The Unknown Billionaire: Chapter One

September 30 is almost here! I can't wait for the official release day of The Unknown Billionaire. It's a book that took me longer than usual to write, but I absolutely love it. Early ARC reviews on Goodreads show that the ARC reviewers are loving Jarryd and Marilyn's story too.

Well, the 30th is still a few days away, but today there are a couple of things I want to share with you: Chapter One of The Unknown Billionaire and the link to the exclusive giveaway open to my newsletter subscribers only. Let's start with Chapter One first. Here it is!

TheUnknownBillionaire-600x900The Unknown Billionaire: Chapter One

“I’m betting on Jarryd.”

Marilyn Grant frowned at the glowing Jade Renner-Bilton before nodding and calling up the Notes app on her phone. She opened the document where she recorded her friends’ bets for their Captured by Love game and tapped J-A-R-R-Y-D next to Jade’s name.

“Are you annoyed at me?” Jade asked in surprise.

She showed some teeth as she forced a smile. “No.”

Jade stared at her, confused. “You don’t want me to bet on Jarryd?”

“You can bet on anyone you want,” she said with a despondent sigh, letting her mask slip.

“What’s wrong?” Jade took her arm and led her to a wicker love seat on the patio by the back entrance of Rick and Lexie Donnelly’s house, where their gang of close friends and select relatives were celebrating an engagement and four pregnancies, including Jade’s.

Marilyn plonked herself next to Jade on the sofa. Good thing they were now out of earshot of their other buddies, most of whom were congregated in the expansive garden decked out with ample outdoor seating. Others were having a dip in the inviting swimming pool, enjoying the perfect Sydney weather on the second day of the Australian summer.

“I just don’t want to imagine him winning our Captured by Love game, that’s all,” she answered Jade truthfully.

“Why not?”

She let out a big exhale. “I didn’t want to tell anyone this because I don’t want to make a big deal of it, but Jarryd and I dated for three weeks. Then two months ago, he dumped me.”

Jade’s mouth dropped open.

“Apparently, we don’t have enough chemistry.”

“That’s what he told you?” Jade asked incredulously.

Marilyn nodded, glancing in Jarryd Westbourne’s direction. Her heart galloped at the sight of him lounging casually as he chatted with the other guys, his dark brown eyes slightly squinting from the brightness of the afternoon sun. She’d been tempted to comment that his newly trimmed black hair suited him when they’d greeted each other earlier. But all they’d exchanged was a brief “hey, good to see you”—their first verbal conversation since Jarryd had told her two months ago that, while he found her attractive, he didn’t think there was a spark between them.

Liar.

If there had been any more of a spark between them, they’d have spontaneously combusted.

Whatever his real reason, it sure as hell wasn’t the flimsy excuse he’d given her. They’d smouldered together, damn it!

Marilyn shook her head vigorously to clear the hurtful thoughts from her head. Argh, she hated that her feelings for the man hadn’t abated. Worse, seeing him today wearing a plain blue shirt that clung to his well-sculpted torso reminded her just how hot of a hunk he really was. And she so needed closure!

“Hey,” Jade said softly, placing a hand on her arm.

“Do you know if Lucas has ever mentioned my parents to Jarryd, since your husband is his bestie among us?”

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“Well, Jarryd has known from the beginning I’m well-off—having a big house and driving a luxury car—but I’m sure he thought that was due to me running a successful business brokerage firm. Two days after we had a conversation about my parents, he ditched me. So I don’t think he’d known before that I’m the daughter of the Grants of Grant Ace Holdings. I mean, my name doesn’t normally appear alongside Mum and Dad’s in the media since my business is independent from Grant Ace, and Jarryd probably didn’t have a reason to make the connection before.”

“Oh, honey. I know you don’t like parading the fact that you are Barry and Alice Grant’s daughter, but what makes you think that that’s Jarryd’s reason for breaking up with you?”

“I spent days and nights wondering what went wrong or what I might have done to turn him off,” she said glumly. “We were having such a great time getting to know each other, and it wasn’t until I mentioned my parents—specifically that they own several shopping centres around the world—that he suddenly started acting distant. Then he ditched me soon after.”

“Surely he doesn’t have anything against your family’s shopping centres?” Jade asked with a frown.

“I think he might have been intimidated.”

“Intimidated? But why? It couldn’t be because your parents are super rich. We have millionaires and billionaires within our circle and he seems comfortable with all of us. In any case, no one here makes a big deal about anyone’s financial standing.”

“Maybe for him, being friends with someone from a billionaire family and going out with that person are two different things,” Marilyn said with hurt in her voice. “He’s not the first guy I’ve dated who couldn’t seem to handle that I’m the only child of one of the wealthiest couples in Australia. Once they knew, either they took advantage of the fact they were dating a Grant, or they started acting funny around me. It’s like they suddenly believed being with me would be hard work, or that I’d be too high-maintenance, or that they have to give me extravagant things to please me. That really hurt! I’ve shown time and again I’m completely happy with the simple things, like walks in the park or eating takeaway as opposed to being wined and dined in five-star restaurants. I’m just another girl wanting to find her special someone.”

Jade patted her knee sympathetically.

“You know what?” Marilyn said with a huff, letting herself rant away since only Jade could hear. “If Jarryd believes that we’re not compatible simply because he’s not at the same level of financial means as my family, then he can take a hike. I have not given him any reason to believe I care about how much he earns or what his net worth is. Does he think I’m a snooty bitch?”

Jade squeezed her hand. “No one who knows you will ever think that. And I’m sure Jarryd knows you well enough.”

“So what’s his problem, then? It’s definitely got nothing to do with lack of chemistry, because we had that in spades. Spades! And if he really knows me well enough, then he should also know that I don’t give a stuff that he doesn’t have millions of dollars to his name. All I want is his love.” Her face burned at her last statement.

“You love him?”

She shrugged, glancing at Jarryd again. “I was getting there.”

“Oh, Marilyn. Well, maybe it is a money thing,” Jade said tentatively. “You know how some men feel like they always have to be the breadwinner?”

“Yeah,” she said sadly. “Thing is, I don’t care about that. I know how hard he works in his business. So what if his income is still small at this time? His business is growing. He has to tighten his belt until his hard work bears fruit.”

Jade sighed. “Please don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you, because Lucas told me that Jarryd doesn’t want anyone else to know.”

“Okay.”

“When Jarryd started hiring trucks and equipment from Bilton Machineries, he wasn’t satisfied with the answers to the technical queries given by the BDM assigned to him. Lucas stepped in to iron things out and, since my husband is a mechanic at heart, he actually enjoyed answering Jarryd’s long list of questions. That was how they became friends.”

Marilyn nodded. That part she was aware of. The two men had gotten along like a house on fire. Lucas had even referred Jarryd to Natasha Garrett, another close friend of theirs, which had resulted in Garrett Electricals working on one of Jarryd’s projects. In fact, it was because of Jarryd’s friendship with Lucas and Natasha that Jarryd had become a regular attendee to their group’s get-togethers in the last five months. Now, Jarryd was considered part of their gang. And Marilyn had no choice but to continue to socialise with him, especially since their brief affair was unknown to most of their friends.

“When they became close,” Jade said, “Lucas told Jarryd that if he wanted to buy some of the machineries—which would be better for Jarryd’s construction company in the long run—Lucas would be willing to give him extended payment terms with an interest rate lower than what’s available elsewhere. Bilton Machineries offers that only to a select few. But Jarryd said he couldn’t afford to buy. Apparently, one of his major clients went bankrupt and couldn’t pay progress payments amounting to several hundred thousands. What was worse was he’d focused on that big project and held back on other ones, so he was really cash-strapped. I don’t know where he’s at right now, but I doubt he could have turned his fortunes around in a matter of months when construction projects take a long time to complete. So maybe he’s a bit embarrassed about the state of his finance after knowing your parents are billionaires? Maybe it’s a pride thing for him?”

Marilyn shook her head, wondering why Jarryd hadn’t told her all of those things. She would have suggested cheaper dates when they were still going out, especially when Jarryd had insisted on paying most of the time.

Pfft. As if you’re special enough to him that he’d reveal his deepest secrets and fears to you.

She sniffed.

Pity the feelings weren’t mutual.

And that statement just felt like a bucketful of hogwash.

Argh!

“Jade, slap me.”

“What?”

“Slap me.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m being stupid,” she said with a whine. “I want to believe that Jarryd still wants me but that something else that’s totally fixable is holding him back. But whether his problem is chemistry or money or whatever else, the fact remains that he doesn’t want to be with me. So give me a hard slap and tell me to wake up. Please.

Jade patted her cheek instead. “For the record, I think that Jarryd still likes you a lot, judging from the glances he’s been throwing at you all day. I vote for fixing what’s holding him back.”

Marilyn groaned. “You are so bad for my sanity. I bet it’s the pregnancy hormones that’re making you think like this.”

“Probably,” Jade said with a chuckle, rubbing her slightly swollen belly. “But I’m starting to change my mind about what a nice guy he is. If he thinks you’re shallow and snobbish, then he’s a poor judge of character.”

She smiled at her friend’s show of loyalty. “I’m just unlucky in love.”

“Hey, don’t say that! It’ll happen for you soon enough.”

She made a sad face. She was starting to worry that the one didn’t exist for her. At twenty-eight, she’d been on plenty of dates, some of them with the most eligible bachelors in Australia. But the three times she’d thought the guy could be the one, she’d been left disappointed and heartbroken.

Why did love keep on eluding her?

“You know,” Jade said, “I do find it weird that after being infatuated with you like a lovesick puppy, Jarryd would suddenly change his mind after three short weeks, especially since you said you were getting along just fine. So how about I get Lucas to do some interrogating? Seeing that Lucas is his bestie in our group, he just might tell him something.”

Marilyn nodded, liking that idea. She was tired of being in limbo, shackled there by her feelings for Jarryd and the belief that his reason for breaking up with her was nothing but a smokescreen to hide something he wanted to keep hidden. With only three weeks left before Christmas, she at least wanted to have some sort of clarity so she wouldn’t spend the coming holidays thinking of nothing but him.

“Can you ask Lucas now?” she pleaded with Jade.

*****

Jarryd Westbourne scanned Rick and Lexie’s large yard, seeing the happy faces of friends as well as those of a handful of people he’d just met today. But where was Marilyn? He leaned back on his seat, glancing around.

Ah, there she was on the patio, frowning at her phone. She was probably attending to something important to be sitting there by herself. Anyway, it was good she wasn’t near him. The farther she was, the easier for him not to stare.

