Jo Masters isn't the party girl she used to be, but now that she's a woman without obligations, she's ready to recapture a little of her misspent youth. Her niece's wedding, with its open bar and dark dance floor, proves to be the perfect opportunity to let loose.
Gregory Stark is just trying to make it through his son's wedding day. . . and make some time with the gorgeous brunette on the bride's side of the aisle. His kid's wedding probably isn't the best occasion to put the moves on the sexy woman, who introduces herself only as ‘Josie', but his best friend is closing in on her too and he has to act fast. With a couple of tequila shots under his belt, Greg propositions Josie -- and neither wants to refuse.
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Three Little Words
By Maggie Wells
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Maggie Wells
All rights reserved.
The line at the bar wasn't long, but she needed a drink — a real drink — and she needed it fast. Jo twirled her empty champagne flute and tapped her toe as the DJ made a cringe-worthy segue between Louis Armstrong and Pink. A pang of regret tweaked her stomach when she spotted her eldest brother, Tony, leading his baby girl from the dance floor, but that was nothing new. She'd suffered so many pangs in her life they'd become a part of her autonomic system. Breathe in, breathe out, pang. Blink, sniffle, sneeze, pang. Go to bed alone — again — pang!
At the tender age of twenty-six, her niece had managed to accomplish everything Jo never had. Kaylin had a career, a home of her own, and a man she loved so much she actually glowed. Literally glowed. Jo hadn't known such a glow since her mother stopped slathering her sunburns in Noxzema.
Radiant happiness was enough to drive a woman to drink.
Three groomsmen bellied up to the bar and jockeyed for position in front of the pretty blond bartender. Their voices rose as they trumped each other's orders. Each successive suggestion was an obvious attempt to prove the issuer was more worldly, and therefore manly, than the last. The misguided boys must have believed their ability to chug grain alcohol might make or break their chance at ending the evening in the poor girl's bed. The bartender eyed them with hardly-contained disdain. The posturing little pricks didn't notice. Jo couldn't help but smile when the girl rolled her eyes and went back to stacking glassware.
What little buzz Jo had managed to eke out of two glasses of table wine and a flute of champagne began to wane. She considered goosing one of the guys to shock him into gear, but then another tuxedo-clad man, murmuring quiet excuses, slipped in front of her. The groomsmen jumped when the newcomer gripped their padded shoulders.
"Three beers for these guys, please. Give them the imported stuff." Casually, he stuffed a twenty-dollar bill into the pitcher serving as a tip jar. "Having fun, fellas?"
The groomsmen replied in the affirmative, but their cheeks glowed pink. Bravado squelched, they grabbed their beers and beat a hasty retreat. The hero of the hour turned to face Jo. Recognition kicked in. Saliva pooled in her mouth and a tingle of awareness prickled the fine hairs at her nape. Her savior was none other than the father of the groom. It took a fraction of a second for her brain to source the pertinent facts Kaylin had imparted on Ben's father. Gregory. Greg. Divorced, devoted dad, and hot as Hades on a summer day. Confronted with him now, Jo was happy to confirm the acute case of the bright shinies hadn't skewed her niece's powers of observation. Gregory Stark was all that and more.
He'd sneaked glances at her all through the ceremony. Now, he grinned right at her. "Good to know I've still got it."
His dark eyes glinted with amusement. She wasn't sure if he was referring to his ability to circumvent a bar line, or the fact that she'd been unable to resist returning every one of the furtive glances he'd tossed her way. Jo decided to play it neutral.
Rolling her parched tongue up off the carpet, she nodded the approbation he was obviously seeking. "Effective."
No lie. He was the most attractive man she'd laid eyes on in forever. Which made perfect sense in a bizarre Karmic way. Of course she had to meet this man after she'd poked a nail through her last pair of control-top pantyhose.
Still, there was no reason she couldn't catalog every bit of him for later use. With a practiced eye, she gauged him to be a few years older than her. Her guess put him somewhere in his mid-fifties. Unlike most men, he hadn't packed on any extra cushioning for the slide into the AARP years. He was tall and lean, his movements as taut and compelling as the lines bracketing his eyes and those sculpted lips. His jaw was smooth and shiny, clean-shaven, but the shadow of a heavy beard loomed below the surface. Jo wanted to know what else he kept hidden under the slick exterior.
