The Engagement Plot320
The Engagement Plot320
Perfect for the fans of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette!
Six months ago, William stole Hanna’s heart and shattered it in front of millions of people on a reality TV dating show. And now the big-wig CEO is back on Hanna’s home turf in Minnesota and wants her to forgive him? Fat chance of that. But life is swirling around faster than snow in a blizzard, and despite her objections, teaming up with William seems like the only option to rescue her reputation.
William has never regretted anything more than the day he gave that ill-fated interview for the reality show, The Price of Love. But while he can’t change the past, he’s determined to fix the future. He just needs to convince Hanna to forgive him—and pretend to be engaged with him. Simple, right?
When the media erupts with even worse accusations, teaming up and pretending to be engaged seems to be the only way to salvage their reputations. Despite the media frenzy that swirls around them, an attraction neither of them can fight off begins to surface. Could this love run deeper than a scandal, or will old wounds tear them apart once and for all? When all seems lost, it’s only with help from above that Hanna and Will may find their happily-ever-after.
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|Publisher:||Barbour Publishing, Incorporated|
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Blizzard-like conditions are expected to last through the evening. Stay inside, folks. If you're out there on the roads, well, just don't be."
Hanna Knight clicked the POWER button on the radio as she inched the Dodge Ram pickup down the snow-covered highway. Embarrass, Minnesota, was only a few miles farther. She should have never left the farm knowing a storm was brewing, but she'd thought she could beat it home.
She'd driven in worse before, though.
Hanna tapped on the brakes and squinted to see through the white flakes that waged war on her windshield. Was that something in the ditch ahead?
As the truck neared, she made out a pair of red taillights. The closer she got, the clearer the back of the car became. A rental agency logo was barely visible on the back of the snow-drowned Lexus. Just her luck. She'd have to play good Samaritan to some moron who didn't have enough sense to stay inside during a classic Northern Minnesota blizzard.
Be nice, Hanna. It wasn't the moron's fault the weather was grating on Hanna's nerves.
As long as it wasn't another reporter. Those were the only strangers she usually saw on the road to the farm lately. And even they were becoming rare, thank goodness.
On a normal day, she'd have headed on by, alerted her dad, and let him come back and help pull the car out. Picking up strangers on the side of the road, even (and maybe especially) stranded ones, wasn't the safest activity in the world. But the snow was turning into blizzard conditions faster than she was comfortable with, and there might not be time.
Her pulse picked up speed as she guided the truck to the side and threw it into PARK. Hanna grabbed her pink stocking cap and slipped it over her head then checked the rearview mirror to make sure her blond hair wasn't sticking out all over. If it was a reporter, no sense having another horrible picture show up in the grocery store checkout lanes.
The moment she thought it, guilt plowed into her conscience. Caring about her hair when a person could be scared and hurt? A year ago, she wouldn't have given it a second thought.
Hanna grabbed the emergency kit from the glove box and her rifle from behind the seat — just in case — and hopped out of the truck. Icy wind cut against her body, and she tightened her muscles to keep from being blown over. Head down against the oncoming snow, she trudged around the front of the truck.
After she made sure the driver was safe, she'd give him or her a good talking-to for trying to drive in this weather. Probably him. This was something a guy would do.
She was a bit stupid for making the run to Ely when she knew bad weather was brewing, but that was different. She'd cut teeth on icicles during winter and had been driving in the snow since she was fifteen.
City Slicker, on the other hand, probably couldn't say the same.
She shimmied down the ditch, ignoring the cold wet of the snow seeping into her jeans, and pounded her gloved fist on the tinted driver's window. "Hello? You okay?"
No reply. Just great.
She reached for the ice-covered door handle, but it refused to budge. The car had been there at least a half hour by the looks of it, but minus twenty-degree weather could freeze a car pretty fast, and the person inside with it.