He forced himself to avert his gaze, shaking his head for wanting to keep on gawking. But could he really blame himself? He hadn’t seen her in two months and she looked absolutely beautiful today, with her layered shoulder-length blond hair dancing in the gentle breeze. And, heck, she was downright sexy in that green sundress that almost matched the colour of her eyes, her lithe figure showing every time a gust of wind wrapped the soft material of her outfit around her.

Maybe if he hadn’t been missing her so badly, he wouldn’t be—

Oh, for fuck’s sake, why couldn’t he stop himself from pining for her? He was thirty-one, not fifteen!

“Hey, dude.”

He looked behind him with a start.

“Hey,” he said to Lucas, who had a funny smirk on his face.

“Talk to you for a sec?”

“Sure.”

“So what’s this I’ve been hearing about you and Marilyn?” Lucas said in a low voice as they walked towards the perimeter of the garden.

Jarryd glanced at his buddy sharply. “What have you been hearing?”

“That you slept with her, then dumped her.”

Heat rose to his face, his jaw slackening.

“So what happened?” Lucas asked. “You couldn’t wait to go out with her before. Even today, you can’t take your eyes off her.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, glancing back to ensure no one was following them. “Dumped is a harsh word. It was more like I thought it wasn’t going to work out.”

“And why wasn’t it going to work out?”

“Because…” Damn. What excuse could he give? “It hit me that we were going way too fast towards a serious relationship and that scared me,” he said with enough gravity to sound convincing.

“Really? I thought you were already falling fast for her even before she agreed to go out with you.”

Jarryd flushed, but kept an impassive face. “Obviously not. Anyway, who told you?”

“My wife. She’s been talking to Marilyn. Apparently, Marilyn doesn’t buy your reason for breaking up with her.”

He pressed his lips into a thin line, not at all surprised by that.

He’d actually meant to say there was not enough spark between them, but for some reason he’d ended up saying they had none—probably from his agitation at having to end things with her. The hurt and bewilderment on Marilyn’s face had stopped him from correcting himself, lest he make things worse by inadvertently giving away too much. In any case, all he’d succeeded in doing was sounding like a heartless liar.

“What exactly did you tell her?” Lucas prodded.

Jarryd’s phone rang, saving him from answering Lucas. “Sorry, it’s my lawyer. I have to get this.”

“Sure. We’ll continue this later.” Lucas clapped his shoulder before walking away.

“Hello, Carl,” he greeted after Lucas was out of hearing distance.

“Hello, Jarryd. Is this a good time to talk?” asked Carl Peters.

“Yes, I’m just at a party.”

“Oh. Is Marilyn Grant there?”

“Yes.”

“I’m surprised you risked being in the same place as her.”

He sighed. He knew he shouldn’t have come today. But these people were his friends, even though they had no knowledge of the drama happening in his life. Besides, he’d missed them, especially Marilyn.

“Anyway, I have some good news for you,” Carl said. “Probably great timing since you’re there with Marilyn.”

Jarryd straightened. “Uh-huh.”

“Bray Hayden, my PI, managed to find out that Barry and Alice Grant have never met with Patrick O’Neill about appearing on Biz Q&A. There was no need for a meeting because both of them declined the written invitation to appear on the show.”

His heart raced in excitement. “And Bray is certain that the Grants and Patrick are not connected in any other way?”

“Yes. Apparently, Patrick is keen to have high-profile billionaires like Alice and Barry to be guest mentors on his show. But the Grants are not friends with Patrick. It appears they haven’t even met in person.”

Sheer relief washed over Jarryd. Thank God for that. “Do you know when Patrick plans to formally challenge the will’s validity?” he asked.

“He’s still holding off on it. But that doesn’t mean he won’t ever do it. What did he call you two months ago when he stormed into your office?”

“A scheming thief and evil manipulator,” Jarryd said dryly. “I still find it strange that he waited seven months before claiming I manipulated Margaret into writing a new will for my benefit.”

“Well, his lawyer said he’d been too shocked and grief-stricken to do anything those first seven months since Margaret’s death. Apparently, Patrick was supposed to be in California with Margaret when Margaret slipped and hit her head on those blasted marble stairs. He’d felt guilty about not being with her.”

Sadness hit Jarryd at the memory of his birth mother, whom he’d met for the first time less than two years ago. When he’d received a call from her out of the blue, asking if he’d want to connect, he’d been shocked. Apparently, Margaret had wanted to find him for a long time, but had been waiting for him to instigate the connection—until she hadn’t wanted to wait any longer.

He hadn’t hesitated agreeing to meet her. He’d already toyed with the idea of searching for his birth mother, with the encouragement of his wonderful adoptive parents. But the last thing he’d expected was to come face-to-face with the Margaret O’Neill, widow of Harold Greeves—the business genius who’d steered Greeves Minerals Corp into becoming one of the world’s biggest miners of diamonds and other gemstones.

Five years ago, Margaret’s grieving face had been all over the news when her billionaire husband and their son—their only child together—had died from injuries sustained in a car accident in Germany.

The spotlight had been on Margaret again three years ago, when she’d married Patrick O’Neill, the charismatic and popular head panellist of the respected TV show Biz Q&A. The man who, two months ago, had vowed to make Jarryd’s life hell for Jarryd’s supposed manipulation of Margaret.

“Don’t worry, Jarryd,” Carl was saying, dragging his attention back to their conversation. “If Patrick makes any legal or public accusation that you coerced Margaret into giving you the bulk of her estate, we’ll pull out all the stops to prove that he only wants to ruin your character so he can end up with Margaret’s money. Besides, he might have the adulation of his fans and the support of some very influential people, but you have the money to fight him on this. You’re the billionaire, Jarryd. You.”

“Well, I don’t plan to live like one until all the question marks on my character are gone. And I can only hope that Patrick will give due respect to his departed wife by not publicising any of this.”

“I hope so too,” Carl said. “But personally, I don’t think we have to worry about Patrick bringing this out in the public arena until he’s sure he can win. And right now, he knows he can’t. He has no proof. But he’d want to protect his image to the fullest, so he wouldn’t want people to know that his wife decided to leave most of her wealth to a son that she’d never told him about.”

Jarryd ran a hand over his face. Even he had been stunned to learn of his inheritance. Margaret had never told him about it.

What made it worse was that, apart from his parents, he hadn’t told anyone about meeting his birth mother either. Margaret had requested that they keep their reunion a secret for a short period so they could get to know each other without the unwanted attention that might arise from Margaret’s public profile as CEO of Greeves Minerals. Then Margaret had asked him to continue keeping their relationship a secret when Greeves Minerals started negotiations to buy Well of Brilliance, a diamond retail company and custom jewellery maker that Margaret had been especially keen on acquiring. She’d been concerned that juicy news about her personal life might result in negative publicity that could affect their success.

Now that Margaret was gone, he was still duty-bound to hide his relationship with her. Olivia Greeves, Margaret’s sister-in-law who was now Greeves Minerals’ CEO, was trying to get the negotiations back on track to acquire Well of Brilliance. Olivia, too, had asked Jarryd to stay quiet until the Well of Brilliance deal was finalised. The talks had been going on and off for far too long, and Olivia didn’t want anything that might stall it again. Of course he’d agreed. He now owned fifty percent of Greeves Minerals and wanted what was best for the company.

He shook his head to clear it. “Anyway, Carl, is there anything else you wanted to talk to me about?”

“That’s it for now. Have you spoken to Marilyn today?”

Carl’s sudden change of topic made Jarryd’s breath hitch. “I’m just about to. Apparently, she wants to know exactly why I broke up with her. You have no idea how relieved I am to know that her parents aren’t connected with Patrick.”

“But hasn’t Olivia asked you to stay quiet about your relationship with Margaret?”

“Yes, for now. I don’t have to mention Margaret to anyone. I’ve managed to keep it to myself for all these months.”

“Well, good luck with Marilyn today.”

“Thanks,” he said before they said their goodbyes.

Jarryd took a minute to compose himself after hanging up.

If only he hadn’t been so muddled two months ago.

But he’d been taken aback by Patrick O’Neill suddenly accusing him of something so unthinkable as coercing his birth mother into writing a new will so he’d get the bulk of Margaret’s billion-dollar estate. Patrick was an influential, well-known and well-respected man. Jarryd knew that plenty of people would believe Patrick’s words without a question, while there Jarryd was, a nobody who’d suddenly become a billionaire after the death of Margaret O’Neill—who’d never told anyone she had a living son she’d given up for adoption, much less that she’d found him.

He still couldn’t believe the timing. He’d been succeeding at warding off his disquiet at Patrick’s accusations by being in Marilyn’s arms, when Marilyn had informed him that her parents were Barry and Alice Grant of Grant Ace.

He snickered dryly, remembering how he couldn’t wait to ask Carl to find out if the Grants were acquainted with Patrick, and how he’d just stared into space for minutes when Carl’s PI had informed him that Barry and Alice were being asked by Patrick to appear on several episodes of Biz Q&A.

He’d still made the right decision breaking up with Marilyn then, right?

Knowing what he knew then, yes. He’d assumed that the Grants and Patrick were well acquainted and he’d wanted to protect Marilyn and her parents from any negative publicity that could fall on them because of his conflict with Patrick.

But now he would have done things differently. He would have fully prepared himself for a let-her-down-gently breakup instead of refusing to think about it and only blurting out the words when he was already in front of her.

Now the coast was somewhat clear again, and he couldn’t wait to smooth things out with her. But how would he start wooing her again after he’d used the wrong fucking words?

No spark between them.

Seriously, he was an idiot.

***End of Chapter One***

Hope you enjoyed that. Tomorrow, I'll share with you Chapter Two.

But before I go, remember that I mentioned I'll be running a giveaway exclusive to my newsletter subscribers? It's my way of showing how much I appreciate you being on my mailing list. Well, it's now started! Here's the link to giveaway page:

Exclusive Newsletter Giveaway

All you need to do is answer up to three very easy questions, with each answer giving you one entry point. You can even browse my website to help you answer two of the questions, specifically this webpage: Books by Miranda

First Prize: One winner will win signed copies of books 1 to 6 of the Captured by Love series (The Unwilling Executive, The Unyielding Bachelor, The Undercover Playboy, The Unintended Fiancé, The Unforgettable Ex, The Unknown Billionaire)

Second Prize: Two winners will win a signed copy of The Unknown Billionaire

I can't wait to see your answers, and I can't wait to send out the prizes to the winners!

Here again is the link to the giveaway: Exclusive Newsletter Giveaway

Good luck! And don't forget to check your inbox for Chapter Two of The Unknown Billionaire tomorrow!

Till then, take care.

Love,
Miranda xoxo

 

The Unforgettable Ex: Chapter Two

Hope you enjoyed Chapter One of The Unforgettable Ex. Today is Chapter Two day! Without further ado, here it is.

