"Delightfully charming!! Sharp, witty banter and the sweet, slow burn of friends becoming more...this is everything I love about romance!!" - Rachel Harris, NY Times Bestselling Author
As a Firefighter, Kent Wakefield has been burned before, and not just by fire. So when Casey Bradford, his best friend's off-limits, gorgeous little sister, asks him to be her fake boyfriend, he flat out refuses. He doesn't do relationships, real or otherwise. But when his well-meaning, marriage-pushing mother corners him about his cousin's wedding, he panics and tells her he has a date.
After being left at the altar, Casey is out of options. She needs a boyfriend ASAP or she can kiss her dreams good-bye. Who better than her brother's emotionally-unavailable best friend, Kent. She may have nursed a childhood crush, but this arrangement will be purely platonic...that is until he kisses her and suddenly it gets a lot harder to remember it's all pretend.
Each book in the Fire and Sparks series is STANDALONE.
* Wedding Date Rescue
* The Firefighter's Perfect Plan
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Wedding Date Rescue
A Fire and Sparks novel
By Sonya Weiss, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Sonya Weiss
All rights reserved.
Getting dumped at the altar five minutes before her wedding had set tongues wagging. Most of the town had witnessed her humiliation as Dominic had run out of the church's side exit without so much as a "sorry." Here it was four months later, and Casey Bradford was pacing back and forth in the empty reception area of Finding Mr. Right, the matchmaking service she owned.
The fallout from her failed wedding had caused a shift in how people viewed her company. If she didn't do something soon to restore the public's belief in her, she was going to be up panic creek without a paddle. She'd lose everything, including not being able to continue helping her maternal grandmother financially. Her grandmother was embarrassed over the situation and had made her promise she wouldn't mention to the rest of the family how bad things were.
Casey stopped pacing and stared out the window. The business overlooked Main Street, and from where she stood, she could see the water tower in the distance. The streets were lined on both sides with a variety of locally owned businesses. No big franchises here. Just a slow-paced, fried chicken on Sunday, sweet tea on the front porch kind of living.
She loved every inch of Morganville and considered herself a Georgia girl through and through. Growing up riding four-wheelers with her brothers, fishing in the lake with them and all their friends, she'd always thought she'd had a great childhood. Every summer, dressed in faded blue jeans and a T-shirt, she'd run around with the boys from the time the sun rose until it set.
Though she hadn't outgrown her childhood friends, she now spent the majority of her days wearing cute little dresses and killer heels. The changes had made some of her guy friends act weird around her. Her brother's best friend, Kent Wakefield, had acted like she'd sprouted alien antennae the way he'd stared the first time he'd seen her in a dress.
Casey traced the black lettering on the window with her index finger. It didn't matter what Kent or any of them thought. She didn't care if they didn't like the changes. She was happy with her life. Check that — except for this latest upheaval, she was happy.
Casey bit the side of her thumbnail, then stopped. It was a nervous habit she was trying to break. At least a dozen butterflies danced in her stomach and had been there since she'd received an ominous email from one of her investors saying they needed to discuss the company in light of "recent events."
The front door swung open, and Brandon Jones walked in carrying a laptop. He greeted her with a curt hello. She'd attended school with Brandon from elementary school on up. He was the son of a wealthy man and had been cut off from the family fortunes the minute he'd married a woman the family deemed unworthy. He'd chosen love over money, worked hard, and was now part of a group of successful businessmen who invested in start-up companies like hers.
"Would you like a cup of coffee?" Casey indicated the machine and the stack of cups beside it.
"No. Let's get this over with."
"Then, right this way." Casey led the way to her office. Each step she took, her heels sank into the carpet along with her hopes. The expression on Brandon's face didn't quite have that "let's save this business" look. She'd guess he had more of a "pull the plug" one. And good grief, could her heart beat any harder, any faster, and she not keel over?
As soon as they were seated, he cleared his throat and drummed his fingers on her desk. "I am truly sorry about you getting left at the altar," he said, his voice holding a touch of sympathy. "But unfortunately, the gossip and publicity surrounding your failed wedding are bad for business, which in turn impacts the ability to recoup my investment."
Casey's heart squeezed, and she pressed her hand to her chest. "It's a small town and people talk. As soon as something more interesting happens, I'll be yesterday's news." She knew how quickly the tides could turn when something new hit the tell-a-friend chain.
His expression softened. "Believe me, having been there, I understand that."
He hesitated, then placed the laptop on the desk. He typed a few keys, then turned it around to face her. "These are today's comments."
Casey leaned forward to see what he was talking about. He'd pulled up her company's social media site. It was littered with comments. She read one of them out loud. "'Can't keep a man herself. How can she help me find one? I'd never recommend this matchmaking service.'" She brushed off the sting from the hurtful words. "You know you can't trust everything you read online."
