With: Jennifer Shirk
Kinsley just wanted to have some fun for a change. Then she wakes up in a stranger's bed, with her bridesmaid dress on backward and a hazy memory of what happened at her friend's wedding. With a quick escape, she can get back to her predictable life. But then she meets her new boss--the same guy she'd woken up next to--and seeing him with a clear head doesn't make him any less attractive.
Mixing business with pleasure has never been Damon's style, and easily avoided, but the hotel he just bought comes with an unexpected perk--its manager. "Sensible" Kinsley today is as alluring as "impulsive" Kinsley was the night before, and she talks him into a deal. If she can turn around the hotel by the end of summer, he won't tear it down to put up a more profitable condos.
Their plan is simple...until falling for each other becomes more than they bargained for.
Chapter One for Bargaining with the Boss
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Shirk
All rights reserved - an Entangled Publishing, Ltd. publication
A situation like that really couldn't be entered into lightly. After all, the stranger was a man. A hot man. Kind of out of her element, but that was the point. She needed a plan first.
The way she looked at it, three things were holding her back: 1) the pink organza bridesmaid dress she currently wore was not her best look, 2) she didn't have much practice in approaching strange men, especially at weddings, and 3) truth be toldâ€¦it was pretty darn good cake. She shoveled in another forkful.
Her friend Arden came over to her with a fist planted on her hip. "Is this your idea of moving on? Stuffing your face with fat and over-processed carbs?"
Kinsley rolled her eyes. Some people really knew how to suck the joy out of dessert binging. "Just because I didn't bring a date to Lori's wedding doesn't mean I haven't moved on."
"Well, I'd be more convinced if you just went over and said hi to that guy at table five you've been staring at all night."
She winced. "Have I really been that obvious?"
"Only to me. Wedding planners have extra keen perception. It's our way of ensuring future clientele."
Kinsley stabbed another piece of cake with her fork. "Ah, so you're like the wedding version of an ambulance chaser?" She popped the last bite into her mouth and grinned.
"Pretty much." Arden chuckled then turned her attention back to her event checklist. "I see the band is playing for another hour and a half. If you don't make a move on Mr. Tall-dark-but-doesn't-know-you're-alive, you're going to miss your chance."
Miss my chance. Realization flooded her. Yes, it was time to officially move on. She hadn't gone on a date since Paul had broken up with her well over eight months ago.
Paul. She held in a sigh at the sudden thought of him and why he had called off their engagement. Apparently, she was too "sensible" for him. Right. How can anyone be too sensible? It didn't make, well, sense.
She briskly brushed the crumbs from her hands and stood. Yes, better make a move on that man now if she really was determined to forget Paul. She couldn't believe her luck when she saw the hot guy hadn't brought a date to the wedding, either.
Kinsley ran her tongue over her teeth, checking for frosting and, when all seemed clear, adjusted her strapless gown over her nonexistent chest one last time. "Okay, I'm ready," she announced to Arden. "How do I look?"
Arden smiled. "Great. Like a puffy pink vamp."
"Wish me luck."
"You don't need any." Arden gave her a thumbs-up. "Go for it, girl."
Yep. She was going for it. Totally going. Practically gone. Yet for some reason her feet still hadn't budged.
Arden frowned. "In case you didn't hear me, I said go for it."
"Right. I know." She nibbled her bottom lip as she glanced around. The dance floor seemed a football field away now. What in the world was she thinking? She couldn't just approach a wedding guest like that. What would she say? Hi. Come here often? Andâ€¦
Now that she thought about it, were those chest pains she was having? She placed a hand over her heart and massaged. It was quite possible she really was having a heart attack. Too much cake. Maybe she should pull out her phone and check WebMd to be sure. Her forehead felt a little damp, too.
Arden folded her arms and, as if reading her mind, muttered, "You're not having a heart attack, Kinsley. It's nerves. Just go and talk to the guy. Offer to buy him a drink. Compliment his tie, for goodness sake. Anything!"