The Unforgettable Ex: Chapter Two:TheUnforgettableEx-200x300

“Natasha, I have Leo on the phone for you.”

“Could you take a message, please?” Natasha asked their receptionist as she continued to frown at her computer screen.

“Okay. He did say to let you know that he’s left several messages in your voicemail, and that he’s on his way here now.”

She sighed, checking her watch. “I guess I should talk to him. Put him through.”

“Sure. Here he is.”

“Hi, Leo,” she greeted.

“Hey, gorgeous. I’m five minutes away from your office.”

“Um, okay,” she said, resigning herself to working on the weekend to finish a task that had to be ready by Monday. Having already cancelled two dates with Leo in the past week, she didn’t want to do it again to him today.

“Sounds like you’re not quite ready to go?”

“I’m not done with what I’m doing, but I can finish it over the weekend.”

“Work on the weekend! Why don’t I wait for you at reception until you finish what you have to do?”

“Oh, I don’t really want you to do that. I could take a while.”

“Well, how about you see where you’re at by the time I get there, then we’ll play it by ear? I really don’t mind waiting.”

“Okay,” she said gratefully.

“Good. See you soon.”

She smiled wryly as she hung up. Leo was so sweet and caring, and she was annoyed at herself for her inability to feel something deeper for the man. She did like him a lot as a person, but she just didn’t feel enough sexual attraction to even want to sleep with him. Sure, sex wasn’t everything in a relationship, but when she constantly found herself thinking up new excuses so they wouldn’t end up in bed, wasn’t it time to cut him loose and set him free?

It was so frustrating. Since she and Gavin had split up, she’d only slept with one guy. The sex had been so lacklustre, even though the guy had done everything he could to excite her. She’d had the same lack of interest with all the guys she’d dated since then that she simply couldn’t be bothered taking it further. So what was the point in getting naked with Leo when she couldn’t get wet enough for him no matter how much they both tried?

But she really wanted to fall for Leo. On paper, he was everything she wanted in a man. Except that her heart and body simply refused to cooperate. She wasn’t blaming him, because it was her fault for comparing him—and her previous dates—to Gavin, who could get her hot and moist with just a look, even when she was covered from head to toe.

So what else could she do to move on once and for all from the man who didn’t want her? “Argh!”

“Tash? You okay?”

“Carter!” She got up from her chair to greet her brother with a kiss.

“Mum and Dad working you too hard, Miss Operations Manager?”

She let out a laugh. “To the contrary, Mum wants me to make sure I don’t miss my date with Leo tonight. How are you?”

“Busy. Mum’s been complaining that she hasn’t seen me and Cassie in a month. Cassie’s on her way here too,” Carter said, settling on one of her visitor’s chairs.

“Hey, don’t forget that there’s a job you have to complete by the end of next week.”

“Uh, do you think you can allocate another electrician to finish that? I don’t need to go undercover in that place anymore. The case has been solved.”

She looked at her brother sternly, shaking her head at him. “Mum and Dad are very lax in letting you use our company as your cover for police work. And it’s not fair when you leave actual electrical projects unfinished. You have to go back there and complete the job in your own time, Carter. All our staff are busy and there’s no one we can allocate to it at the last minute.”

“You know it’s not often I leave a project unfinished. But okay, I’ll work on it a few nights next week to finish it off.”

“Thank you. And while we’re on the topic, have you thought about giving up your police job and stop pretending you’re just an electrician working for this company? You own a quarter of the shares, so shouldn’t you put on that fourth director’s cap already?”

“The time will come, sis,” Carter said half-dismissively. “Anyway, apart from me not doing my job to your satisfaction, what’s your other problem?”

“Other problem?” she asked with a frown.

“You looked frustrated when I got here.”

“Oh, I wanted to finish this proposal for a big project before Leo arrives, but it looks like I won’t be able to,” she said convincingly, gesturing to her computer.

“You do work—” Carter paused, fishing out his vibrating phone from his pocket. “Hey, Dave,” he said.

As Carter spoke quietly to his partner detective, Natasha went back to her task, an ear tuned in to her brother’s conversation. As usual, Carter spoke cryptically and didn’t give her any clues as to what he and David might be working on.

“Heard from Gavin?” Carter murmured on the phone. “He hasn’t returned my calls either. Hope he hasn’t done anything without telling us.”

Her fingers froze over the keyboard, her gaze flying to Carter’s face. Was Gavin working with the cops on a case? The last time he’d been involved with some police work, someone had shot him and he’d almost died.

“I’ll try him again later,” Carter said with a sigh, then said goodbye to David.

“Is Gavin okay?” she blurted out.

“I’m sure he is. He’s probably somewhere without phone coverage.”

“Are you guys working on something dangerous?”

“No more dangerous than usual.”

“He’s my friend too, you know,” she said with a huff.

“And?”

She glared at Carter. “I’m not asking for details of your cases, just some assurance that he’s not in any serious bind.”

“Gavin knows what he’s doing,” Carter answered, his brows furrowing.

“You’re worried.”

“No more than usual.”

“Do you know how annoying you are when you answer like that?”

Carter stared at her for a long moment. “He’ll be fine, Tash. Don’t worry,” he said softly.

She rolled her eyes.

“You’re on edge,” Carter countered.

“I’m fine. Just thinking I’ll call it a day now and finish this over the weekend. Leo will be—”

“Hey, guys!”

Speak of the devil.

“Hey, Leo. How’s it going?” Carter said, shaking hands with the man.

“Great, especially since I’m celebrating my three-month anniversary with this beautiful sister of yours,” Leo said, going to Natasha and giving her a kiss on the cheek.

Natasha quickly erased the dismay that appeared on her face. Three-month anniversary? Geez, that hadn’t even occurred to her.

“Where are you taking her?” Carter asked.

“It’s a surprise,” Leo answered casually, although his suppressed excitement was evident.

“Well, I better go to the ladies’ and touch up my makeup,” Natasha said, grabbing her bag and walking out of her office.

Gosh, she so needed to get her thoughts in order. She and Leo were obviously not on the same page in this relationship. He wanted to celebrate a third-month anniversary when she couldn’t even make up her mind if they were truly together. And she hated making people feel bad, especially those who didn’t deserve it—like Leo.

“What are you gonna do?” she muttered to herself.

No inspired thoughts came.

Sighing, she pulled out her phone and dialled Marilyn’s number. As an unattached woman, Marilyn might have some pearls of wisdom to impart to her in regards to her conundrum.

“Hey, Tash,” Marilyn answered.

“Hi, I need your advice.”

“Sure. What’s wrong?”

Natasha paused as she observed a staff member enter the ladies’ restroom.

“Hang on a minute,” she whispered to Marilyn, spying the corridor leading to a locked archives room and heading there. A few months ago, she’d seen Carter come out of this room. Apparently, Carter had needed somewhere private to discuss a super sensitive police matter with David, and the archives room had been perfect for it. Well, she was going to do a Carter and use it now.

She let herself in and closed the door before responding to Marilyn. “Leo’s taking me out for a special three-month anniversary dinner.”

“Ooh, could he be our next Captured by Love winner?” Marilyn teased.

“How could he be when I still want to keep this relationship platonic?”

“Really? You haven’t slept with him yet?”

“No. It’s not that I’m against it. I just don’t feel sexually attracted to him and I’m feeling guilty that I’m leading him on. But at the same time, I’m thinking that I haven’t given myself enough time yet. I’m so torn!”

“Is he putting pressure on you to have sex with him?”

“No. He’s being very patient. Although I know he’ll try to seduce me again tonight and I’ll disappoint him again.”

“Well, I’ve never had your problem because I don’t see the point of going out with men I’m not sexually attracted to. That’s why I’ve been dateless for a while now,” Marilyn said with a sigh. “But you must like him enough to go out with him for three months, right?”

“Ye-ah.”

“You don’t sound so sure.”

“Well, he’s a nice guy and he’s good-looking. And I really want to be attracted to him.”

“You want to be, but you just said you’re actually not. Why are you trying to force yourself?”

She was silent for a long moment. Leo, like the previous guys she’d dated, was a means to keep her feelings for Gavin at bay. Clearly that strategy hadn’t been working.

“You know,” she answered, “I’ve fooled myself into thinking that if I tried hard enough, I would eventually fall for him. But it’s just not happening. And then again, there’s Leo being persistent and patient, and here I am wanting to give up on him. I kinda feel guilty about that.”

“If you’ve given it your best shot, I don’t think Leo could accuse you of not giving him a chance. Love, or even just plain sexual chemistry, can’t be forced.”

“I guess,” she said with a sigh. “You know, maybe it is time I tell him it’s over. He’s already too emotionally invested in me and I don’t want him to fall further when I know I won’t get to where he is.”

“Yes. I’m with you on that. So why you were trying so hard to fall for him?”

“It’s a long story that I’ll have to tell you in person.”

“Aw, I’m gonna have to wait?”

She chuckled. “How about we have dinner soon? I have to go and prepare myself for this break-up. I have a feeling Leo won’t give in without a fight. He’s so determined to make us work.”

“Good luck, and let me know how it goes.”

“I will. Bye.” She hung up and looked for something to sit on. She should at least be ready with a couple of break-up lines before she faced Leo again, especially since the man had planned something special for tonight. Gosh, she didn’t want to be cruel, but surely it would be more cruel to continue leading him on.

She found a step stool behind a row of filing shelves and sat on it, mulling on a few let-him-down-gently words.

The door clicked open, making her sit up straight.

“Hell, Gav, I’ve been worried about you. Where have you been?” Carter said, his voice booming in the enclosed space.

She remained where she was, ducking to make sure Carter couldn’t see her. Since he was talking to Gavin, she sure wanted to eavesdrop.

“Next time, could you let me know what you’re up to? I know how desperate you are to get Biggs, but you need someone to watch your back if you’re going to attempt something like that again.”

She scowled. What the hell had Gavin been up to? She was going to wring his neck if he got himself shot again by some criminal he shouldn’t be following. He wasn’t with the police anymore. He should be leaving things like that to the authorities. At least Carter had a team of cops to back him up during dangerous situations.

“Make sure you let me know next time,” Carter was saying. “Anyway, do you want to have dinner with me, Cassie and my parents tonight? … Oh, of course. I can’t believe I forgot about that. Keep me updated, okay? … Ah, no, she has a date with Leo.”

Natasha cringed at Carter’s disclosure. But so what? Gavin wouldn’t care, anyway.

She sniffed silently.

“Hey, cheer up. I honestly don’t think their relationship will last,” Carter said.

Her brows rose and she cocked her head to listen more intently to her brother’s side of the conversation.

