The Reluctant Love Collection is very special to me. All the stories in this collection are standalone novels with no cross over. The only thing they have in common is that the characters are reluctant to participate in the love story . . . at first, and each novel will use a different romance novel trope.
Check out the samples for the first two in the collection, TAHOE BLUE and BEST LAID PLANS.
TAHOE BLUE (A Second Chance Romance)
Coming back to Tahoe was a mistake. At least, that’s what Carson Keaton thinks the minute he returns to his hometown. When he ran away five years ago, he left everything behind, including Brand West, the only person he ever loved. Not that he had a choice. But now that the danger has passed, he returns home to reclaim Brand. The biggest question is, is it too late?
Brand West is an EMT with a broken heart. Just after high school graduation, the love of his life hopped a Greyhound to Hollywood, leaving without explanation. Now, five years later, Brand is determined to forget about Carson by throwing himself into his career, his community, and—thanks to his best friend playing matchmaker—a hot new lover. But now Carson’s back in town, as irresistible as ever, leaving Brand with two choices: find closure and move on with new love, or give an old flame a second chance.
Chapter One Excerpt
Brand West reached up to the sky and stretched his arms high until his abs pulled tight in both directions. Holding the position just a minute longer, a small moan escaping his lips, he tilted his head back and closed his eyes. When he had pushed his muscles to the max, he released the stretch and, standing upright, let his body relax.
It’d been too long since he’d hit the trail. Looking around at the towering pines, he inhaled deeply and let the thick scent of spruce and earth fill his body. A few steps forward and he stood on the lookout, Lake Tahoe splayed out before him down below, deep blue and still.
God, he loved it here. Especially these late fall mornings. Those mornings when the air was cold and hinted of winter. He craved the smell of chimney fires, the feel of the crisp clean air in his lungs, the quiet mornings and starry evenings. Ever since he was a teen, he would climb up to the lookout behind his grandfather’s cabin and sit on the flat boulder for hours, a feeling of peace settling in his soul.
Brand smiled as he watched the sun peek out from behind the Sierra Nevadas at the opposite end of the lake. The crunch of pine needles and new snow caught his attention. Turning, he smiled as his closest friend Ryan rounded the corner. Her dark hair was falling out of the messy bun she piled on the top of her head and her cheeks were rosy from both the chilly air and being winded.
“I swear…to God…I’m gonna fuckin’ beat…you for making me climb this…mountain before my coffee.” Ryan reached the boulder and doubled over, her left hand flush against her chest.
Brand laughed out loud, the sound echoing down into the valley below. “Coffee, before a run? You really are going to give yourself a heart attack, you know that, don’t you?”
Ryan plopped down onto the boulder and waved him off. “Never gonna happen. Why do you think I keep you around? I got my own personal EMT to jolt me back to life if I go down.”
“You know I don’t actually carry my AED on runs, right?”
Ryan waggled her eyebrows. “No need. You are a walking talking AED, doll. Damn, who are you working out for?” She gripped his forearms and ran her fingers along the strong muscle line.
Brand rolled his eyes. Here we go again. “No one. And I’m really not in the mood for another lecture about why I need to be opening up myself for a real relationship. I’m just not interested right now.”
Ryan narrowed her eyes. “Sure you’re not. You know, there are other fish in the sea, Brand. I know you feel there’s no one that can compare to him, but honey, believe me, there is.” She held his hand and entwined her fingers with his. “It’s been five years, Brand. Five years, and you mean to tell me that you’ve met no one who is relationship material? Not even a worth a second date? Are you sure you want to be waiting around for something that may never happen?”
Brand pulled his hand from hers. “I’m not waiting around for him, Ry. I’ve dated other people. Lots. I’m just…busy. I don’t have time for relationships.” Brand heard the bullshit flow from his mouth.
You’d have time if he were around, his inner voice poked at him.
“So, then am I wrong to think you hooked up with Teo?”
Brand cringed. He should’ve known Teo would mention their night to Ryan. Well, no use avoiding it.
“It was one night.”
“One night?” Ryan raised her eyebrows.
Brand put his hands up in surrender. “What do you want me to say?”
