to say I'm done. Why in gods name does it take three dam books and then some to get to Grechen and Hunters wedding. I say don't waste your money, there are a ton of books out there. Hunt, Seak and shall find.
This was one of my favorites. I really liked how the heroine overcame her fears and how Sebastian was patient and did everything she wanted to help her.
Missed catching up on some of the other pairs but overall very cute and sexy.
This book really did make me laugh out loud at certain parts . It was truly sweet as well. I loved the way the main characters were able to lean on each other.
This book is another great addition to the Billionaires and Bridesmaids series. Chelsea and Sebastian don't fall in love at first sight when they discover they are part of the same wedding party. But, once they decide to help each other--with Sebastian's reality show family and Chelsea's justifiable fears--they elope. Then, their attraction takes hold. This story is a little darker than some of the other installments in this series. It worked for these very likable characters, but I admit I would have enjoyed more sections about Sebastian's wacky family and the roller derby. Overall, an enjoyable story about characters who deserve their happy ending.
The characters were a little oddly paired, a billionaire and a derby skater. Chelsea had some big personal issues to get over and needed some real professional help. Seemed a little far fetched, but was ok. I have enjoyed this series, but this one wasn't my favorite.
This was such a great story, really entertaining and super hot! Sebastian is the sweetest! I love him. :-) I think Sebastian has got to be one of the most amazing guys ever. He was awesome! So supportive and loving and I just wanted to squeeze him and hug him. I loved Chelsea. She was so strong and a little broken but her heart was in the right place and she got stronger every day, she had a great attitude. I love how Sebastian was there for her. They had such a great attraction but on different levels, I loved everything building, learning all the details, and them coming together… and when they do, it’s swoony hot! I thought this was a really fun, enjoyable read. There were some really cute parts that made me smile and laugh. There was a bit of drama but not super heavy but there was a tough subject matter involved and I greatly appreciate how the author dealt with it. Not to in depth but it was emotional and made you feel for Chelsea. Sebastian's mother was a piece of work. The kind of woman you want to slap and also think, is this chic for real?! I really liked her character though, she was a great addition to the story. Definitely whack job material though, lol! I flew through this! It was fast paced but loaded with details really drawing you in. I thought it had a decent balance between the lighter moments, the sexy times, and emotion. It had a great mix of everything! Complimentary copy received for honest review.
This was a fun and entertaining read. Nice details, with good flow throughout and an excellent build with very likable characters. They had easy fun and a playful demeanor with one another. So sweet. With great balance between sexy and fun. With drama and intensity throughout as well. Couldn't put it down. Both Chelsea and Sebastian are dealing with issues that brought them together, after being paired up at her best friends' pre-engagement party. Becoming each other's safety dates to keep others at bay as well as their friends and family from trying to fix them up, they quickly become more, when Sebastian offers Chelsea a deal she cannot turn down. A marriage in name only that will benefit them both and before you know it they are married. Barely knowing each other these two have a lot to work through. With such sweetness Sebastian helps Chelsea fight her insecurities. While Chelsea gives Sebastian encouragement. Both of them help the other deal with a lot of drama and feelings that they will have to get through in order to be whole. But there are also twist and turns that can tear them apart. Will they get to their HEA? You will have to read to find out? Love Jessica Clare stories. Highly Recommended! Received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The wedding of Hunter and Gretchen has given us, fans of this series. a lot of great stories to read and characters to meet. In this one, the billionaire and the bride we are introduced to Chelsea and Sabastian. Sabastian is one of the groomsmen and Chelsea is a bridesmaid. It all sounds simple except, Sebastian's family is on a reality show and Chelsea is a derby girl who is trying to put a traumatic event behind her while Sebastian is trying to deal with his less than real family. Together they come up with a plan that could help them both and what ensues makes this is a great story. There area lot of comedic moments, the dialogue is snappy, their chemistry is great and as with all the other books in this series I love seeing character from other books. There is one scene that is first in Magnus and Edie's story and is in this one as well and I love that continuity. The books can be read as standalone but why would you when can read all about the whole clan. I can't wait for Greer's book! And I have a feeling that the wedding of Hunter and Gretchen is going to be a fun event!