“I think Leo’s more into her than she’s into him,” Carter continued. “I could read it in her face that she wasn’t keen on celebrating their third-month anniversary tonight… Yeah, third-month anniversary… I don’t know. Leo said it was a surprise… I’m serious, Gav. I don’t think she’s all that keen on Leo… I just don’t want you to get depressed when there’s a possibility that things could be resolved soon… Okay. Talk to you tomorrow.”

Natasha’s heart galloped in her chest as Carter left the room, her mouth hanging open. Did that conversation mean what she thought it did?

No. How could it, when Gavin had a new girlfriend that he was close to introducing to everyone?

Argh, she was more confused than ever.

***END OF CHAPTER TWO***

Hope the first two chapters of The Unforgettable Ex have whetted your appetite for more of Gavin and Natasha 🙂 . The book's official release date is February 26th and I'll send you the store links on that day.

Thank you once again for your continued support. I keep writing not just because I love it, but because I have wonderful readers waiting for my stories. It's an honour and a thrill for my books to be read by you guys. I love you to bits.

Always,
Miranda xxx

TheUnwillingExecutive-200x300P.S. By the way, The Unwilling Executive is free for a limited time! If you already have your copy, please share this news with friends who might enjoy this book. Thanks so much!

 

 

The Unforgettable Ex: Chapter One

Good news! The Unforgettable Ex is coming on the 26th of February! Yup, that's less than a handful of days from now. I'm excited!

For today, it's time to share with you the first chapter of Gavin and Natasha's story. I've enjoyed writing about these two and I hope you fall in love with them just as I have. Enjoy! 🙂

TheUnforgettableEx-200x300The Unforgettable Ex: Chapter One

“Everyone, thank you all for coming.”

“Can’t wait to get rid of us, hey, Brad?” Natasha Garrett teased, pointing her phone at Bradley Mead and Erin Baker. She just had to take another snap of the happy couple.

“Well,” Brad said, cuddling his new fiancée as they smiled for the camera, “Erin and I just don’t want you guys to feel that you need to hang around for longer than you intended because our housewarming celebration has turned into an engagement party.”

“I think my brother-in-law wants to practice making babies,” Rick Donnelly quipped. “We should go home and do that too, honey,” he said to Brad’s sister.

“Practice?” Lexie asked her husband with a grin. “I wouldn’t mind making babies for real.”

“Hey, babe,” Lucas Renner-Bilton said to his wife. “Since we were the first among us to get married, shouldn’t we be the first to have babies?”

Jade laughed. “I’m ready whenever you are.”

“There you go,” Brad said, rubbing his hands. “Like I said, thank you all for coming.”

Everyone laughed, and Natasha sculled the last drops of the excellent white wine she’d been enjoying. She didn’t mind leaving now even though she’d been having a ball spending a perfect Sydney autumn day with great buddies and delicious food. But it was time to extricate her date, Leo Palmer, from the clutches of her unrelenting friend, Gavin Redford. She mentally shook her head as she approached the two men, glaring at Gavin, who’d chosen to ignore her questions and warning glances all day.

Gavin looked relaxed as he continued to chat with the handsome blond-haired, blue-eyed builder she’d been going out with for almost three months. But while the two men’s conversation seemed to be casual and friendly, Gavin’s brown eyes had been squinting in a manner that had raised her suspicion that this was no ordinary conversation. Poor Leo seemed none the wiser though, appearing happy to prattle along.

It didn’t surprise her that her date was oblivious to being interrogated. Gavin was great at hiding his motivations when he didn’t want people to notice, having honed specialist skills from previously working as an undercover cop, and now as a private detective. He was brilliant at what he did, and it wasn’t surprising that, at just thirty-one, Gavin had already grown his private investigation and security consultancy firm into one of Australia’s most trusted.

But she could read him. Not always, but often enough. Gavin and her older brother Carter had been best friends for as long as she could remember. Plus, she’d dated this extremely good-looking, dark-haired hunk for ten months five years ago. And those ten months had been incredibly happy, until…

She suppressed a sigh, pushing away memories that still had the capacity to overwhelm her if she allowed them to resurface. Hadn’t she promised to finally—finally—stop her silent waiting for Gavin? Five years with no signs of Gavin wanting to be more than friends again was long enough.

Fortunately, the both of them had become very good at pretending that their almost year-long romance didn’t exist in their history. Despite the fact that he’d broken her heart to pieces, Gavin remained one of her best and most trusted friends. Still, it hurt to remember the past.

Good thing she now had Leo. While she was nowhere near falling for the man, Leo’s unwavering persistence impressed her enough to want to give him a chance.

But what was it about Leo that interested Gavin so much? They were still chatting!

Hm. Had Carter asked Gavin to scrutinise Leo? Her undercover cop brother had admitted that something about Leo had rung a warning bell for him, and Gavin was someone Carter trusted to help with these things. But hadn’t Carter already satisfied himself that Leo wasn’t the suspicious person he’d thought he was? Ah, she would just have to ask Gavin about this again later.

“Hey, guys, time to go,” she said, interrupting the two.

“Sure,” Leo said, smiling as he stood up. “I’m ready when you are.”

“Excuse me, peeps,” Marilyn Grant said loudly from beside Brad and Erin. “I have permission to say something before we leave the lovebirds alone.”

Natasha grinned, turning to face the beautiful Marilyn. No prizes for guessing what the charity organiser queen of their group had in mind.

“Since Brad surprised Erin—and all of us—with a wonderful marriage proposal,” Marilyn said, “we need to start a new round of our Captured by Love game. Remember, it’s for charity, so I encourage everyone to join. So before you go, let me know who you’ll be betting on and the amount you want to pledge, okay?”

“What’s this about?” Leo whispered in Natasha’s ear.

“Aha, Leo,” Marilyn called out. “I see the question on your face. It’s a really simple game. We bet on who we think will be the next bachelor in our midst to be captured by looove. Then all the money pledged by those who chose the wrong guy will go to the charity selected by the winner, or winners.”

“Interesting,” Leo said.

“By the way, everyone,” Marilyn said. “As you know, our winning trigger is a marriage proposal because our previous bachelors had set that precedent. So I’m thinking, why don’t we allow betting on guys who are already dating, as long as they’re not yet engaged? I’m worried that we might not have a new winner for years, and we don’t want our game not to generate money for charity for an unacceptably long period. Is that cool with all of you?”

Natasha voiced out her agreement, along with everyone else. Frankly, she didn’t care who won, as long as their little game continued contributing to worthwhile causes.

“Great! Do you have any other questions, Leo?” Marilyn queried.

Leo shook his head. “It all sounds good. And since I don’t know the other guys well enough yet, how about I bet on myself?”

A chorus of “oohs” went around, with everyone’s eyes turning to Natasha.

Natasha felt herself go red. Geez, couldn’t people tell that Leo was just being nice in wanting to join the game? There was no way he was insinuating he was considering getting engaged soon, much less to her, since they’d only been going out for less than three months. Besides, they hadn’t even slept together yet!

“Wow,” Marilyn said, her eyes wide. “We haven’t had a guy bet on himself before. In fact, every single contestant we’ve had previously had staunchly denied wanting to get hitched. Four of them had to eat their words, of course,” she said, looking pointedly at Brad, then at Carter, Rick and Lucas—the four who’d fallen so far.

“Well, it’s good to be confident of my chances, I think,” Leo said, giving Natasha a sideways glance.

Natasha’s face burned further. How dare Leo feed their misconception!

“You’re making my sister blush,” Carter said lightly. “Is there something you two are not telling me?”

“No,” Natasha said hastily.

“Well, I know who I’m putting money on to be the next one to fall,” Brad said.

“Who?” Marilyn asked.

“Gavin.”

Gavin snorted. “Me?”

“Yup. I have a feeling it’s your turn, dude,” Brad said, grinning.

“Hey, I’m betting on my boss too,” Cassie said.

Natasha’s brows rose at her former flatmate and future sister-in-law’s declaration. With Cassie working at Gavin’s company as a financial controller, did Cassie know something that she hadn’t shared with her?

“Come on, babe,” Carter said to Cassie in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

Gavin laughed out loud, amused.

“Who are you betting on, Tash?” Cassie asked.

Natasha smiled and patted Leo’s arm to lessen the sting he might feel with what she had to say. “Since Leo and I haven’t been together for that long, and so as not to give you guys any ideas, I’m gonna bet on someone else.” She scanned the faces of the other guests, trying to spot an eligible bachelor who inspired winning confidence. Unfortunately, none of them did. And she was so not going to encourage Leo. “You know what?” she said, making an impromptu decision. “I think I’d bet on Gavin too.”

“Really now?” Gavin said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Why not?” She was prepared to lose some money. It was for charity anyway.

“Well,” Gavin drawled, one corner of his mouth tugging up, “I’m betting on myself too.”

Her mouth dropped open. What?

Marilyn snickered. “You’re kidding, right, Gavin? You’re really not telling me to put your name against your name on my betting list, are you?”

“Hey, none of those guys thought they’d be bitten by the love bug,” Gavin said, indicating the four now-permanently-attached former bachelors.

“Are you saying you have been bitten by the love bug?” Marilyn asked, her eyes round. “And are you gonna tell us who she is?”

Gavin smiled mysteriously. “Not yet. But soon.”

Natasha’s breath hitched in disbelief while their friends expressed their shock with surprised laughs and incredulous cries. She was aware that Gavin had casual dates here and there, but she didn’t know he was seeing someone he was already serious with. Why else would he mention it in front of everyone if it wasn’t serious?

To her consternation, her eyes started to pool. Blinking to force her emotions back down, she sat on a chair and watched numbly as the others placed their bets with Marilyn.

All this time, she believed that Gavin still held a torch for his ex-girlfriend Amber who, tragically, had gone missing five years ago. That belief was the only reason she’d held back on letting Gavin know that she still had feelings for him. She didn’t want to exacerbate her heartbreak when she was sure Gavin would just reject her again.

Had Gavin moved on from Amber and her terrible disappearance? Maybe time had healed Gavin’s wounds. As his friend, she should rejoice in that, even if her own wounds hadn’t completely healed yet. Gavin had been through enough hell.

Bull, Natasha. You still want to be the woman to replace Amber in Gavin’s heart despite your repeated insistence you’re ready to move on.

Ah, hell. She swallowed repeatedly to stop her emotions from showing on her face as her traitor mind played a scene she never wanted to remember—Gavin telling her out of the blue that they couldn’t go on because Amber had gone missing, and that he wanted to put as much time and energy as he could on finding her.

She’d been so shocked at his news about Amber. And she’d never been more devastated to learn that Gavin’s heart had never belonged to her. She’d really thought they’d been happy together. Having that illusion shattered with no warning whatsoever had scarred her considerably.