She set the emergency kit on top of the car, then, rifle in hand, ran back to the truck, sliding to a stop at the back, and grabbed a crowbar. When she reached the car again, she used the end of the bar to chip away the ice forming along the door and handle then tried to open it again. The black metal shifted then refused to budge.
Short of breaking a window, she had no clue what else to try. And the butt of her rifle through the window didn't bode well for the driver.
Coffee. She'd been sipping a nice hot travel mug full of heaven's liquid on the way back, and it was still over half full. Maybe it would melt the ice just enough, although it was a long shot.
Hanna trudged up the incline again and returned with the stainless-steel thermos. She poured the coffee slowly around the car door and handle, careful to avoid the glass so it didn't shatter. Please, Jesus, let this work.
Bracing a foot against the car, she leveraged and pulled with all one-hundred-twenty-five pounds of her weight. Her efforts were rewarded when the door finally popped open, and she went sprawling into the snow. Ignoring the wetness clinging to the back of her blue jeans, she heaved herself from two feet of snow and bent down to assess the person huddled in the car.
"Sir, are you all right?"
The man had wrapped himself in a blanket — at least he'd done that right — so she couldn't make out his features, but she did notice a slight nod of his head.
"We aren't gonna get this car out of here tonight, so why don't you get in the truck so you can warm up?"
The body shifted but didn't get out. Probably from shock and cold. She shrugged off her coat, which she knew would already be warm, and threw it over him. The biting cold nipped at her skin through her oversized Vikings sweatshirt, but she was still much better off than the poor guy in front of her.
She reached in and grabbed his legs, swinging them out of the car and into the snow. His leather shoes were no match for the knee-deep snow drift. "I don't have the muscles to carry you, but if you can walk, just lean on me, and we'll do this together, okay?"
Putting her back into it, she grabbed his arms and pulled. After two tugs, a grunt from her, and a moan from the man, he stood. Together, though his steps were stilted, they made it to the cab of the truck, where she all but hoisted him in.
She ran back down to his car, grabbed the keys from the ignition, and locked the door. Not like anyone was going to steal it out here, especially in this weather, but with his dress pants and shiny, expensive-looking loafers, he looked like one who might worry about such stupid things.
Hanna hopped into the truck and cranked the heat on full blast then turned to the man, who still shivered under a combination of the blanket and her coat. "I'd offer you coffee, but I used it on your car to get the door open. Here, let me get that cold blanket off so the heat can reach you."
The man jerked away from her as she tried to remove the blanket.
Stubborn cuss. "I just wanna help. You have to be freezing."
He shook his head.
Fine, let him suffer. Men.
Slamming the truck into gear, she headed down the road toward the little town of Embarrass. Some might balk at the term town considering it wasn't much more than a post office and community center, but it had been her home since she was born. These people loved her regardless and were some of the few in this world who hadn't turned their backs on her over the last six months.
Just on the outskirts, she turned down the gravel road that led to her dad's farm. How sad was it that she, at twenty-seven, lived back at home yet again?
She'd have given anything to be back in her cozy little apartment in Duluth, teaching a group of giggly kindergartners in the nearby elementary school. They probably had a snow day today, so she'd be sipping hot chocolate and binge-watching something on Netflix.
Shaking the memory out of her brain, she determined to focus on the invalid next to her. "We're almost there. Dad will be able to help you into some warm clothes once we get inside. They may not be all fancy like you're used to, but they'll be warm."
The stranger nodded again, or, at least, that was how she interpreted the shift of the blanket.
As she parked the truck in her usual spot, Hanna laid on the horn, then jumped out of the cab when her dad opened the door to the old farmhouse.
His thick Scandinavian accent shouted out as he pulled on a coat and hustled down the steps. "Hanna, what's going on?"
She gritted her teeth against the bitter, snow-filled wind. "Picked up a straggler on the side of the road half-frozen. You wanna help me get him inside?"
Dad was already headed toward the passenger side. "You're gonna freeze to death without your coat. No, you go on in and start some soup and coffee. I'll see to him."