“I’d like to know how it came to be that my bestie ended up doing the horizontal mambo with my assistant.”
BEST LAID PLANS (An Enemies to Lovers Romance)
Jason Reilly is an accountant with a life plan. Finish grad school. Check. Pass the CPA exam. Check. Get an entry level position at a large accounting firm and work his way up to partner. Check. Find a husband who will help him reach his earning potential. Double check. Life couldn’t be better. It’s just as he’s always planned. But now his firm is sending him abroad for a year and with his partner’s refusal to go with him, Jason is desperate to take control and get his life back on track. And that means no distractions.
Ignacio Gomez is a free spirit. Not tied to anything, he lives a carefree and easy life in the state of Oaxaca. Living outside the box, he enjoys his days as a tour guide for gringos in search of authentic adventure. Not to mention the enjoyment he gets from the never ending line of gorgeous men (and women) his work brings him. No drama. No strings. Just sex. Life is perfect. But when he meets a straight-edge accountant with more rules than hairs on his head, all bets are off as he tries to win his affection and realizes he’s falling for the one type of person he can’t stand.
Chapter One Excerpt
Jason Reilly placed the napkin at a forty-five degree angle to the dinner plate. He pinched the corners of the fabric creating a crisp point at the end. Perfection. Stepping back, he cocked his head, bit his lip, and turned it a bit more. He admired the table from where he stood. The crisp white linen, recently pressed, flowed in an A-line halfway to the floor, the two place settings were impeccable, and the extravagant silver candle holders added a certain old world feel that he knew Bradley would love.
Jason bit his lip and held back a smile as he eyed his purchase from this afternoon. The stemless Waterford wine glasses were a bit of an indulgence, but he couldn’t resist. Everything had to be perfect for Bradley. After all, if you couldn’t splurge on the night of your proposal, when could you?
A timer dinged in the kitchen, and Jason rushed in to check his preparations. He glanced at the timer on the oven. It was nearly 8:30. Bradley would be there shortly. After removing the soufflé from the oven, he grabbed the crudité from the refrigerator and placed it on the counter. The simple cheese and charcuterie board would certainly please his soon-to-be fiancé.
“Everything’s ready,” he said to the empty room. “Tonight is the first night of the rest of your life. Just waiting on the man.” The nerves in his stomach twisted into a tightly wound ball. He pressed a hand against his abs. “Better make sure I’m perfect, too.” He flew to the restroom for one last once over.
He flicked on the lights and stood in front of the mirror. Running his hands through his copper-colored hair, he straightened his shirt collar and tugged his shirtsleeves up a couple inches. He blew out a long, slow breath. After nearly eight years of hard work, eight years of dedication and networking and keeping his goals firmly locked in his sight, his destiny was about to be fulfilled. A smile tugged at his lips. Years of planning and sacrifice were finally paying off.
“About damn time.”
A knock at the door caught his attention, snapping him from his thoughts. He looked at his reflection and held his gaze in the mirror. “Here goes nothin’. You got this.” Step five of the Life Plan was about to commence. He rolled his shoulders back and gave himself a confident nod before walking out to the living room.
Opening the door, Jason’s breath caught. Bradley Marsel, Jr. stood in the hall of the high-rise apartment looking all kinds of sexy. A sharp Armani shirt was tucked neatly into a pair of grey slacks that fit ever so snugly on his lower half, a matching jacket slung over his shoulder. Of course, even in work clothes, Jason lusted over him. But who wouldn’t melt in the presence of the hottest bachelor this side of the Mississippi. Bradley was practically San Francisco royalty, and as the only son of Kenneth and Vivica Marsel, founders of technology mega-corp Techno-Mar Incorporated and one of the top ten wealthiest families in the world, Bradley was splattered all over the society pages for all to gawk at.
“You look amazing, Brad,” Jason said as he stepped to the side inviting him in. “New suit?”