THE BILLIONAIRE TAKES A BRIDE is the third installment in Jessica Clare’s contemporary, adult BILLIONAIRES AND BRIDESMAIDS erotic, romance series-a spin off from her Billionaire Boys Club Series that will focus on the upcoming nuptials of the Billionaire Boys and the women that they love. This is billionaire Sebastian Cabral, and derby girl Chelsea Hall’s storyline. THE BILLIONAIRE TAKES A BRIDE can be read as a stand alone without any difficulty-any important information from previous storylines is revealed where necessary. Several characters from the original series cross over as Gretchen (Beauty and the Billionaire ) begins a series of parties aimed at matchmaking her bridesmaids with potential future husbands. Told from dual third person perspectives THE BILLIONAIRE TAKES A BRIDE follows Sebastian Cabral as he stays hidden from the media while his extended family lives and breathes their own reality TV show wherein his meddling mother pushes an ex-girlfriend towards Sebastian in the hopes of higher ratings. But an accidental meeting between Chelsea and Sebastian at Gretchen’s pre-wedding party finds Sebastian making Chelsea an offer she can’t refuse-a marriage of platonic convenience to keep the paparazzi at bay, and his mother off his back. What ensues is a building relationship between Chelsea and Sebastian- but a relationship that finds Chelsea hiding secrets about her past that control almost every aspect of her present. Chelsea’s fear of the dark is only the tip of the iceberg as it pertains to her physical and emotional health. Sebastian is a very patient man when it comes to his wife’s fears as he endeavors to take things slow so not to add fuel to an already volatile situation. The relationship between Chelsea and Sebastian is loving as our heroine tries to work through her demons, and her dark past that has left Chelsea emotionally fragile in certain aspects of her life. The $ex scenes are provocative, loving and seductive. Sebastian is more of a beta male who never forces or coerces his lover into anything she does not want to do; he is supportive, patient, and loving. THE BILLIONAIRE TAKES A BRIDE has a large ensemble cast of characters including Chelsea’s roller derby team; her best friend Pisa; and several of the bridesmaids and groomsmen we met in the previous series. We are introduced to Sebastian’s mother- a throw back to Chris Jenner and her ‘momager’ ways of controlling the family and the unreality of reality TV. Sebastian’s ex plays a small role to add a bit of conflict to his life with Chelsea. There are moments of fun and flirtation; drama and tension; heartbreak and moving forward. The premise is entertaining with a little bit of everything-romance, $ex, fun, betrayal, heartbreak and love. The characters are relatable, charismatic and familiar. Jessica Clare takes the reader on one couple’s journey from strangers to lovers in the blink of an eye-where the happily ever after is a promise for the future.
Sweet,sexy and romantic #billionaires4life fan Billionaire Sebastian Cabral who does love his family and would do ANYTHING for them BUT he won’t do DRAMA-and his family is ALL about drama-case in point, their reality show The Cabral Empire so he stays far away from that. So when his ex-girlfriend tries to rekindle the flame of their romance using the camera to do so with his mom’s help, Seb goes for drastic measures. Chelsea Hall is a puzzle wrapped in a sexy body. During the day, she is a specialty soaps designer, by night, she's a knockabout roller derby skater. But see, Chelsea lives in total fear of her past, so much that does not want to be alone but she also doesn’t want to date. There lies the problem she has. She is afraid to date , to meet men. She lives in her wrap of protection by her dear friends. That all changes when she goes to Chelsea's dear friend, Gretchen wedding. There she meets a handsome man and an immediate attraction is formed for Sebastian, and an instant feeling of comfort and safety and also attraction for Chelsea. This leads to Chelsea and Sebastian to take a quick trip down the aisle. Now this was only supposed to be a temporary fix for Seb but will this turn into something more for both parties or will this lead to heartbreak for all parties involved? I really enjoyed getting to know the MC in this story. Chelsea is such a strong woman and her issues from her past do not deter me in anyway in not liking her, in fact it makes me like her more. I feel for her ; I totally like the fact she has this split personality in a way- she tries to get herself out there to prove she can do it. My heart hurt for her at times and I am so glad Seb is there for her. And OMG, there is SEB-what a hunk. And for him having to deal with his crazy family, I know how he feels about crazy relatives and all. These two work well together. Overall, this is one terrific book and is one of those that I did not want to send. I cannot wait for another book in the Billionaire stories to come out. My Rating: 4.5 stars **** ***A gifted copy was provided by the author for my honest review****
Great book! Made me smile. TY
No shortage of hot groomsmen, I want in