Excerpt #2 "What is this, 1980?"
"Keila, when I went home for the summer, it all hit me. Smack in the face like a frozen washcloth, I had an ice cold wake up call. I spent seven weeks answering calls at an insurance company and I wanted to swallow a bottle of pills just for the excitement of an ambulance ride to the next town over. There was no way I was going back for longer than a week and certainly not forever. But, that was all I knew. I had zero plans beyond finishing school. I already had the RA position lined up, so that was taking a few thousand off my bill, but it wasn't enough."
As she sipped from her bottle of water, Bri looked over and saw that her audience of one was still captivated and continued.
"So, I'm trying to finish this online sign up for a dance class that I can't afford, and this banner pops up for this dating website. It's called Purposeful Mate. Sounds all sci-fi, right? Like, build a mate. I swear, when I clicked it, I wasn't even looking to date. Honestly, I was looking for a distraction. People basically sign up and get matched up based on their needs and desires, but mostly need. I was shocked. I had never heard of anything like this back home. I started doing research, and there are a bunch of sites like it out there. As a college student, I could agree to keep company with someone and flat out ask for an allowance to do it."
"You're a hooker!" Keila yelled, then immediately clamped her hand over her mouth.
The girls stared at each other. The word bounced around the room, at the volume and intensity it was delivered, and assaulted them both. Keila didn't mean to be harsh, but it was her honest gut reaction. Her friend was flat out dating for profit. Wasn't that the definition of being a hooker? Just thinking about it made her blush. Jewish or not, her mom would pull her out of school and drop her off at the nearest convent. That so wasn't the point, though. She was supposed to be being a friend and not a Judgmental Judy. Brianna looked like she might cry and stop the conversation. Keila couldn't really blame her.
Keila slid closer and put an arm around her. "I'm sorry. Name-calling is never okay. You did catch me off guard, though. My fault. I thought I already knew what you were going to say, and obviously, I wasn't as committed to listening as I thought. Forgive me? I'm stupid and I have a big mouth. I'm zipping it and I'm going back to listening. For real, this time."
"Name calling is never okay, and yeah, it was kind of stupid and a little mean." Bri elbowed her in the ribs. Keila couldn't even complain. She had it coming, but more importantly, Bri didn't move out of the hug. That made her happy.
"I'm not a whore. I swear."
"I'm, I didn't—"
"It's okay. I know how it sounds, but I just need you to know that. Keila, you would be amazed at some of the non-sexual, seriously boring stuff someone will pay for. I went to the opera with one man. That was it. He was married and his wife was disabled. She didn't like going out to fancy places anymore and he didn't want to give up their box seats. He paid me five hundred dollars to go to fabulous restaurants and wonderful shows. Plus, he sent me to get completely made over for the night—hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, the works. He got a date and I got the experience and some great gifts. He really taught me a lot in those few months."
"That doesn't sound so bad. Why did you stop seeing him?"
"He was only offering a short-term arrangement. Basically, a few fancy dates a month. I was looking for a real long-term arrangement. I loved that taste of the fancy side of life. I was hooked and a few dates a month weren't enough. I was really lucky he was my first one, though. We understood we couldn't give one another what we wanted and we ended on great terms. I was scared to ask for all I wanted and needed. He taught me that it was okay to do that. Hell, it was the reason the site existed. So, with his encouragement, I updated my profile and poured my heart into it."
"Wow. So, that's how you met Michael."
"I wish. I went through plenty of duds first, but those are stories for another time. There are a lot of liars out there and few freaks."
The vibration between them startled both girls into separating. It took a second for the realization to dawn. Bri began patting the bed to feel for the phone that must have slipped from the pocket of her baggy sweatpants. She kept an alarm set so that she could call and say goodnight to Michael. It began on show nights as a way for him to know she was home safe from any late performances. Once their relationship developed, he liked the idea of being the last voice she heard before going to sleep and knowing that she was safe in bed for the night. It also became one of their first official rules. He loved the idea of those. The goodnight ritual was both reasonable and practical, so Brianna didn't offer much pushback, but she was still nineteen. She got forgetful and sometimes obstinate. Michael had zero compunction doling out consistent hand to butt reminders.
"Birth control alarm?" Keila laughed and wiggled her eyebrows.
"No! What is this, 1980? I take the shot every three months. It's my alarm to call Michael and say goodnight."