Good thing her desire to be a supportive friend to Gavin at a difficult time in his life, and her consideration for Carter and Gavin’s brotherly bond, were incentive enough for her to rise above what was still the most hurtful experience she’d had in all of her twenty-seven years in existence.

But pain had its advantages. It had forced her to learn how to ignore her feelings for Gavin so that they were able to continue their almost lifelong friendship. But, heck, right now she wasn’t doing a good job of ignoring. She could only hope her face wasn’t telling the story of what was going on inside her chest.

Leo joined her on the seat and placed an arm around her shoulders. She flushed with guilt. How could she be thinking of her feelings for another man when she was here with Leo? Even though she’d made it clear that she was far from being serious with him, she had promised Leo she’d give him and their fledgling relationship a chance.

Well, now she had every reason to put in more effort into falling for this guy sitting next to her. Gavin might be moving on from Amber, but clearly, it wasn’t with her.

*****

Gavin ordered himself not to glare at Leo for putting his arm around Natasha’s shoulders. Instead, he ambled towards Brad and Erin to say his goodbyes.

He really had to keep his emotions in check. He’d already taken risks by chatting with Leo for an inordinately long time, but he had to take the opportunity while he had it. Fortunately, the more they’d talked, the more his suspicions had lessened. He was glad. Even though watching Natasha date this man was like having a fork raked against the open wound in his heart, he’d rather Leo was innocent than Natasha in danger.

“Hey,” Carter said in a low voice, approaching him from behind and getting into step with him. “Did you find out anything new?”

“No. As you said, he doesn’t seem connected to Biggs at all,” he murmured, looking around to make sure nobody was within hearing distance. He caught Natasha looking at his direction, before she turned those beautiful blue eyes of hers towards Leo, who caressed a strand of lustrous chocolate-coloured hair off her forehead. Ah, damn.

“She’s been wondering why you were interrogating her boyfriend today,” Carter said of his sister.

“Don’t worry, I’ll put her mind at ease.”

“I was surprised you still decided to quiz Leo after I’d already cleared him. Besides, if he was sent by Biggs, he wouldn’t have exposed himself to you.”

“I know. I was trying to read his body language to figure out if he was hiding something. But everything about him suggests he’s innocent. Anyway, have you heard about how Biggs’ recent victim is doing?”

“She’s still in intensive care,” Carter answered. “She was lucky an ambulance was making its way back to headquarters and chanced upon the accident, or she’d be dead by now. It’s clear from the investigations that her brakes had been tampered with, and her husband confirmed that he’d received a message from Biggs saying that he could blame himself for what happened to his wife. Now the husband is scared for the rest of his family and has asked his lawyers if he could retract his witness testimony that helped put Biggs’ wife in jail. It’s too late for that, of course. All we can do is assure him we’re doing everything we can to catch Biggs.”

Gavin shook his head, trying to erase the picture of something horrific happening to Natasha if Biggs ever found out about her.

“Anyway, back to Leo… I think you’re jealous of him,” Carter said.

He snickered. “What? Why do you think that?”

“Because he’s the first boyfriend Tash has introduced to us since you guys broke up. And considering she took him to this important party…”

“I was just following my gut, which originally told me that your sister’s date might be shady. Thankfully, looks like I’m wrong.”

“Five years is a long time,” Carter said with sympathy. “And we thought we’d only need a few months to resolve everything, then you could get back together with Tash. I feel for you, bro.”

His chest tightened and he put on an unconcerned face to cover up his inner turmoil. “I thought it was a good move betting on myself for Marilyn’s game, don’t you think?” he said nonchalantly.

“I guess might as well start the ball rolling with this undercover work. If the operation goes according to plan, we’ll soon have Cameron Biggs under lock and key, then you’ll be free to tell Tash everything,” Carter said optimistically.

His lips curved up without cheer. “If she’s keen on Leo, I don’t want to mess with her happiness,” he said quietly. “I already did that five years ago. I’m sure she won’t appreciate me doing it again.”

“You had a bloody good reason why you did what you did. It was the only acceptable choice. And you got hurt just as much as she did—if not more.”

“I don’t have any regrets lying to her about it,” he murmured. “The important thing is she continues to be safe.”

“Yeah, I know,” Carter said softly, clasping his shoulder before walking off to Cassie.

Gavin inhaled deeply, shaking his head at his situation. His very best friend was the blood sibling of the woman he had to pretend he didn’t love, but who meant the whole world to him. Even when they finally caught Cameron Biggs, the illegal drug manufacturer who’d vowed to make his life miserable by threatening the life of any woman he was involved with, that time could still be too late. Natasha could very well fall in love with Leo or some other guy—maybe even get married and have babies. He’d be forced to watch, unable to hide or escape because of his tight bond with Carter. Ugh.

If only there had been another way to ensure Natasha’s safety while still being in a relationship with her. But he’d had no choice. To this day, Biggs still blamed him for his wife getting caught in the first place.

With plenty of dirty money to buy people’s silence, and ways to permanently shut witnesses up, the dangerous couple had been slippery, to say the least. It had only been a sheer stroke of luck that Gavin had spotted Biggs’ wife at a pharmacy, where they hadn’t expected her to be. So he’d called the police and helped finally capture the other half of the Biggs power duo.

Since then Cameron Biggs had been intent on revenge.

He exhaled slowly through his mouth as he remembered the handwritten note from Biggs that he’d received in the mail. His life had turned upside down the day he’d read it.

Fuck you to hell, Gavin Redford. You’re the reason my wife’s in jail. I could kill you, but that would be way too easy. So instead, I promise you’re going to suffer the same fate of not being with Amber or any other woman you ever love from here on in, dickhead. I’ll pluck them from your life, torture them, then kill them so you’ll never see them ever again. Oh, yes, I’m gonna make you suffer so bad, worse than I’m suffering.

Your worst nightmare,

Cameron Biggs

P.S. Do you know I hate you more than I hate the police?

Who would have thought that such a heartless, hardened criminal could be so enamoured with his wife?

And how could such a shrewd crook be fooled by what he’d seen on Facebook into kidnapping the wrong girl?

Amber had been putting pictures of her and Gavin on her Facebook profile, hoping for a reconciliation and believing that some of their happy memories would get his attention. Unfortunately for Amber, she’d caught Biggs’ attention instead.

Much as he’d felt guilty over Amber’s disappearance, Gavin was still grateful that Biggs had no idea that he’d gotten the wrong woman. Fortunately, he and Natasha had agreed to keep their relationship a secret from everybody until their first-year anniversary. They’d wanted to give their love a chance to develop in private without the pressure and attention of their families and friends, and he still was grateful every day for that decision. It had shielded Tash from Biggs.

Involuntarily, he touched his chest and rubbed the region of his heart. It still cut him that he’d abruptly ended his relationship with Tash. His own heart had shattered when he’d broken hers, but he’d had to ensure that she’d move away from him for her own safety. The priority was for Biggs’ interest not to be drawn to Natasha in any way. Warnings from the bastard were still coming regularly, even now.

“Gav.”

His heart skipped at the voice of the woman he’d been pondering about.

“Can I talk to you for a sec?”

“Sure.”

Natasha glanced at Leo, who was busy saying goodbye to the other guests. “Do you think Leo’s involved in something shady?” she asked in a low voice.

“No.”

“So why were you grilling him?”

“Grilling him? I thought we were only having a nice, friendly chat.”

Natasha narrowed her eyes. “He spent more time with you today than he did with me.”

“Oh, were you jealous?” he asked lightly, smiling at her cuteness even as she was strangling his heart.

“Gavin, come on. I know your talk wasn’t as innocent as you make it out to be. Did Carter ask you to do it? And if Leo’s shady, then don’t I have the right to know?”

“If he were shady, don’t you think Carter and I would have dragged him away from you already?”

“Okay, good. I didn’t think he’d be part of anything underhanded, but you made me worry when you interrogated him for hours even after Carter’s already done the checks. Did you tell him what you do for a living?”

“I told him I’m a corporate security consultant. I hope it’s okay with you that I didn’t tell him everything about my work.”

“Of course not. Secrecy is important for you. I haven’t told him yet either that Carter’s an undercover cop. Maybe I should soon.”

Ouch. “So you really like him, huh?” he asked, ensuring he sounded genuinely teasing. Carter’s real job was not something they openly shared with anyone due to the sensitive nature of his work. For most people, Carter was an electrician working in their family’s electrical services company.

“I’m really keen for this to work out,” Natasha answered.

His heart twisted in jealousy. God, he could only take so much in a day. He had to leave now. “Well, we better go and give Brad and Erin their alone time.” He gave her the usual goodbye kiss on the cheek and walked away.

“Hey,” Natasha called out.

He stopped.

“Who’s your new girl?”

“You’ll know soon enough,” he answered, faking a bright grin.

“Well, I can’t wait to meet her—whoever she is,” Natasha said softly.

All he could do was smile, when what he wanted was to take Natasha in his arms and tell her that even after all these years, there was no one else but her. But, damn it, he couldn’t do that yet. When? He didn’t know.

And it seemed that his fear that it was already too late for him and Tash was all too real.

***End of Chapter One***

That's all for today. You'll get to read Chapter Two tomorrow 🙂 .

Until then, have a good day/evening!

Much love,
Miranda xxx

 

The Unintended Fiancé: Chapter Two

Hi! Hope you enjoyed Chapter One of Brad and Erin's story yesterday. Here's what follows:

The Unintended Fiancé: Chapter TwoTheUnintendedFiance-200x300

Erin caught a familiar figure out of the corner of her eye and started typing furiously. If she looked super busy, maybe Kevin wouldn’t stop by her desk.

Darn her professionalism. If she hadn’t said it was “absolutely no big deal” when her boss had asked if it would be a problem if she and Kevin worked together, she wouldn’t have had to suffer working with the man—and have him occupying the desk right next to her little corner of the office.

“Morning, Erin,” Kevin said, setting a store-bought cup of coffee on her desk. “Here you go.”

“Thanks, but you can have it,” she said tersely, not taking her eyes off her computer screen.

“But this is the mocha you like.”

“Kevin,” she said in a low voice, not bothering to hide her irritation. “I already told you to stop getting me coffees or fruits or cakes. People are starting to wonder if there’s something going on between us again.”

Kevin smiled. “Would that be so bad?”

She gaped at him in disbelief. “Are you kidding?” After her lunch with him and Paula two weeks ago, she couldn’t believe his comment.

The first few minutes of that lunch had been pleasant enough, but it had quickly turned to one of the most agonising she’d sat through. Kevin and Paula had started bickering. In front of her.