"I-I can't." She swallowed and felt on the verge of tears. "Who am I kidding, Arden? This isn't me. I'm no vamp. I'm not confident like that. Plus, he's going to think I'm stalking him."
"Well, you kind of have been."
Her friend chuckled. "Okay, jeez. If you don't calm down, you really will give yourself a heart attack. Seriously, Kinsley, you need to do this for yourself, have a little fun. It's time to put Paul behind you. He's done a real number on your self-esteem. Plus...this has been a tough year. I know you've been feeling extra down because of what Wade did, too."
Kinsley looked away. She didn't want to think about her brother right now-or the fact that he'd sold her birthright out from under her. It was bad enough to have her boyfriend of five years break up with her because he had a sudden realization that she wasn't "interesting enough," but to then have her brother announce that he'd sold the beachfront hotel that had been in their family for three generations...well, that had completely crushed her. The hotel needed work, true, but she'd only come back home a few weeks ago. Wade never even gave her a chance to try to turn things around.
Arden laid a hand on her shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry to bring that up. But I just think you need to have a few drinks and let your hair down tonight. Forget it all. This is a happy occasion, remember? And no offense, but you've been so mopey these last few weeks. I've had my work cut out for me trying to convince the bride that you would in fact smile for the pictures."
Kinsley sighed. Too sensible. Uninteresting. And now mopey. She was beginning to understand her lack of male companionship a little too well.
"I guess I have been bringing the bridal party down," she said. "Maybe I do need to let loose."
"You're not getting any younger, either."
Kinsley narrowed her eyes. "Hey, no need to kick an already down woman."
Arden raised spread hands. "Sorry. But seriously, you're a great person and deserve to find happiness."
"Yeah, I know," she said quietly. She did know. In her head. It was just kind of hard to believe it in her heart when she was the last of all her friends to find that someone special. Except Arden, that is. Arden was determined to stay single now after an almost-wedding of her own and was completely satisfied in that choice.
"Listen," Arden said, taking her by the shoulders and turning her back toward the ballroom, "you go out there and be the confident woman I know you are deep down inside. You look beautiful, so if he doesn't fawn all over you, I'm sure there'll be half a dozen other men in line right after him. Just smile for heaven's sake."
Kinsley nodded. "Thanks."
"No thanks needed. Just have fun." Arden gave her a none-too-gentle shove in the general direction of the bar.
Feeling as if her bones were made of marshmallows, Kinsley awkwardly made her way across the room. The band was playing some Chicago song, the horn instruments blaring in her ears. The bride and her groom had their arms wrapped around each other, swaying off beat.
Aww... Kinsley smiled wistfully. Maybe someday, that would be her. If she could ever find her target. Wherever he'd disappeared to...
Once at the bar, she asked for a screwdriver, hoping the vodka would loosen her up. She never approached men or drank hard alcohol, but maybe it was time to start changing things. Obviously, what she had been doing before wasn't working for her.
With a wink, the bartender slipped the drink in front of her. She took a sip and almost choked on the fumes. Gah! The bartender had a heavy hand. But at least she was drinking something new instead of her old standby, Chardonnay. Baby steps.
Then out of the corner of her eye, she saw him. Halleluiah. He was in the back of the room, by the pasta table. Oh no. With sinking despair, she realized he was sucking face with the maid of honor, and she almost whimpered out loud. That should have been her face he was sucking. Then, as if she wasn't already feeling lower than low, she saw those hands of his, those gorgeous ringless hands begin to travel down the back of the woman's dress and cup her backside.
Kinsley turned away, feeling the vodka travel back up her throat. "Figures," she muttered, taking another long sip.
Like she had a shot with a guy like that anyway. Because naturally all gorgeous men flocked to the sensible uninteresting cake-horking bridesmaids first, right? Ha! No, men like that wanted a hot fling with an exciting woman. And though she hadn't met the maid of honor until the rehearsal dinner, Kinsley had learned she'd graduated with honors from Cornell, had some kind of finance job in Manhattan, and was a former Miss Rhode Island. Kind of hard to compete with all that.