"Oh, go ahead. We can chat another time."
Bri pulled her back as she began to scoot off the bed. "No. I'm not tired. I'm not going to bed and I want to finish our conversation. I'll text him."
Excerpt #3 "No Judgement"
"Would you please just hit enter? You're going to do it, eventually. Don't think I haven't seen you toggling back and forth. Writing a paper, my ass."
Brianna was pushing her friend harder than ever, because the clock was ticking and they were running out of time.
"Another dress fitting? Bri, every time we go, you change your mind just enough that we have to go back. I need to study. I need to find another job. Do you know what I don't need? I don't need to stand on another podium being stuck with pins, so we can get the fit just right. Actually, I don't think anyone needs more of that in their lives."
"You're deflecting. You won't have to find another job if you just hit enter."
"You just shut it. I might not have to hit enter if the job offer comes through and I max out my student loans. Maybe I'll move back into the dorms."
Brianna nearly fell inside Keila's closet. A closet that was, in fact, bigger than the single room she would be in if she moved back on campus.
"Right. From doorman-high rise back to sharing ten toilets with thirty girls. That is never going to happen."
"Didn't I tell you to shut it? What are you looking for, anyway?"
"In all of this mess? The lost city of Atlantis! I need your sexy patent sling backs. I don't have any heels close enough in height to my wedding shoes for the fitting. I've only seen you wear them twice, and then it was only half the night. You should just let me keep them."
Brianna kept looking. She loved her roommate like a sister, they were best friends, but the girl was a slob and didn't keep anything in its place. When she walked into her room, she had no idea the horrors her bathroom or closets held. The bed was always made, and only her desk showed signs of daily usage, but behind every door and closed drawer was a war zone. The left shoe had been located in the front hall closet; however, the location of the right one was yet to be determined. The only thing the prolonged search gave her was time to keep talking Keila into hitting the damn enter key.
* * *
Keila hated admitting that Brianna was right. It set a bad precedent, but she did not want her senior year of college to be an exercise in regressions. Moving back into the dorms was ridiculous, even as a notion. She had put off applying to be a resident assistant, which meant tomb sized single or sharing with someone brand-new.
There was no judgment, anymore, between the girls, but Keila still wasn't super comfortable with the idea of diving into the sugar bowl. Dating specifically for money was, well... Even the name made her feel a little icky. No, what it made her feel, no matter how expensive the gifts, was cheap. She didn't think of Brianna in that way, but when she saw her own life through that same lens, it felt different. If her mother and grandmother ever found out, they would disown her on principle. It was really the only way they could disown her, since she had zero chance of inheriting the brownstone in the foreseeable future, and beyond that, neither of them were worth more than a couple thousand dollars and a couple of life insurance policies.
"And, you really think I can do it without it ever involving sex?" Keila's voice wavered with the deep mire of doubt she continued to wade in.
"I don't know about forever. It'll depend on how long you're in the sugar bowl. The biggest thing you need to remember is that you decide, period. It might take a while, but you can get the arrangement that's perfect for you. I did."
"Like everything else with Michael, I'm thinking your arrangement is rare."
"Not as rare as you think. Multi-million dollar companies don't get built on terrible results. But, yeah, they did break the mold with him."
Each of the girls had a deep U-shaped closet in their room. Brianna's was set up with shoe racks and matching hangers. Her clothes were hung seasonally and color-coded. She could also see the floor of the said closet. The contrast was the minefield that was Keila's closet. This was why Michael was constantly praising her for keeping her room so nice. All of her mess was on the floor of the closet. Bri had already kicked past a mountain mixture of clean and dirty clothes. She'd stepped on three buttons or clothes with buttons. It was hard to tell.
"Found it! If you don't clean this closet out this weekend, I'm telling. It's petty, but you need help. Now, we seriously need to get going. Michael is meeting us for lunch when we're done, and if I'm late one more time this week, well, I think we both know that's my butt— literally. Please hit send. You know we'll help screen for you. Michael even gave his stamp of approval on your profile. There's nothing left to do. Unless you've changed your mind about staying here for the year and letting Michael pay for it."
"Absolutely not! There are so many things wrong with that, I don't even know where to begin. I'm not having your future husband turn into my sugar daddy."