But that hadn’t been the most uncomfortable part. She’d wanted to zip Kevin’s mouth when he’d brought up Paula’s propensity to overreact, and then said that Erin had never shouted at him like a banshee the way Paula always did.

Paula’s friendliness towards her had cooled very quickly after that. And Erin still wanted to throttle Kevin for bringing her name up while in the middle of an argument with his wife.

“Erin,” Kevin said, placing both his hands on her desk to lean closer to her. “What’s wrong with being friends again?”

“Kevin,” she said with gravity. “We’re not best buddies. Ease up.”

“I can’t help it,” he said, staring into her eyes.

She looked up to the heavens, letting out an exasperated breath. What the hell was this guy up to? “It’s making me very uncomfortable, okay? Please stop this.”

“Okay, but can we talk? Have lunch with me today.”

“What for?” she whispered almost furiously.

“Please,” he said, his eyes darting around the office.

That made her glance around as well, and she caught a few of their officemates looking away. Amy, her closest work friend, raised her eyebrows at her in question.

She sighed. Best to have a talk with Kevin elsewhere, she supposed. She didn’t relish the thought of being the centre of office gossip.

“Fine. Lunch, then. At the food court downstairs.”

“I have another place in mind—”

She shook her head stubbornly. “Food court, Kevin. At twelve.”

“Okay,” he conceded.

*

Erin sat down at a table Kevin had been saving for them in the almost-full food court.

“Looks yummy,” Kevin commented as he checked out the grilled chicken and avocado salad she’d bought. “Start eating while I get mine.”

She did start eating as Kevin went to get his food. Normally she’d wait for her companion to come back, but she was annoyed enough to not want to show him the usual level of consideration.

Kevin didn’t take long. He was back with a burger and smiled at her as he sat back down. “Why are you so short with me, Erin?” he asked softly.

Her brows lifted. “You waltz around the office like we’re more than the best of friends. You’re actions are over the top. Don’t you see that you’re being quite inappropriate? You’re married, and I’m your ex. And you’ve made your wife suspicious of me.”

“Erin,” Kevin said, reaching for her hand.

She instantly pulled it out of his grasp. What the hell was wrong with him? Hadn’t he heard what she’d said?

Kevin sighed. “Haven’t you noticed anything?”

“What?”

He raised his left hand and wiggled his fingers.

She blinked. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.

“I moved out of the house last week.”

“I see,” she said coldly. “What’s that got to do with me?”

“I made a mistake, Erin,” he said, trying to reach for her hand again.

She let out an incredulous laugh.

Kevin sat back on his chair, taking a long, deep breath. “I’m going about this the wrong way, am I not?”

“I’m not remotely interested in getting back together with you, Kevin.”

He smiled patiently. “I know you’re still angry at me. What I did to you was hurtful and callous. I let you down. But what I did—marrying Paula and breaking up with you—was a huge mistake. I was so very wrong.”

She gawked at him, sheer disbelief coursing through her. “Surely, you’re not expecting to pick up where we left off?”

“No. I know I have a lot to do to make up for what I’ve done. All I’m asking at this time is the chance to do that.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Kevin. I don’t want another chance.”

“Erin…”

“I saw you in a totally different light after the way you handled your marriage and our break-up. I’m not interested, Kevin. Sorry.”

Kevin nodded his head. “Okay. I’ll wait.”

She frowned. “I said I’m not interested. There’s no point in waiting.”

“I heard what you said. But I know you, Erin. I know how you used to feel about me. That kind of commitment just couldn’t die, even after all this time and what we’ve been through. I know deep inside you still want me—because I still want you.”

Her jaw dropped to the ground.

“You’re very different from Paula,” Kevin continued. “You were loving and supportive. You never yelled when we fought. You didn’t have tantrums. You helped me make good decisions. I want you back, Erin. Let’s work things out.”

She gave him a dirty look. “You’re still married, Kevin. It was only two weeks ago that I had lunch with you and your wife. Shouldn’t you be trying to work things out with Paula rather than propositioning me?”

Kevin exhaled gustily. “Like I said, you’re very different from Paula.”

“So why did you marry her in the first place?”

“It was just the sex. Paula is… wild and passionate and exciting in bed. We had this sizzling sexual chemistry that was undeniable. Unfortunately, she’s too demanding and high maintenance. And when she’s angry, boy, does she blow up. I don’t need that. But you, you’re calm and cool in every situation. You’re always reasonable and rational. With the kind of pressures I need to deal with at work, I realised I need someone like you by my side if I’m to achieve my career dreams.”

Heat crept up Erin’s face. What the hell did he mean by that? That she was boring in bed? That all he’d ever want her for was to advance his career?

“But wouldn’t you miss Paula’s passionate ways in bed?” she said with saccharine sweetness, narrowing her eyes at him.

“Well, better sexual performance can be learned.”

“What do you mean by that?” she asked coldly.

“You have to admit there’s plenty of room for improvement there, Erin. Maybe read some books, or even go to a sex coach—”

“And what makes you think I’d want you back when you never set my body on fire?” she asked, her jaw tight, before standing up and walking away.

What a certified asshole!

She blinked back her tears. Kevin was nothing but an insensitive jerk, but his words had still stung.

Couldn’t he have criticised her in a less humiliating way? As if he hadn’t hurt her enough in the past! And it wasn’t as if he was the hottest man on the planet or an expert lover, either. Far from it. Their sex life had been average because… well, neither of them had bothered putting in a lot of effort on it! It wasn’t just her fault.

Ugh. She still had no idea what had made her stay with that self-centred man for two freaking years.

And there were four more hours to go before she could leave work for the day and stop seeing Kevin’s face.

At least Brad would be at home waiting for her. He should be settling into her apartment right this minute.

Her lips tugged up. She couldn’t wait to see him.

*****

Erin inserted the key into her lock, excited like a little kid opening up a present. It was unexpected, really, this thrill she was feeling. And it made her nervous. Why was she so looking forward to this?

“Erin! Welcome home!”

Her heart skipped. There he was, grinning as he walked to her and kissed her on the cheek.

“Hi! How did the packing go at your house today?” she asked.

“Good. All my stuff, apart from my clothes and personal items that got brought here, are now either in storage, donated to charity, or chucked in the dump. But it was hectic sorting through what needed to go where!”

She chuckled. “What did you expect? You had it all done in one day.”

“Well, one day was all I had. Anyway, come with me. I want to show you what my sister’s old room now looks like.”

She followed Brad to his new room, and she laughed in delighted surprise. The room looked amazing, with the colour scheme of royal blue making this very much Brad’s domain. Even his clothes were hung or folded in a neat, ordered manner in the wardrobe, which was open for her inspection. Whoever had unpacked for Brad had done a marvellous job.

“What happened to the old bed?” she asked, sitting and bouncing herself on the one that now stood proudly against the main wall, covered in luxurious cotton sheets of high thread count, by the feel. Even the old headboard was gone, replaced by a more masculine wooden panelling.

“This is my own bed,” Brad said, sitting next to her. “I had your old one put in storage along with my other stuff because it just looked too girly for me. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, of course not. This room looks great. How many people were here to stage this today?” she teased.

“What? You don’t think I did it myself?”

“This has the feminine touch,” she said dryly. “Great as you are with commercial interiors, bedrooms are not your forte.”

Brad chuckled. “The people who packed my stuff also unpacked for me here. Turns out they’re great at decorating too.”

“Well, it looks good. But how come the living room still looks the same? I thought you were gonna bring your bigger TV? I was looking forward to that.”

“It’s going to be delivered this Saturday.”

“What do you mean?”

“I wanted the latest model, so I bought a new one.”

She shook her head. “You and your penchant for the latest and the best, Brad.”

He shrugged. “It’s called supporting the great inventors of new technology.”

She smirked. “Is your super-duper coffee machine now in my kitchen?”

“Yup. Couldn’t leave that behind,” he answered, standing up and pulling her along with him.

“You do know that’s all I want from you.”

Brad laughed, putting an arm around her shoulders and steering her to the kitchen. “The Chinese I ordered should be arriving soon. Do you want a drink before dinner?”

“Apart from Lexie, none of my other previous flatmates ever offered me a drink upon coming home. I’m already starting to like you being here.”

“Good! I’ll even make you coffee after we eat. For now, let’s open a bottle of wine.”

She sat on a bar stool and watched Brad move around her kitchen, getting two crystal glasses and retrieving a bottle from the fridge. He’d clearly already made himself familiar with where things were kept. And, frankly, he looked like he belonged in her apartment.

She bit her lip, stopping herself from smiling too widely. There was that thrill again, running through her body.

Brad turned around and placed the glasses on the breakfast nook.

“I was meaning to talk to you about Elsa, my cleaning lady,” he said as he poured the wine. “You wouldn’t mind if she comes regularly to help us, would you?”

She gave him a mock frown. “And there I was, promising Lexie that I wouldn’t let you get away with not doing your share of housework. I should have known you’d get Elsa to do it for you.”

“What I meant was for her to do everything around here,” Brad said, clinking glasses with her before taking a sip. “I want to keep Elsa employed for the same amount of time that she used to come to my place because I don’t want to lose her. She’s fantastic. So reliable and trustworthy. If she starts working for someone else, I might find it hard to get back the hours she currently works for me. She can come here twice a week to clean and cook. She can also buy our groceries, do our laundry, send items to the dry cleaners, change our bed sheets—those kinds of things.”

“Our?”

“If she’s to work the same hours per week, she’ll need to look after you too. This place is much smaller than my house. As it is, she’d have plenty of time on her hands, but I still won’t mind paying her the usual amount.”

Erin pursed her lips. She didn’t mind housework or cooking, but they weren’t her favourite things to do. The thought of having some help with the cleaning was tempting, especially since it was something she’d considered for herself before. It just seemed like such an indulgence that she’d never acted on it. Well, this was her chance.

“Okay,” she said. “How much will be my share for Elsa’s pay?”

“Nothing,” Brad said. “I don’t expect you to put in for it since I’m the one who insists on getting her to work here.”

She opened her mouth to argue, but Brad pressed a finger to her lips, shaking his head at her.

She sighed. There was no point arguing about these kinds of things with Brad. She might as well give in graciously. “Okay, thank you. But I’ll pay for our groceries then, if that’s the case.”

“Fine,” Brad conceded unenthusiastically.

“So I get to be spoiled while you’re living with me?” she asked, grinning.

“Well, you’re my girlfriend, aren’t you?” Brad said with a cute lopsided smile. “I’ll have you know that I treat my woman like a queen.”

She laughed, warmth spreading within her with unexpected speed.

Brad’s girlfriend.

That had a nice ring to it.

“So how did you go with the moron today?” Brad asked. “Is he still being a pest?”