He'd been seated in the front pew at the ceremony beside his ex-wife and her husband. Jo wondered what he'd done to earn ex status. For the life of her, she couldn't imagine any woman willingly giving this man up for the paunchy redhead who'd taken his place.
He nodded toward the array of bottles behind the bar. "Champagne?"
"God, no." The response was automatic. She hated champagne. Pure desperation forced her to resort to the glass poured for the toasts because the dinner wine was long gone. Now he was offering her more. The sparkling wine seemed an apt choice for him. He looked like Cary Grant, what with the wings of silver in his dark hair, the crinkly brown eyes sparkling with mischief, and the tuxedo. Maybe he was offering her champagne because Cary Grant would offer her champagne. Cary would call her "darling." Would Gregory Stark call her "darling?"
Something tugged at her fingers. She stared in rapt fascination as he removed the forgotten flute from her hand and placed it on the bar. "Oh. No. No more champagne." She managed a weak twitch of her lips. "Thank you."
A proprietary hand landed in the small of her back. Jo surrendered to the gentle pressure, closing her eyes and imagining the pads of his fingers to be electrodes. Sparks sizzled along her spine. He spread his fingers wide as he drew alongside her at the bar. Arousal swept through her like a hot flash. Unlike those endless minutes of core meltdown, this heat wasn't something to be endured. His touch was a treat to be savored. She opened her eyes and found him staring at her, his lips parted and his eyes shining bright.
"What'll it be, then?"
"Tequila. Three shots."
The answer popped out before her brain engaged. It was a ghost from her past. A remnant of the reckless youth she'd left buried under a pile of soul-crushing responsibility.
"Whoa. Three?" He craned his neck and scanned the room. "Maybe I should get one of the younger guys back."
Once upon a time, three was her magic number. The key to managing everything life had thrown at her. Good and bad. The magic of three stopped being effective not long after she'd turned thirty — a bitter disappointment she'd never managed to reconcile with herself. Turns out, fate had her number in another way.
Well, screw fate. She'd played the good girl long enough. Emboldened by the wine and the heat of his hand scorching her back, she looked him square in the eye. "I have no use for boys, thankyouverymuch. Don't worry. It's okay if you can't keep up. I won't think less of you."
He laughed. Not a chuckle or a chortle, but a deep, rumbling, full-throated guffaw that wrapped itself around her and drew her closer still. Or maybe he pulled her in with his hand. Either way, she was within sniffing distance, so she took a hit. Pure man. No flowery cologne masked the warm and musky mix of soap, shaving cream, and some kind of whiskey. Thank God.
"Set 'em up," he told the bartender.
The girl lined six tiny glasses along the side rail. Pale amber liquid dribbled onto the bar when she moved from glass to glass. She piled wedges of lime on a napkin and plunked a saltcellar beside it. The furrow of concentration between the bartender's over-tweezed eyebrows smoothed when Greg shoved another bill into the tip jar.
His hand fell away from Jo's back as they moved to the side of the bar. She kept her gaze purposefully averted, trying not to pout over the loss. She raised one of the shot glasses in silent salute then downed the tequila without benefit of salt and lime.
The alcohol blazed a trail of fire in her throat. Jo gave her head a toss to soothe the burn. The frank admiration in her companion's gaze made her pussy tingle with arousal. Her body's response to this gorgeous stranger startled her. Deep in her heart, she feared she was past all desire.
He leaned in closer. "What's your name?"
The answer leapt to her tongue, but she bit it back. For one night, this night with this man, she didn't want to be sad old Aunt Jo. She wanted to be the woman she'd been back in the days before she had to be seated with one of her cousins to round out a table. She wanted to be the girl who thought she had all the time in the world.
Fixing Kaylin's new father-in-law with a bold stare, she raised a challenging eyebrow. "Jose."
"As in Cuervo?"
"Exactly." When he opened his mouth again, she held up one hand and dredged up the name she used in those wild days of time and tequila. "But you can call me Josie."
He blinked once then cocked his head, studying her for one long moment. He reached for a glass. The wry twist of his lips told her he was certain she'd given him a fake name, but he didn't seem to care too terribly much. He eyed her over the rim of the tiny glass. "Nice to meet you, Josie. I'm Greg."