Brandon stared at her. "Did you catch the common theme in the majority of the comments? If you, the face of the company, get dumped, how can they believe you can create successful matches for them?" He shook his head. "You're why women choose this company. You're part of the branding."
"Find your happily ever after." Casey quoted a line from one of the Finding Mr. Right commercials she'd starred in.
"Exactly. Only your happily ever after —"
She waved her hand to stop him. There was no point in rubbing salt in the humiliation. There'd been plenty of that already. Seemed everyone in town had given her advice on how to get over a broken heart. "I understand."
"I don't think you do."
"This will blow over." Casey was sure of that. Well not really sure. More like keeping all her fingers crossed and hoping like mad it would, because the alternative wasn't something she wanted to think about.
"Eventually, maybe. But it's hurting business in the meantime. I'm the one who convinced my business associates to invest in your company, so you can imagine the phone calls I've been fielding. They're not happy." He took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "I just don't see how you can keep operating when you aren't making enough right now to even pay the rent."
Profits were like her once-upon-a-groom — nowhere to be found. For the last month, Casey had dipped into her savings to cover rent as well as the utilities. But she still believed in the company with the same ferocity that she believed in love. If she could just hang on ...
"One of the other investors is coming to town to look things over, and I suggest you go ahead and start closing the place down."
Close down? Casey's mouth opened, but no sound came out. She gripped the arms of the chair, needing to feel the support beneath her.
"You can't keep the doors open." Brandon paused to take a breath, as if he hadn't noticed the world had stopped turning. "Unless ..."
Yes, she was a fan of the unless. Unless meant possibility. It meant keeping the dream alive. It meant being able to afford to move her grandmother out of Florida and back to Morganville like they both wanted.
She leaned forward, eager to hear the unless that might offer a way to fix her situation.
"Unless you fake a new relationship," he said, steepling his fingers and not meeting her eyes.
"Fake a relationship?" Leaping to her feet, she put her hands on her hips and glared down at him. "My business is supposed to be about honesty."
He rose as well. "Helping someone find love is honest."
"But you want me to lie."
Brandon shook his head. "No, I'm suggesting you pretend. It's called acting, the same thing you see on television and in movies."
"Since I'm not an actress, it's called lying, and I am not going to jump into a relationship so soon after what happened."
"It wouldn't be real. Besides, you're tougher than this. You always have been. Think about all the people who benefit from your business. There's the wedding dress store, the flower shop, the photographers, the catering company ..."
Casey groaned. She hadn't thought about how losing her business would cause a financial ripple in the town.
"You can do this. You've done amazingly well since ... everything."
That was the problem with life in a small town. You could smile through the pain and everyone thought you were fine. She'd even started putting on a brave face whenever anyone gave her that pursed-lip, concerned look that preceded all the oh, you poor dear and the bless your heart that she'd received. She'd pulled on her big-girl panties and said she was moving on. Said her pride was more wounded than her heart. Truth be told, that race wasn't even close. How many nights had she put on her faded pajamas, crawled onto the sofa with a pint of ice cream and her favorite movies, and bawled her eyes out? Rejection sucked, and even more so when it was rejection from someone who was supposed to be your forever guy.
"Look, I'm not trying to throw what happened in your face."
Casey gave Brandon a thumbs-up. "Good job with that."
"I didn't mean it was your fault," he tried to soothe, but Casey wasn't hearing him.
The truth was, she did feel like it was her fault. Had she not been so wrapped up in the magic of preparing for a wedding and all the hope that went with it, she might have realized Dominic was having second thoughts.
"I know this is a shock, but I need to do what I can to protect my investment, and my associates feel the same."
"I can't do what you're suggesting." Casey lifted her chin. She wouldn't fake a relationship. She had morals.
Brandon interrupted her thoughts. "What are you going to do if your business flops? There aren't many jobs here in town. I hate to be hardnosed about it, but you have to restore the investors' confidence and start producing a profit, or they're all going to demand their investment returned." He raised his eyebrows. "Do you have that kind of money?"
She did not, and having their investment returned in the event of failure was in the contract, but this was a temporary blip, not a permanent one. "You think I can restore their belief in the company if I start showing a profit again?"
"Yes, and the way to do that is to fake a relationship, fast. People believe in love. They'll believe in you again if you show you've found love again. It's a chance to sway public opinion back in your favor."
Casey ran through a quick list of pros versus cons. Pro, if she held on to her business she'd keep the dream alive, hold on to her home, and save her grandmother financially. All pros there. Con, she'd have to be in a fake relationship. She didn't like fake. Another con — she wasn't a good actress. She bit her lip.
As if he sensed her internal war, Brandon said, "Recouping the investment would mean a lot to Peyton, too. She's been so worried."
At the mention of his pregnant wife, Casey groaned again.
"Then you'll do it?"
How could she let the business go belly up and cause Brandon and the other investors to suffer since she didn't have the funds to pay them back? She couldn't. She had a responsibility to them just as much as she had to herself and the town. "If you can give me a month, I can turn things around."