She made a face. “He said he wants to get back with me. Apparently, he’s separated from his wife.”

Brad’s expression hardened. “You’re not considering it, are you?”

“No, of course not.”

“Good. You can do much better than him.”

“Yeah,” she answered, the memory of Kevin’s words deflating her.

“What?” Brad asked, noticing her changed expression.

She couldn’t help her blush. Should she tell him? It was a bit embarrassing. But his concerned look made her open her mouth. “I think the reason why Kevin cheated on me and got married to someone else was because he thinks I’m boring in bed. He even suggested I should seek help to improve my… um… sexual performance.”

Brad scowled. “He made you think it was your fault? That man is more than an asshole!”

“I know, but I think there’s some truth to what he said,” she said with a grimace.

Brad effortlessly lifted the stool she was sitting on, shifting it so she was fully facing him, before sitting down in front of her. My, he was really strong. She stared at him as her heart pounded hard in her chest. Damn, sometimes Brad affected her in ways that still surprised her.

“Erin, sex is a two-way thing,” Brad said quietly. “If he thinks that you’re lacking in bed, that must mean he’s not good at lighting your fire.”

“Hey, that’s exactly what I said to him!”

Brad grinned. “Way to go. He’s just justifying himself. You shouldn’t give weight to his words.”

She smiled. Brad really was such a sweet friend. “Thanks. I think you’re right.”

“Good. Now I can report to Lexie that I set you straight on something regarding Kevin. She ordered me to make sure the moron doesn’t mess with you.”

She laughed. “Oh, I do miss living with your sister. But I think you’re a good replacement.”

“So did you tell Mr. Moron you’re now living with your boyfriend?” he asked cheekily.

“Oh! I keep forgetting!”

“Well, you should tell him.”

“Are you free tomorrow night to join us for drinks at the pub?”

“I’ll make time. Can’t wait to see the moron’s face. Should be fun.”

She nodded enthusiastically, already looking forward to it. Not the part where she’d show Kevin she was “taken”, but the part where she’d act as Brad’s girlfriend.

***End of Chapter Two***

Hope you enjoyed the first two chapters of The Unintended Fiancé. It was so important to me to finish this book and share it with you. Hope you're as excited about its release as I am.

Thank you again for all your support. It truly means so much.

Love always,
Miranda xxx

The Unintended Fiancé can be pre-ordered from the following stores:

Amazon US | Other Amazon stores | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

It will be available on Google Play, All Romance Ebooks and Smashwords on October 22nd.

 

 

The Unintended Fiancé: Chapter One

Less than a week to go before the official release date of The Unintended Fiancé! Yes, it will definitely be available on October 22nd and I can't wait to share Brad and Erin's love story with you.

No need to wait for Chapter One, though, because you can read it right now. Here it is!

TheUnintendedFiance-200x300The Unintended Fiancé: Chapter One

Asking the hunkiest guy she knew to share her apartment was the height of bad ideas. At least, that was the message Erin Baker was getting from the you’ve-lost-your-mind stare her best friend Lexie Mead was giving her.

“Relax, Lex. I don’t have a problem with Brad taking over my spare room,” she said, looking around furtively. Not that she had anything to hide, but she’d rather the other guests who were present at the engagement party of their friends Cassie Stephens and Carter Garrett didn’t overhear this particular conversation.

While no one seemed to be drunk on alcohol, the lunchtime chatter was loud and filled with laughter. No doubt people were intoxicated from the combination of gourmet food, the glorious sunny spring day and the awe-inspiring view of Sydney Harbour from the expansive outdoor entertaining deck of the party’s hosts, their buddies Lucas and Jade Renner-Bilton.

“But you didn’t even think before you made the offer to Brad,” Lexie said. “It was so off the cuff!”

Erin gave Lexie a patient pat on the arm as she glanced at Lexie’s thirty-one-year-old older brother. Even though Brad’s dark brown hair needed a trim, and his gorgeous caramel eyes were hidden behind his dark sunglasses, a one-second look at his face would make even a complete stranger agree that he was blessed with chiselled good looks. And that was without checking out the rest of him, which was undoubtedly hot, even with clothes on.

Bradley Mead was one fine specimen of a man. That was the plain and simple truth, not some declaration born out of infatuation.

“Who better to be my next flatmate than your brother?” she said to Lexie.

“Because I know you still think that Brad is one of the best-looking guys in existence,” Lexie said dryly. “Couple that with the fact that Brad can charm the skirts off women without even trying.”

“Excuse me. You think I’ll let him charm my skirt off me? Brad being gorgeous is a matter of fact, Lex. Put it this way—if I said that Rick is average looking, would you agree with me?”

Lexie looked at her future husband and smiled. “No. My Rick is absolutely hot.”

“And I agree,” Erin said with a laugh. “But me thinking that doesn’t mean I have any designs on Rick.”

“But you used to have a serious crush on Brad,” Lexie argued.

She rolled her eyes. “Geez, Lex. That was eight years ago, when I was a young and naive teenager. I’ve been over him for ages. I can’t believe you’re worrying about this.”

“I just don’t want you and Brad to mess up the friendship you’ve built over the years. Everyone knows what a charmer he can be. That’s why it’s easy for women to fall for him and get their hearts broken even if he doesn’t mean to hurt them. Since no one has ever told him how you used to feel about him, he might not hold back on his flirtatious ways, and you might… you know… have a relapse, or something.”

“Look, I might still be a great admirer of Brad’s male physique, but that’s just like appreciating art in a museum. I’m happy to look but have no desire whatsoever to acquire it. I’m immune to Brad’s charms, Lex, and have been for a long time. Promise.”

Lexie sighed in resignation. “Fine. As long as you know what you’re getting into. And don’t forget that he’s used to having a cleaning lady come in and tidy up his place. He might forget to do his fair share of housework.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t let him get away with it,” she said with a chuckle.

“Hey, guys,” Marilyn Grant, a gorgeous friend who loved hosting charity events, called from the table next to theirs. “Who will you be betting on for our next round of the Captured by Love game?”

“I’m betting on my son,” Lexie and Brad’s mother said. “Underneath that workaholic exterior is a man crying out for his other half. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Erin joined the others in laughing out loud at Vivian’s declaration.

“How much are you betting, Mum?” Brad asked. “I hope you don’t end up in debt after this, because I’m telling you, I have no intentions of settling down for a few years yet.”

Vivian shook her head in disappointment.

“I think I’ll bet on Gavin,” Erin said, grinning at Carter’s best friend, whom she’d just recently met.

“Wait,” Gavin Redford said, his brow furrowing. “I still don’t fully understand this game. Like Brad, I have no desire to settle down yet.”

“The way it works,” Marilyn explained, “is if you fall in love and renounce the single life before any of the other bachelors in the game, then Erin will win. Those who didn’t bet on you will hand the amount they’ve pledged over to Erin’s selected charity.”

“I see,” Gavin said. “So, Erin, does this mean you’ll be hounding me into proposing to a girl or something?”

Erin laughed. “Marilyn has been known to pressure Simon, who she’s bet on twice before, but I take the let-love-do-it’s-work approach. I might give you a tiny bit of encouragement if I see you interested in someone, but definitely no pressure.”

“Lucky you, Gavin,” Brad muttered, casting a resigned look at his mother.

Gavin chuckled. “Hey, you could help Vivian win, Erin. Since Brad’s moving in with you, you have the perfect opportunity to push him towards a girl—”

“What?” Vivian interrupted, her eyes wide. “Brad is moving in with you, Erin?”

“Yes, Vivian,” Erin answered with a smile. “As you know, he’s been slack in finding a place to live while his new house gets built.”

“Oh, isn’t that wonderful?” Vivian said, clasping her hands in glee.

“Don’t get any funny ideas, Mother,” Brad said. “I’ve decided to share with Erin because her apartment is close to my office. It’s very convenient for me.”

“I’m not thinking anything,” Vivian said with a dismissive flick of her wrist. “I just think it’s wonderful of Erin to allow you to share her home, that’s all.”

Erin smiled wryly at Lexie, who rolled her eyes.

Years ago, when Erin had cried upon learning that Brad had started dating a popular teenage pop star, Vivian had comforted her. Brad’s mother had said that since she was only nineteen, she had plenty of time to find her Mr. Right, and chances were it wouldn’t be Brad.

Well, she was yet to meet The One, but Vivian had been right about one thing. It wouldn’t be Brad. It couldn’t be. Once she’d realised that Brad constantly moved from one girl to the next, her crush for him had dissipated. She preferred guys who valued relationships, not playboys. Now, she saw him as just a very good friend who happened to be extremely attractive.

“Someone’s phone keeps on ringing,” Jade called out from the open French doors, holding up a black handbag.

“Oh, it’s mine,” Erin said, taking the bag from Jade. She fished out the device and groaned as she saw the name flashing on the screen.

Paula.

“Is that Kevin’s wife?” Lexie demanded in a whisper. “Why the hell is your ex-boyfriend’s wife calling you?”

“You won’t believe this,” she said dryly, “but ever since she learned I work for the same company that recently hired Kevin, she wants to be my friend.”

“No,” Lexie said, her eyes rounding.

“Yup,” she said before hitting the answer button to talk to the woman that Kevin had married—before breaking up with Erin.

“Hi, Paula,” she greeted, that surreal feeling creeping up again just like it had last week when Paula had called her out of the blue. Paula had wanted the two of them to be on good terms since Kevin would be starting work as an account manager at JMR Market Research, where Erin was a senior qualitative analyst.

“Hello, Erin,” Paula said, her tone overly friendly. “I plan to have lunch with Kevin tomorrow on his first day at JMR. Do you want to join us so we can meet in person?”

“Uh, sure, that would be nice,” she answered. Frankly, she’d rather not socialise with her ex and his wife. But she could understand Paula’s agenda. The woman wanted to make sure that she didn’t have anything to worry about, and Erin respected the way she was going about it. Besides, what better way to prove to everyone—to Paula and Kevin, especially—that she’d moved on?

“Great! I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“See you.”

Erin leaned towards Lexie. “She wants me to join her and Kevin for lunch tomorrow.”

“You know what that means,” Lexie said. “She wants to keep you close so she can keep an eye on you.”

“She shouldn’t be so concerned. Why would I want Kevin back, when he cheated on me with her?”

“Are you really okay working with Kevin, especially since you’ll be on the same team?” Lexie asked worriedly.

“Yes,” she said with conviction. “He means nothing to me anymore. It might feel uncomfortable for the first few days, but he’s not worth getting upset about.”

It was a pity her boss hadn’t realised that the Kevin he’d hired was the same Kevin who’d broken her heart fourteen months ago—the man who hadn’t had the decency to break up with her first before getting married to someone else during his trip to Europe with his buddies.