Silver cufflinks flashed as he tossed the shot back. He chased the booze with a low growl. A golden drop clung to his upper lip. Jo wiped it away with the pad of her thumb but froze as she pulled away. They stared at one another, arrested by her sheer audacity. Mortification set the tips of her ears on fire. She tried to finish her retreat, but he captured her wrist.
"Thank you." He gave her a gentle squeeze. "Tell me, Josie, are you a pussycat?"
Jo laughed. And, damn, it felt good. She was flirting with a handsome man, and he was flirting back with enthusiasm. Quite a rush for a woman long out of practice. She swallowed the lump in her throat and lowered her gaze along with her wayward hand, wondering if her rusty skills were obvious.
"Uh-uh. Don't try to play shy with me now," he admonished. When she didn't respond, he leaned close. His breath stirred her hair and tickled her ear. "You're the most intriguing woman here, and you damn well know it."
Pleasure ran warm and thick in her veins. Jo closed her eyes, giving herself over to the vague pain of her nipples tightening and the quickening of her pulse. "Do I?"
"I noticed you in the church."
A shiver tripped along her spine. She tipped her head, surrendering to the moist caress of his breath. "You did?"
"I couldn't stop looking at you."
Though she'd noticed, the bold confession still stunned her. In the way of women too used to being invisible, she'd denied the tingle of knowledge. Hard to believe a man so handsome might find her attractive. For too long she'd played the part of plain old Aunt Jo.
"I can't stop looking at you now." The husky admission pried her eyes open. "I had to find you."
The urgency in his tone gave her the boost she needed. Oh, how she wanted to be Josie with the tequila shots once more. With him. For him. Flashing a sly glance, she reached for a second tiny glass. "And now you have."
He snatched a glass from the bar and touched the rim to hers. His gaze bore into her, unwavering and intense. "And now I have."
The tequila left a trail of fire hot enough to make her shiver. Her hand trembled. She curled her fingers snug around the empty glass and placed it carefully on the bar. The burning sensation eased as the warmth of the alcohol sped through her bloodstream. Floating on a silvery cloud of agave-induced happiness, she glanced up just in time to get hit square between the eyes by a blast from the past.
The name came to her on a whisper, a random factoid dug from the minutiae of an overburdened life. She glanced at Greg to determine whether he'd heard her. His easy posture told her he hadn't. She tugged nervously at the seam of her dress and chanced another peek. Her breath caught when she confirmed the man standing at the other side of the bar wasn't a memory.
The dim light of the hotel ballroom was no match for Will Tarrant's pirate grin. He tipped his head back to sip his drink and she caught sight of the strands of silver lacing his dark hair. Lines that were once mere hints of the life he'd led now etched bold statements into his handsome face. But the faint white scar bisecting his upper lip was still the same.
Years ago, she'd traced that scar with her fingertip. And her tongue. Funny how a single slash marred a man's beauty just enough to make him look rakish and incorrigible rather than ruined. Coupled with the self-effacing wit he wielded like a cutlass, Will Tarrant was both a dream and a nightmare come true.
"Would you like to dance?"
She looked up to find Greg smiling at her, his eyebrows raised in hopeful anticipation. His warm palm cupped her elbow, saving her from the devilish amusement in Will's gaze. She looked at Greg, scrambling to process his request. Warm brown eyes telegraphed the answer they wanted her to give. The rampant thudding of her heart slowed to a sultry strum. Will Tarrant was a ghost from her past. Tonight she wanted a chance at a future. The same future that seemed too open, too daunting, and too damn empty a few hours ago.
Before he could take her hand, a fluttering bird of a woman with an earpiece affixed to her ear sank blood-red talons into the arms of his tuxedo jacket. "I've got him." Lifting a discreet microphone to glossed lips, she murmured into it. "F.O.G. secured." The woman gave Jo an assessing glance then dismissed her with a brisk shake of her head. "I only need the father of the groom, please." Giving Greg's arm a tug, she pulled him away. "The bride and groom want the parents to stand behind them as they cut the cake."
"It'll just take a few minutes."
Greg's mouth pulled into a fierce scowl as the wedding coordinator tugged him away. "I'll be right back. Don't move!" he called as the crowd on the dance floor swallowed him whole.
The lights from the DJ's set-up flashed and swirled. Driving bass thrummed beneath her feet. Disappointment roiled in the pit of her stomach. The tiny hairs on her arms stood on end when someone spoke low and close to her ear.
"I'd like to see your moves again."