"Sex will definitely be off the table, plus, you already have a semi-relationship. You know what he would expect and he's clear on what you would need. It would only be for a year. Married men are the best kind. They absolutely won't monopolize your time. It would be a much more hands-off approach," Bri said, sitting down beside her friend, knowing this was a move destined to make them late and land her back in Michael's crosshairs. She hadn't been too much of a bridezilla, but she was off her game and had displayed one too many fits of temper and disregard.
"Maybe, but not my best friend's husband. Besides, Michael is a little intense for my taste and his approach—well, let's just say hands-off isn't the description I would use."
Keila rubbed her ass unconsciously, thinking about the one and only time she earned her own dose of Michael. About a month earlier, the girls had royally pissed him off and, according to him, took about five years off his life.
Excerpt #1 "Graduation Day"
"You left out Black, Mother. I'm a Black-Jewish woman. That part is always conveniently left off by you and by Grams when you're spouting affirmations, but all I have to do is look in the mirror and I can see the truth as plain as day all over my face. You see it, too. My God, sometimes it's like you can't even look at me, because of how much you see him in my face. Is this why you look through me? Is it?"
"I can't deal with your hysterics today."
"I am not hysterical. I think I'm quite calm, considering the run around I've gotten for the last eighteen years."
"Please get ready to come down for dinner. Your grandmother is having guests and she won't be happy if she has to explain your late appearance at the table."
"I could just not come down at all. She could tell them I'm sick." "Keila, I'm begging you. These social things are important to your grandmother. With everything she does for us, a few social functions aren't a lot to ask."
"Nothing has changed for you, has it? She's still controlling you. Whatever money Grandpa left or whatever secrets she's holding over you can't be worth it. So what, you got pregnant in college. Big whoop! Who didn't?"
"I am not doing this. I know you're working me up on purpose, but I made my choices a long time ago and going over it every time you're in the mood to stir up trouble isn't going to change anything. She's my mother. She was right. I accepted that a long time ago. It would be great if, just once, you could follow my example."
"You mean I should blindly do what you say no matter how it makes me feel. I should be just like you, huh? That's a hard pass. I think I'll be my own woman. I'll ask what I want. I'll feel what I want. And, I won't become her second bird in a gilded cage."
"So disrespectful. Get your attitude together and get yourself downstairs. And, Keila, don't bring this up again."
Turning her back to her mother, Keila waited for the silence to eventually crescendo to the height of discomfort. Then she would hear her mother move across the room and the door shut behind her. It was how these talks always ended. Master avoider, that was the woman who raised her, guided her, and taught her how to deal with the world and she couldn't wait to get away from her and try things in a whole new way.
Find your ideal daddy. Is he dark and dirty? Does he make you blush with the things he says and does? Is he about lavishing you with gifts or experiences? Or, is he healing a part of you long buried and forgotten? He can be your teacher, mentor, friend, supporter, snuggle partner, and, yes, even a disciplinarian because sometimes you need to hear no, even when you don’t want to.
Asking for exactly what you want can be hard, but a good daddy somehow usually figures it out. His gift of discernment is what makes him special. He’s fulfilling a need and being completed, himself, at the same time. He’s creating the safe place you need to be the best you possible.
Keila had no idea what she was getting into when she embarked on seeking her own special arrangement, but once she met Jack, it all came together in her mind. Now, she just had to articulate her needs and her wants without fear. The fear was blocking her blessings, and the fact was after a long get to know you period, she knew Jack was for her, even if it was only temporary.
Jack was devastated after his wife’s death and poured all his energies into work while ignoring his love life, beyond his physical needs. Just when he thought it would be this way forever, he meets a young woman who begins to consume his head and his heart quite unexpectedly. It is a slow building relationship that reignites things in the powerful man that he, too, believed to be buried forever.
It’ll take time to shift friendship and mentoring into romance, but the best things in life are worth waiting for and often lead to the best results. Keila and Jack meet through friends who have taken their arrangement to the next level. Now, they, too, will need to figure out what Daddy Arrangement is best for them.
Publisher's Note: This sweet, interracial romance is about an older man and a younger woman. If that is offensive to you, please do not read it.
Leah begins her holidays with a tightly timed cross country dash to make her international flight home to the States after accepting a job and moving to Japan. Things start out well enough, until she discovers that a handsome man is occupying the seat she had splurged on as an expensive bit of self indulgence. Not a great traveler in the best of times, Leah’s frustration comes out loud and strong.