Her teeth started to chatter as she trudged through the snow-filled path to the front deck of the house. She didn't love the idea of leaving Dad to help the man inside all by himself, but there wasn't much she could do to help if she froze, too.
Hugging her arms to her chest, she headed into the house and let the warmth embrace her once she closed the door.
The familiar house stood as it always did when she got home in the winter. Floorboard heaters going at full blast. Cookstove that heated the living room filled with burning wood. She stood for just a minute in front of the old black stove, allowing the warmth to thaw her fingers.
But Dad would be in here with the crazy rich guy any minute, so her comfort was going to have to be put on hold.
Ignoring her wet clothes, she grabbed a pair of Dad's flannel pajamas and long johns from the basket of clean clothes she'd planned to fold later, laid them out in the guest bedroom just off the living room, and headed into the kitchen.
She poured two large cans of chicken noodle soup into a pot then took a break to try and unstick her jeans from her legs. She really should have changed into dry clothes first. But before she could head upstairs, the front door opened.
Wet jeans would just have to wait a few minutes longer. Flipping on the burner, she yelled toward the front of the house. "Need any help?"
"Nope, you stay put."
Hanna wrinkled her forehead at his demanding tone. Her dad was usually laid back and easygoing, rarely commanding her to do a thing. Of course, she was an only child and was used to pitching in. Shaking off her confusion, she tossed the soup cans into the trash and put on a pot of coffee.
When the soup started boiling, she inhaled the warm aroma, letting the steam from the broth thaw her insides the rest of the way. She ladled it into three bowls and set them on the table along with spoons and toast. As she grabbed for a TV tray in case the stranger wasn't able to walk to the table, a throat cleared behind her.
She turned, and the tray clattered to the floor.
In front of her stood a slightly blue-hued, oversized flannel-clad William Preston, CEO and handsome bachelor who had won the hearts of America's women. That was, until seven months ago when he'd stomped on her heart and left it to freeze to death by humiliating her in front of millions of people.
Will stood on wobbly legs swathed in foreign flannel and tried to look confident, all the while knowing he appeared anything but.
His toes were frozen, his fingers numb, and he couldn't even feel his rear end when he'd sat on the bed a few minutes ago. He'd never known one could be so very, very cold.
Jim Knight, a man he'd only talked to on the phone previously when asking for his daughter's hand in marriage, came up behind him and slapped him on the back with a bit more force than necessary. "Sit down and eat, Will. You need some warm food in that belly to thaw you out."
Will forced himself not to wince, although a large handprint was now probably engraved in the ice that was the middle of his back. "Yes, si–ir." Why wouldn't his teeth stop chattering? This was not the impression he wanted to make when he saw Hanna again.
He hadn't known what to expect, but in his dreams she would run out of the small farmhouse, gasp, then throw herself into his arms, last year's slip of the tongue forgotten.
Then he woke up and hoped she wouldn't take the ax she used to chop wood and swing away at his head. He wouldn't blame her either. If anyone deserved a good decapitation from an ex-girlfriend — if she could even be called that — it was him.
Forcing his feet forward, he gripped the chair with a shaky hand and lowered his icy bum onto the padded seat. He didn't allow himself to glance at Hanna again, given the look of shock and disgust he'd seen on her face when she finally realized who he was.
A familiar pit of remorse lodged in his stomach.
He gripped the spoon and moved it slowly to his mouth so he wouldn't douse his lap with the bubbling-hot soup. The broth slid down his throat, gradually thawing his insides.
After a few spoonfuls, the shaking subsided, and he allowed himself to peek at the woman who slid into a seat across the long oak table that looked straight out of Little House on the Prairie. Her eyes focused on the bowl in front of her, but the older man was staring as if Will was a rogue cowboy come to pillage them and ruin his daughter.
Jim finally put his spoon down and sat back, arms folded over his broad chest that spoke of years of manual labor. "What are you doing here, young man? Don't you think you've caused my Hanna enough grief?"