"Are you okay?" a deep, male voice asked beside her.
"What do you think?" she murmured, rubbing her forehead. Then realizing her rudeness, she turned to offer an apology.
And lost the ability to speak.
She was hit with dark blue eyes first. He was tall and lean with combed-back dirty-blond hair. A beard shadowed his face, but not so much that she couldn't notice the dimple in his left cheek. Best of all, the man filled a suit like it was a second skin. Her heart gave a short flutter.
Wow, what were the odds of seeing so many gorgeous men in one room? He looked a little like Chris Hemsworth. Then she had a thought. Since Lori's husband was related to Tina Fey, and a few celebrities were here, maybe he was Chris Hemsworth.
The man cocked his head, his blue eyes dancing. "I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not Chris Hemsworth."
So much for thinking and not saying.
"Oops," she said with a weak smile. "Sorry. I guess I would have known for sure if you'd taken off your shirt."
The man lifted his brows. "You want me to remove my shirt?"
Her gaze inadvertently dipped to his brawny chest. Hell to the yes.
"Yeah," she sighed, mimicking her thoughts again. Then she gasped. "I mean, NO! Not at all! Not that you don't have a great body-er, chest." Oh, lordy, what am I saying? "I just meant I've seen Thor several times-you know the movie-and well, Chris Hemsworth's, um, chest was different..." She shut her mouth and swallowed.
Classic example of why she should always have a solid plan in place first before approaching strange men.
His lips twitched. "How about we start off with a drink, then maybe afterward we can discuss me removing my shirt."
"Oh, no," she said with a nervous laugh. "Thank you. I'm fine." She raised her glass as proof and was dismayed to find it empty, with the exception of a few ice cubes. Huh. No wonder her lips were so loose.
He gave her a wry look. "Doesn't look so fine. Are you sure you don't want one little drink with me?"
She smiled sheepishly. "Well, okay. Maybe I could use another drink." Heck, why not? He was handsome and he hadn't bolted from her, despite her runaway mouth and obvious obsession with Chris Hemsworth. Maybe she'd even let him buy her two drinks. And now that she looked at him, really looked at him, she could see that he was way better-looking than the guy who hooked up with the maid of honor, and even much better-looking than Chris Hemsworth. She shouldn't have said no to him removing his shirt.
"What are you drinking?" he asked.
"Orange juice and vodka, but I don't really like it. You can order me whatever else you want. Just not a Chardonnay."
"Got it. You don't like Chardonnay."
"No, I love Chardonnay." She heaved a depressed sigh. "That's the point."
"What's the point? Self-denial?"
"No. The point is I always drink Chardonnay. I'm trying to expand my horizons. Be different." She gestured to the glass he was holding. "How about I just have what you're having?"
She made a face.
He shook his head. "Of all the gin joints, in all the worldâ€¦" he muttered.
"Oh, I don't want gin, either."
About the Author:
Jennifer Shirk has a bachelor degree in pharmacy-which has in NO WAY at all helped her with her writing career. But she likes to point it out, since it shows romantic-at-hearts come in all shapes, sizes, and mind-numbing educations.
She is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of sweet (and sometimes even funny) romances for Montlake Romance and Entangled Publishing. Her novel, FIANCE BY FATE, a 2015 Readers' Crown Finalist, became an Amazon #1 bestseller for Series Romance. And recently, WRONG BROTHER, RIGHT MATCH, WON the Sweet Traditional category of the 2017 Golden Quill Contest and became a #1 Amazon bestseller for Holiday Romance and USA Today bestseller.
She serves on many volunteer boards in her community, but is most proud of her work on the Ocean City Free Public Library Board of Trustees, where she has served as President for over 3 years. She resides in a beach resort in NJ, and when she's not involved in all the above, she's taking care of her most treasured possessions: her husband, daughter, and dog (Sox).