"You have forty-eight hours. That investor I mentioned will be flying in from Atlanta on Monday. Everything has to be business as usual by then."
Casey put her hand over her heart and stared at Brandon. Scrounge up a boyfriend in forty-eight hours? Morganville wasn't exactly overrun with eligible bachelors. Pickings became even slimmer if she eliminated the guys she'd trounced in all the games at the fair last summer who now avoided her. Then take out the ones that were too handsy, too weird, lazy, or had issues, and that didn't leave her many to choose from. Casey barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes.
"Well?" Brandon prompted.
"Nothing to it," she said with a smile she'd definitely label as acting.
"Thank you." His relief was obvious.
"Uh-huh." She left the office when Brandon did, hurrying away from him before she could say something she couldn't take back. Like that she was so bad at faking it, maybe it would be better to shut down. She heaved a sigh. Even if she said that in the midst of her gigantic ball of stress, she wouldn't mean it. She loved helping others find love. She'd been playing Cupid and fixing couples up since she was in junior high. Some of them were married today.
Outside on the sidewalk, she huffed out a breath and considered her options. There were a few attractive, normal guys who worked with her brothers at the fire station. A couple more that worked out on some of the U-pick farms who might not be such a bad idea. She was about to get into her car and drive back to her house to start calling around and pleading her case when she spotted a flash of white fur making a beeline for the tree in the center of the town square.
"No, Ski, stop!" she yelled out to the dog, but it was useless. When there was something to climb in his sight, the poodle ignored everyone. He'd been trained to climb from the time he was a puppy. Some people in town joked that he was part goat. Casey raced after him, but the dog outran her, leaping onto the lowest-hanging branch.
If she could nab him ... She kicked off her shoes and lunged, but Ski agilely moved to the next branch. Casey had no choice but to go after him. Though he loved climbing, he hadn't mastered how to get back down. Each limb she hauled herself up onto, the dog moved to a higher one, then gave her a wide, doggy grin like they were playing a game. Casey gritted her teeth and kept after him until they were on branches at least three stories off the ground.
Casey managed to gently coax the dog into coming toward her. She grabbed him then slipped, skidding backward rapidly on the thick limb. Heart pounding at how close she'd come to falling, Casey stroked the top of the white poodle's head and whispered words of reassurance.
"Most dogs go for walks — they don't climb trees," she said as Ski leaned his head back and looked up at her like he was asking what they were going to do. Casey had no idea how she was going to get down from the majestic oak that sat smack in the center of the square. Normally, she could climb up and down in a flash, even carrying a small dog. She'd perfected the art of tree climbing. Growing up, she'd been determined to be better than her brothers were, and she'd never missed an opportunity to rub it in their faces that she could best them.
But when she'd grabbed the dog and slid, she'd wedged herself snugly into the vee between two thick branches. No matter how hard she turned and twisted, the tree held on for dear life, and she couldn't free herself.
"Gotta lay off the cookies," she muttered. Practically inhaling sweets when she'd had to deal with being left at the altar wasn't the best method for coping with messy emotions.
A crowd had gathered below, and she could almost imagine the whispers. What has Casey gotten herself into now? That was another downside to growing up in a small town — people had long memories, and she was sure some of them could recite her many mishaps over the years.
"Hang on, Casey," called Mayor Bridges. The elderly woman had rescued the dog from his previous living conditions. She did her best to look after him and prevent his escapes, but Ski was crafty and, as Casey had learned, very agile. As the September wind whipped up, the mayor put her hand on her head to hold her scarf in place. "I called the fire department."
Of her three brothers, two of them were firefighters, and she knew one of them was on duty now. She couldn't remember if it was Lincoln or Rafferty, but neither would let her live it down if he was the one to rescue her. She wiped the back of her neck, thankful that the weather was a lot cooler than August had been. It was the final week in September, and already a few of the leaves had changed into their fall colors. She'd always loved this time of year, but now she wondered if she'd always think of it as the season she and Dominic split. He'd said they'd spend an eternity falling in love over and over again. Apparently, his definition of forever and hers hadn't been on the same page.
The familiar wail of the fire truck's siren echoed across the square. Casey didn't bother to try to get a look at any of the crew. She'd know soon enough which brother was going to tease her mercilessly.
She heard the sounds of the men calling out to one another after the truck was parked, but she couldn't determine whose voices they were. When she chanced a peek below, the truck's stabilizers were already extended out and hovering over the pads, waiting for the pins to be put into place. From conversations with her brothers over the years, Casey knew the ladder would be raised and rotated before it was extended upward, so she had a few minutes to continue wallowing in her embarrassment. She settled back to wait, and when the bucket reached her position and she saw the firefighter inside, her smile disappeared.
Excerpted from Wedding Date Rescue by Sonya Weiss, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2017 Sonya Weiss. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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