Apparently, Kevin had met Paula on the very first day he had landed in Spain and had decided to marry her six weeks later, just before he had to return to Australia. Unfortunately, Kevin had only deigned to tell Erin they were over when he’d come back to Sydney, with his new wife in tow.

Anger and hurt bubbled up inside Erin at the memory, but the emotions were only dull. She’d made her peace with Kevin’s actions months ago, after forcing herself to look for the silver lining.

Her relationship with Kevin hadn’t exactly been what she’d hoped for. They’d simply been plodding along, not exactly fighting, but not also sharing anything deep enough that was capable of strengthening their emotional bond. They’d never discussed their future as a couple, and had never felt the motivation to do so.

She’d come to realise that the only reason she’d been willing to stay with Kevin was because she hadn’t wanted another failed relationship after her past two had crumbled just after the second year anniversaries. Ironically, this particular one ended just after the two-year-mark as well.

Her phone started ringing again. Ugh!

“You’re kidding, right?” Lexie said, spying Kevin’s name on the screen.

“I better see what he wants,” she said, getting up from her seat to go inside the house for more privacy.

“Hello, Kevin,” she said in a distant but polite voice.

“Hi, Erin,” the man said in a too-bright tone. “How are you?”

“Well, thanks. You?”

“Good, thank you.”

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” Kevin said.

“You mean to our lunch with your wife?” she asked innocently.

“What lunch?”

Her brows lifted. “You don’t know? Paula just rang to invite me to have lunch with the two of you tomorrow.”

“I didn’t know that,” Kevin said after a pause. “I’m sorry about that, Erin. I’ll talk to her and tell her you’re not—”

“It’s okay, Kevin,” she interrupted. “I don’t want your wife worrying that there’s still something between us.”

“But… it would be so weird.”

“Yes, it would be. But I don’t want her getting suspicious or anything. She’s nice enough to approach this in a friendly manner.”

Kevin sighed. “Fine.”

“Good.”

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“I’m just curious… why haven’t you had a boyfriend since we split up?” Kevin asked.

She huffed in disbelief at his question. “Why do you want to know?”

“I was just wondering. A mutual friend has confirmed you haven’t seriously dated since we broke up.”

“Which friend?” she asked with annoyance. Yes, it was true there hadn’t been anyone special since Kevin. But frankly, she wasn’t in any hurry to get another boyfriend. After her experience with him, she’d decided to be a bit pickier when it came to men.

“I just want to know, Erin.”

“I don’t see why we have to talk about this, Kevin. Anyway, I have to go. I’m at a party.”

“Okay,” Kevin said softly. “I know it’s hard to get over someone you’ve loved for two years. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye.”

Wha-at?

Erin stared at her phone after Kevin had hung up, her jaw hitting the floor. Had that man just insinuated she wasn’t over him? How rude!

“Everything okay, Erin?”

She glanced up and blinked fast, her irritated mood mellowing from the sight before her.

Brad was standing by the threshold, his muscular form apparent from his slim-fit button-up shirt, his handsome face frowning at her with concern.

Yes, Brad was still the best-looking person she knew. And she’d be seeing him every day for at least seven months after he moved in to her apartment.

She smiled. That would more than make up for having to face Kevin every single working day.

Brad might only be a friend, but he was still her favourite eye candy.

*****

Brad cocked his head to the side, Erin’s pretty smile tempering the surge of protectiveness that had hit him at hearing her mention the name Kevin. After how Kevin had broken Erin’s heart, the man had become a persona non grata in their circle.

“Was that your idiot ex you were talking to?” he asked mildly, an image of Erin’s distraught face from over a year ago, when she’d told them what Kevin had done, playing in his mind.

“Yes,” Erin answered, rolling those beautiful hazel eyes of hers.

“So why is he calling you?”

“He’s starting work at JMR tomorrow.”

“You’re kidding,” he said in disbelief.

“I wish I was.”

“You okay about it?”

Erin shrugged. “I’m not ecstatic that I’ll be working alongside him, but I can handle it. Although I think he thinks I’m still not over him,” she added with a frown.

“Why?”

“Well, he said he knew I hadn’t had a serious relationship after I broke up with him. Then he said it’s hard to get over someone you’ve loved for two years. I’m insulted. What does he take me for? Stupid?” she asked, flicking her lustrous chocolate-coloured hair in annoyance.

“That proves he’s still the biggest idiot,” he said.

“And the last thing I want is for his wife to think that I’m still holding a torch for him,” Erin said. “Do you know that Paula wants to be friends with me?”

“Erin?” Lexie interrupted, walking into the house. “What did he say?”

Erin told her friend.

“How dare he!” Lexie exclaimed. “That Kevin is really so full of himself!”

“I know, right?” Erin said. “What on earth did I ever see in the man that I dated him for two years? I still can’t believe I’d been so blind for that long.”

“If I were you, I’d tell both him and Paula a white lie and say you’re dating someone,” Lexie said. “That should lessen whatever jealousy Paula’s feeling and stop Kevin from being so presumptuous.”

Brad looked on, intrigued by the conversation happening between the women. And with Erin’s face taking on a Eureka! look, it was clear she liked Lexie’s suggestion.

A thought gave him a jolt, making him stand up straighter. And it was the perfect idea. It would serve him and Erin equally.

“I think you’re right, Lex,” Erin was saying. “I’ll tell them I’m going out with someone.”

Lexie nodded sagely.

“If that’s the case,” Brad said, a wide smile forming on his face as his perfect idea took hold. “I have a proposition to make.”

“What?” Erin asked.

“How about we pretend to be going out? I’m looking for a fake girlfriend, so this is great timing.”

The two women widened their eyes at him.

“Why?” Lexie asked.

“I’m after this contract to provide commercial interior design services for a new complex being developed on an old industrial site in western Sydney. It’s a big project, including a residential high-rise and several low-level buildings. But I just found out that James Coyte, the CEO of the corporation that owns the complex, just got married three weeks ago.”

“And why’s that a problem for you?”

“Well, his new wife Valerie happens to be someone I went out with a few times. Unfortunately, when I attended an industry function last week, I bumped into Valerie. I didn’t know then that she just got married. She flirted with me outrageously and I flirted back. And of course, James Coyte saw and gave me the coldest look as he escorted his wife away.”

“You had to flirt back, didn’t you?” Lexie said dryly.

“I was just being friendly. Just three months ago, Valerie was still calling me, wanting to hook up again. Apparently she and James got married after dating for only five weeks. How was I supposed to know she wasn’t single anymore?”

“Oh, Brad,” Lexie said with a shake of her head. “The women you go out with.”

“Hey, I stopped entertaining her calls a long time ago when I figured out she was a gold digger. Obviously, James has no clue what his wife’s really like. But that’s his problem, not mine. My problem is that James might have put my firm out of contention because of a rumour that has started to go around.”

“What rumour?” Erin asked.

“Apparently, there are whispers that I’m still keen on Valerie. I’m not surprised someone’s out to hurt my chances of winning the contract. This business is as cut-throat as anything, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Warren Oliver who started it. He’ll do anything—”

“Wait a minute,” Lexie interrupted. “Warren Oliver, who used to be your biggest rival in school, and is now your fiercest competitor in business, is going for the same contract? What are the odds, huh?” she added sarcastically.

He sniggered. Everyone close to him knew the competition that had been going on between him and Warren for many years. These days, they battled against each other for multimillion-dollar projects instead of the top marks in class and the hottest cheerleaders.

Their rivalry had been friendly and polite in the past. But three years ago, when Warren had won a contract they’d both competed for, their relationship had escalated to enemy level.

Brad’s firm had been the frontrunner for that project, but ultimately hadn’t been awarded the deal because of whispers that his company was having cash flow problems. Brad had no doubt that the false rumours had been started by Warren. No one else had a powerful enough motive to make him lose out on the contract since their respective firms had been the only two that had made the final round of consideration. And it hadn’t been the first time Warren had tried to trip him during a race to get to the finish line first. Unfortunately, he had no concrete evidence to prove his suspicions that the rumours were all Warren’s doing.

“I can’t believe you’re still locking horns with that guy,” Erin said teasingly. “In almost everything.”

“And I’m not letting him win this contract,” he said with determination. This new job was, by far, the most lucrative and prestigious he’d ever gone after. No way he’d hand this one to Warren’s firm. No fucking way.

“So what do you say, Erin?” he asked with a wink. “Would you be my fake girlfriend?”

“What exactly does that position entail?” she asked.

“It means going out with me to dinners and industry functions so relevant people will see us together as a couple. That should stop rumours of me wanting to have an affair with James Coyte’s wife.”

“And will you pick me up at work so Kevin and Paula can see I’m not single anymore?”

“However you want me to act around them, I’d be more than happy to comply.”

Lexie sighed loudly, her disapproval apparent. “Why don’t the two of you just find yourselves real dates instead of getting into this fake relationship thing with each other?”

“You know my workaholism doesn’t go well with real dates, sis,” he quipped. With past girlfriends having accused him of being married to his company, he’d learned to stay away from relationships.

“You know what, Brad? You have a deal,” Erin said, holding her hand out for a shake.

“Deal,” he said with a wide smile, grasping her hand and squeezing it.

Excellent. Erin was the best fake girlfriend he could hope for. Truth be told, she was absolutely freaking gorgeous. Not only that, she was caring and sweet, and she could hold intelligent conversations with anyone. She’d be great when they had to hobnob with potential clients.

Pity this was a no-sex arrangement. If there was anyone among his friends that he’d love to take to his bed, it was Erin. But he cared too much about their friendship to mess around with her. Plus, he truly didn’t have any interest in being in a romantic relationship with anyone.

His firm was growing at a phenomenal rate and he wasn’t ready to take his foot off the accelerator. While he’d achieved so much in the last few years, including winning industry awards and prestigious contracts, he was still far from his loftier goal: taking Mead Commercial and Corporate Designs worldwide—and doing it before Warren Oliver’s firm did.

He simply didn’t have time for a relationship. He’d decided long ago to not be in one until… well, he didn’t know when. One thing was for sure, it wouldn’t be in the foreseeable future. Having a casual shag whenever he wanted one suited him far better than dealing with a partner who’d ask for more than he could give. And Erin most definitely wasn’t a casual-shag type of person.

Yes, that was a real pity.

***End of Chapter One***

Hope you enjoyed that. I'll share Chapter Two with you tomorrow.

The Unintended Fiancé can be pre-ordered from the following stores:

Amazon US | Other Amazon stores | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

It will be available on Google Play, All Romance Ebooks and Smashwords on October 22nd.

That's all for today. More tomorrow 🙂

Much love,
Miranda xxx