A noodle stuck in his throat, but he managed to swallow it anyway. What was he doing here? Twenty-four hours ago he would have said he wanted to reconcile, to right the wrongs he'd done to Hanna, but it was becoming increasingly clear just how difficult that would be. "I came to apologize."
Glaring but gorgeous blue eyes finally met his. "You think you can fly on up here, almost get yourself killed, say a quick 'I'm sorry,' and I'll fall over myself to forgive you? Dream on, William Preston."
Jim cleared his throat. "Hanna, careful."
Her gaze moved to her father, and an unspoken conversation went on between the two.
Jim was the first to look at him, while Hanna's gaze slipped back to her soup. He already missed seeing those sea-blue eyes, even if they were shooting icy darts his direction.
"Will, you can stay the night here in the guest bedroom. We'll talk more in the morning. Weather is supposed to be bad for a few days. It was pure stupid of you to even try to drive here in this mess."
He opened his mouth to protest and remind the man that his daughter had been out in the storm as well, but the cold that still clung to his numb toes reminded him that he was the idiot who slid headfirst into a snow embankment, not Hanna.
Instead, he nodded. "Thank you for the offer. I'll be out of your hair in the morning." It wasn't what he wanted. He'd hoped to have a few days to talk to her, to explain. To apologize.
He glanced out the window, winter still wreaking havoc on the world just on the other side. Maybe the snow wasn't so bad after all —
Hanna pushed back her seat and stood, revealing wet jeans that clung tightly to her curves. The annoyed glare she cast him said it all. "Oh yes, when your car is piled in three feet of snow by then. What are you going to do, walk back to Duluth to hail the next airplane out of here? That'll be a fine sight to see. Wait, you probably have a private jet to take you wherever you want. Maybe it can land out on the frozen lake."
Her dad stood and put an arm around her, whispering something in her ear. She glanced back at Will, scowled, and marched up the set of stairs he hadn't noticed before in the corner of the kitchen. There must be two sets of them, because he'd also seen larger ones when he came in the front door. While the old farmhouse looked pretty big, deterioration could be seen in the peeling paint and decades-old decor.
His picture-perfect condo in Nashville flashed in his mind. Such a contrast. They'd always been opposite, even from the first day of taping for The Price of Love. He, the CEO bachelor looking for love, and she, the small-town teacher with morals tighter than some of the other contestants' skinny jeans.
Why everyone had wanted him to pick her, the one who fit in the least with his life, was beyond him.
He wouldn't have had to listen to them. He could have picked Stephanie.
But he didn't. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why, except that there was something about Hanna he couldn't let go of.
Jim turned around, arms crossed in front of him. "She won't sleep a wink tonight because of you."
Guilt landed directly on his shoulders, where it belonged. The show aside, he'd hurt an amazing woman who didn't deserve it any more than she deserved to be saddled with him, a sorry excuse for a fiancé, not to mention CEO. "I'm sorry. I hadn't meant for this to happen. All I wanted was to —"
"I know. You wanted to say you're sorry. Not sure how you couldn't say that with a phone call or a well-worded letter on that fancy letterhead of yours."
He would have loved to shoot off an e-mail to fix this and go on his way. But his board of directors had other ideas. No way could he admit that just yet, though. "I honestly thought I was doing the right thing. I couldn't get Hanna out of my head, and my heart told me to come."
Which made no sense. It had just been business. That's it.
Jim's eyebrows hiked up so high they almost touched his receding hairline. "Your heart? You telling me you still have feelings for my daughter?"
A spark lit in his belly, but Will doused it immediately. He couldn't have real feelings for Hanna. They'd only known each other on the show for, what, six weeks? And until the end, he'd been dating a slew of other women.
But those other women hadn't plagued his dreams almost nightly.
Plus, she was a painful reminder to him of a time long before that stupid reality TV show.
Excerpted from "The Engagement Plot"
Copyright © 2017 Krista Phillips.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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