Bradley took two steps in and wrapped his arm around Jason’s waist. He pulled him close and crushed his lips to his sliding his tongue into Jason’s mouth. Jason’s knees weakened at the contact and he held onto Bradley’s shoulders to steady himself. Oh, God, this man knew exactly how to kiss. Jason’s stomach tightened as Bradley leaned into him, their bodies flush against each other. Jason was falling. Far and hard. Into that place where only he and Bradley existed. No work obligations. No Paparazzi documenting their every move. Just them. Together.
Bradley pulled back and smiled. “Yes.”
Jason furrowed his eyebrows and cocked his head to the side. “Yes what?”
Bradley laughed softly, and Jason smelled the subtle scent of anise as it rolled off his tongue. He must’ve had an absinthe.
“You asked about the suit.” Bradley leaned in for another quick kiss. “Yes. It’s new.”
Jason’s heart beat wildly in his chest and he internally chastised himself. He could barely remember a question he asked moments before, he’d never get through this proposal if Bradley didn’t keep his damn hot lips to himself.
“Of course. It’s nice. The color suits you.” He closed the door. “Dinner is nearly ready. I’ve got some appetizers out on the counter for us to start. You must be hungry after the opening this afternoon.”
Bradley tossed the jacket over the couch and headed to the kitchen. “You know me too well, Jay. Those events never have anything fit for human consumption. But Mother insisted that I be there for the ceremony. I mean, it is our wing of the museum, so I suppose she has a point. But having to spend the afternoon rubbing elbows with museum brownnosers. Kill me now.”
He took a seat at the bar and began to pick at the charcuterie while Jason poured him a generous glass of Chardonnay. Bradley took half the liquid down before setting the glass on the counter.
“This tastes familiar,” Bradley said looking on thoughtfully as Jason refilled his glass.
Jason smiled. “Well, it should. I had to ship it here all the way from Burgundy.”
“Ah, the Meursault. I knew I recognized it from somewhere. Oh my God, that trip, Jay. The bed and breakfast there was—”
“Among other things. We could’ve spent the week in a five-star suite, if you would’ve just let my people arrange the accommodations.”
“I know, babe. But I wanted to be close to work. And that place was within walking distance. Besides, my performance that week pleased the client and impressed my boss so much, it landed me that promotion.”
“You know, you don’t have to work so much.”
“Only one more step up and I’m partner, babe.”
“Partner at an accounting firm.”
“Dewitt and Delaney have big clients, Brad. They’re not just an accounting firm. They’re the accounting firm. Don’t forget, working on your parents account is how we met.”
Bradley raised an eyebrow, ready to argue. Jason anticipated the offense. “And, none of that matters anyway. Once I’m partner, I’ll be able to set my schedule. You’ll be seeing so much of me you won’t know what to do with yourself.”
Bradley took a long swig from his glass. “It is good.”
Jason smiled. “Despite having to survive four-star accommodations, if we hadn’t stayed there, we’d have never discovered this golden pearl of a beverage,” he said topping off Bradley’s glass a bit more. “I say, it was worth it.” He held his glass up.
Bradley shrugged his shoulders and clinked his glass against Jason’s. “I suppose.”
Jason released an internal sigh of relief. Thank God. That conversation was sending the tone of the evening in the wrong direction. Any quarrel, even a small spat, would put a damper on his plans later that evening. First, they’d dine on their main course. Next, a decadent black forest cherry cheesecake. And finally, after they’d retired to the living room for the evening, Jason would get down on one knee, tell him he’d love him for all eternity, and ask him to—
“Are you even listening to me?”
Jason blinked. Shit. He’d zoned out. “Oh, I, uh . . .”
“You know, if I wanted to be ignored, I’d hang around my father. Seriously, Jason, you seem different tonight. What gives?”
“I’m sorry. It’s . . . nothing. I was just . . .” Think dammit! “I was just thinking the salmon soufflé’s probably ready. Why don’t you take a seat in the dining room and I’ll bring it out?”
Bradley crinkled his forehead. His dark brown eyes pierced through Jason’s soul and Jason nearly confessed his real plans for the evening. After another moment, Bradley stood and took his glass to the dining room.
“Salmon, huh? I hope you didn’t use capers, you know how they make me bloat,” he called over his shoulder as he exited.
“No,” Jason whispered releasing a long, low breath. “No capers.”