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 Unforgettable Ex: Cover Reveal + Miranda’s New Street Team

Happy 2016! Hope the new year has started out great for you, and may the rest of it be full of love, fulfilment, good health and everything else your heart desires 🙂

The Unforgettable Ex Cover

My talented cover designer, Viola Estrella, has created another cover that I've fallen in love with. So to kick off my posts for 2016, I thought I'd formally share with you the cover for The Unforgettable Ex (Captured by Love, Book 5). Do you think it's drool-worthy? I certainly think so 😉

TheUnforgettableEx-1200x1800

I'm hoping to finish this book soon and release it around the end of February. I'm really enjoying writing about Gavin and Natasha and I can't wait for you to read their love story.

Stay tuned for Chapters One and Two of The Unforgettable Ex, which I will share with you before the book's official release date.

Miranda's Official Street Team

I'd like to take this opportunity to let you know that I have an official street team to help me spread the word about my books. The team is administered via a Facebook group and managed by the lovely Chelsea Crumbaugh so that I can focus on writing books and taking care of my health. But I'll be popping into the Facebook group a lot.

At the end of each month, we'll be picking active team members from those who help with the promotions, and there will be prizes!

If you'd like to join, please click the link below. I'd love to see you there.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1659943267622600/

Miranda's ARC Team

The Street Team is separate from my ARC (Advance Reading Copy) Team. Members of my ARC team get a free e-copy of my new books prior to them being published in exchange for posting an honest review on Amazon (and/or other book stores) on or close to the books' release date.

If you'd like to be considered for my ARC Team, please email me back with your request to join. If you've already reviewed some of my books, please include the link to one of the reviews. ARC Team places are limited so priority will be given to those who are already actively reviewing my books. But I will try to accomodate as many interested parties as I can.

If you have any questions on any of the above, please let me know 🙂

That's all for now. I hope you like the cover for The Unforgettable Ex. If you've loved the first four books in the Captured by Love series, I'm sure you'd love Gavin and Natasha's story too.

Until next time, take care and make the most of 2016!

Much love,
Miranda xoxo

 

The Unintended Fiancé: Out Now

TheUnintendedFiance-Full

I'm doing a happy dance! The Unintended Fiancé is finally released, and Brad and Erin's story is now available for you to enjoy.

Thank you for waiting for this book. If you've pre-ordered it, it should already be in your device. If you were waiting for it to go live before getting your copy, here are the links to the stores:

Amazon US | Other Amazon Stores | Apple iBooks | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | All Romance Ebooks | Smashwords

I'm really thrilled with this book and knowing plenty of people were waiting for it was a huge inspiration. I feel humbled and grateful for the support I continually get from my readers. It truly means a lot. Thank you again.

I hope you love The Unintended Fiancé as much as I do. Really can't wait for you to read it.

Much love,
Miranda

P.S. I don't want to make a big deal of it, but I understand that some of you might be wondering how I'm going with my current health challenge. I'm happy to say that I'm coping well with treatment. Side effects are still relatively mild, for which I'm truly grateful. It means I'm energetic enough to start on the next book. Yay! 🙂

 

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

 

 

 

Cover Reveal: The Unintended Fiance

It's been ten days since the release of The Undercover Playboy and I'm truly grateful that readers are loving Carter and Cassie's story. I'm so motivated to keep working hard on the next book in the Captured by Love series.

Brad and Erin's story is next, and their fun, bumpy and steamy journey to happily-ever-after is unravelling beautifully as I write it. The Unintended Fiancé is due for release on the 22nd of September and since it's been available for pre-order for over a week now, you might already have seen the cover. But I thought I'd do a special post for it because it's another excellent work by my fabulous cover designer, Viola Estrella. I just have to show it off properly!

So here it is. Who do you think is the hottest so far among our Captured by Love guys? Personally, I want to swoon every time I look at this one 😉

TheUnintendedFiance-1200x1800

He arranges a fake engagement to win against his business rival.

Bradley Mead has one overriding goal: to succeed over his fiercest business enemy. To boost his chances of winning a lucrative contract over his competitor, he must first assure his potential client that he is not after the client's new wife–a woman he used to date and who still loves to flirt with him. To aid his cause, he asks Erin Baker, his sister's beautiful best friend, to be his pretend fianceé. But Erin soon becomes a pawn for his archrival's underhanded tactics… and Brad finds himself torn between winning in business and following the dictates of his heart.

She doesn't expect to fall for her fake fiancé.

Erin Baker believes she is now immune from Bradley Mead's charms. After all, her secret crush for him when she was still a teenager is long gone. When an ex-boyfriend becomes a new work colleague and starts annoying her, accepting Brad's proposition to be his fake fianceé for a short time seems like a great idea… until she discovers that she's been lying to herself about her feelings for him. Can she ever win the heart of the man who has never loved her back, and shows no intention of ever doing so?

*****

Pre-order links are up for The Unintended Fiancé. Here they are:

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

It will also be available for sale on Google Play, All Romance Ebooks and Smashwords on the 22nd of September.

Thank you so much for your support! You have no idea how much I appreciate it.

Much love,
Miranda xxx