She blinked when she was met with her former lover's crooked grin. That rakish flash of shiny white teeth made her crazy for him oh-so many moons ago. Time and experience had barely dimmed its wattage. "Hello, Will."
He spoke her name in the same deep voice. His tongue still rolled lazily over the vowels and drew out the sibilance, but it no longer made her shiver with need. Much.
Will reached past her to snag Greg's glass and downed the last shot in a blink. "That's three. Let's go."
He claimed her hand and pulled her onto the dance floor as hip-hop gave way to something slow and sexy. Will played the mischievous twinkle and presumptuous attitude as masterfully as ever. With a rueful shake of her head, she allowed him to fold her into his arms.
"You look fantastic, Jo."
She didn't fight the blush his compliment spawned. It was one thing to have a stranger tell her she looked well, but quite another to hear it from someone who knew her in better days. One hand braced on his broad shoulder, she steeled her resolve. The last thing she needed was to get pulled under by a wave of nostalgia. "Thank you. You look just the same."
Will chuckled. It was the same rough and ready rumble he used to use to talk a woman out of her clothes. She'd bet that sexy laugh still worked like a charm. She gazed up into blue eyes as dark as the midnight sky and stepped closer. Her body molded to his. They moved together with the ease of two people unforgettably intimate.
He tightened his hold on her. "Getting old."
"Aren't we all?"
He whispered the words into her ear. Jo tried to suppress the shiver running through her, but failed miserably. Will danced her in a slow, smooth circle. His sheepish smile wreaked havoc on her booze-addled senses. His thighs brushed the fabric of her dress. The silky material slid over heated skin. Suddenly she didn't miss her trusty control-tops one bit.
Snug against the solid length of him, she craned her neck to meet his gaze. "What are you doing here?"
"Eating the medium-cold stuffed chicken, drinking free booze, trying to make time with the prettiest lady in the room."
The glib answer tripped off his tongue, a short, simple reminder of who her partner was. Will Tarrant was more than a flirt. He was a man disarming enough to be dangerous.
"I meant, how do you know Ben and Kaylin?"
"I've known the groom since his mommy and daddy said, 'Oops!'"
"Oops. That's how a good guy like Greg ends up wasting twenty years of his life with a woman like stick-up-her-ass Emily. Oops."
His derisive tone made her eyebrows jump. At least, she thought they jumped. The buzzing in her blood made every movement seem super-sized. "Are you mocking him because he stepped up and did the right thing?"
"He did the expected thing. Their marriage didn't last past Ben's twenty-first birthday, so it wasn't the right thing, after all, huh?"
"I forgot how jaded you are."
"I bet you've never married."
Excerpted from Three Little Words by Maggie Wells. Copyright © 2014 Maggie Wells. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jo Masters gave up her party-girl life years ago when adult responsibility came crashing down on her shoulders. But now, at her niece’s wedding, she’s got a chance to revisit those fun times if only for a night. And the father of the groom has certainly been checking her out all night. Gregory Stark knows that he shouldn’t be looking for a hookup at his son’s wedding, however he can’t keep his eyes off of the woman who introduces herself as “Josie”. A few tequila shots under their belts give Jo and Greg all the courage they need to act on the tension that’s been simmering all night. While I’ve seen romance novels starring a hero and heroine in their 40’s and 50’s, this is the first novella with middle age characters. I liked that and its message that age doesn’t matter when it comes to finding love. It was refreshing after having read so many books where the main characters were in their twenties. I thought that the premise of the novella was plausible. It made sense how Jo and Greg flirted at the wedding reception before hooking up later on, and I enjoyed both the internal and external conflict that came with that (a tad of “I’m too grown up for this” and a run-in with an ex-boyfriend). For a 70 page novella, it pretty successfully showed how their relationship developed literally overnight. The only thing that would have made the novella better–and I understand that it’d be tough in such a short story–would have been to develop the characters more. Both Jo and Greg felt very flat. They certainly had conflict to keep the tension and the story moving, however I didn’t get a sense of their personalities. Jo was simply a straight laced woman with a party girl past, and Greg was a single father. Nothing else. I think that it would have made a good romance story great. This would be great for a reader interested in a short, hot romance story. Rating: 4/5 Three Little Words by Maggie Wells is published by Kensington Books and will be available on December 15th, 2014. **I received an advanced copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.