They start out as strangers on the train, but end up as a lot more, as the thorn in her side becomes her knight in shining armor helping her through repeated obstacles.
He’d been thinking of getting her alone for a quick holiday romp the entire train ride, but now when he offers a solution and a place to stay, he has an entirely different plan in mind. She could end up being his very own Christmas miracle. Sure, the smart, robust, sassy lady could use a lesson in manners and being grateful for what you have, and Adrian believes he’s just the man to teach her.
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Harper Harrison is an accomplished, independent, and vibrant young woman. As a freelance production stage manager, she's no stranger to being in charge. She knows how to get the impossible done, even if she has to take a few shortcuts for the sake of theatre magic. She has one fatal flaw, though. When things get complicated, uncomfortable, or she even thinks they might go wrong, especially in her personal life, she bolts.
Lucas Mason is a fellow freelancer, and when they work the same show, sparks fly. They share a love of the stage and high stakes sex. They've christened nearly every location backstage unashamedly, but Harper wants more. Lucas makes every effort to keep her at arm's length. He blames it on their crazy schedules, but Harper believes something more is going on.
They reconnect after an extended break and Harper is shocked to find out that Lucas is now her boss. He has a dominant streak that he isn't afraid to display, and she isn't a fan. Answering to Lucas takes more than a little getting used to, and after a trip or two over his knee, she decides that maybe a relationship with him is more than she bargained for, after all.
Harper leaves town to chase her Broadway dream and to take comfort in the familiarity of her ex-boyfriend. New York isn’t home, though, and Harper has to face the truth of her situation. The easygoing man she's with isn't the one she wants or needs. Lucas is three thousand miles away, and he has no intention of chasing her.
To have the life she wants, Harper will need to face all of her demons, confess her transgressions, and accept her what's coming to her. It's the only way they'll ever find themselves sharing backstage again.
A family crisis brings her home. A gift of love brings them back together. Share in the moments that take them from friends to lovers. Beulah Isabelle Grayson and Jacob Martin meet in the seventh grade and experience life side-by-side from puberty to college. A broken heart and misunderstandings tear them apart, after their high school graduation, and Belle decides she never wants to see him again. Ten years later, Jake is back in her life and saving the day. Belle knows she owes him the one thing she hasn't been ready to give, a chance to explain. Clearing up the past finally gives them the opportunity to create the future they've both desired.
***This collection of a dozen wonderfully sweet love stories from USA Today and bestselling romance authors will warm your heart. Each book in this anthology will take you on a journey that reminds you how it feels to take the chance, and how sweet it is to fall in love with the one person who makes your heart flutter. Whether it’s a firefighter who enjoys cooking, a doctor who loves his family, a small town sheriff, a reunion between high school lovers, a second chance to make things right, a man determined to pull a woman from her survival guilt, a chemo-nurse who knows healing takes more than medicine, or a man determined to help a new neighbor feel welcome, every single tale will show these men loving and guiding the women they adore to their very own happy ever after. This is a perfect collection to curl up with… and celebrate the love in our lives.
Sweet Town Love is comprised of the following original novellas:
THE WRIGHT RECIPE by Maggie Ryan
ON THIN ICE by Stevie MacFarlane
FINDING SYDNEY by Adrienne Blake
I BELONG HERE by Misty Malone
ALWAYS YOU by Anna Kristell
LOVE TASK by Vanessa Brooks
SOCK IT TO ME by Rayanna Jamison
MID-WINTER MELT DOWN by Beth Bennett
MOMENTS by Paige Parsons
PIPER IN A PICKLE by Chula Stone
THE ART OF LOVE by Alyssa Bailey
PANTIES ARE NOT OPTIONAL by Georgia St. Claire
Her lying, cheating husband betrayed her. Devastated, she quit her teaching job. Now Robyn Rose isn't sure she has it in her to start over again in the only job she ever really enjoyed--the theatre.
But support for her penniless artistic future is limited, until she meets Joseph James Davis. He is the director of Robyn's last-chance gig, and has some unique, over-his-lap sorts of ideas about what it takes to keep his stage manager on her best behavior. He also might just be her last chance at love.
Now, if only they can get their lead actress (who is also his ex-girlfriend) to take the stage without destroying their possibility at a future together.