A Harlequin mass market paperback contemporary romance; Book 2 in The Anderson Family series
Release date: January, 2016
Barnes & Noble
A jaded attorney makes a bargain with a charming sales executive to help her get revenge on her cheating ex-fiancé by attending her reunion as her lover. But she soon realizes falling in love is even better than getting revenge.
Subscribe to my free enewsletter for advance release information.
Passion Play: The Anderson Family, Book 2
Love’s a game without rules …
Ever since she threw her cheating fiance’s ring back in his face, Rose Beharie has avoided men. With her law school reunion fast approaching, she needs a sexy, successful date who’ll prove to her ex that she’s moved on. Sales executive Donovan Carroll more than fits the bill. In fact, from his sensual smile to his compassionate heart, the man seems too perfect for a woman whose emotions are on ice.
One minute, Donovan is playing a part as a favor to the gorgeous attorney. The next, he’s tumbling head over heels. As soon as their public display becomes a simmering private inferno, Rose backs off. Will he be able to convince her that no revenge could ever be more satisfying than falling hopelessly and passionately in love?
“Ben is on my panel.” Rose Beharie dropped that bombshell on her two younger sisters during their weekly Wednesday family dinner. What kind of perverse wench was Fate that she’d pair her with her snake of an ex-fiancé on her law school reunion’s legislative presentation panel?
“Are you kidding me?” Her youngest sister, Iris, recovered from the surprise first. Seated beside Rose, Iris stared at her, wide-eyed.
Rose had met Benjamin Shippley during their first year of law school at the University of Michigan. She’d thought he was The One. Instead, he was one of the biggest mistakes she’d ever made. She must have been insane to register for her ten-year law school reunion without first learning whether Benjamin would be attending. Temporary insanity—or more likely hubris.
She’d read in their alumni e-newsletter that Benjamin and his bride of almost one year lived in Los Angeles. He was an entertainment lawyer. Whatever. Rose was now a partner at one of the most prestigious firms in Ohio. Since they practiced such different types of law, Rose would never have pictured them participating on the same reunion panel. Had someone deliberately put them together? If so, who? Why? And did that person have exceptional health insurance?
“What are you going to do?” Her middle sister, Lily, paused with her glass of iced cucumber water halfway to her mouth. She was seated across the table from Rose.
After their parents had died, Lily had suggested the three of them continue the weekly Beharie family meals. Rose and Iris returned to their family home—now Lily’s home—every Wednesday for dinner, conversation and sibling support.
That’s what Rose needed now. “I have to find a date for the reunion.”
“Why?” Lily finished her tilapia.
“I’ve already registered and agreed to serve on the panel.” Rose moved her green beans to another side of her plate. A deep breath carried to her the savory aroma of seasoned tilapia. “I can’t back out now. Ben will think I’m not over him.”
“But you are over him. You’re so over him.” Iris, her youngest sister, glowered as she stuffed a green bean into her mouth.
“I know.” Rose glared at her halffull plate. Instead of the wonderful meal Lily had cooked, all Rose tasted was the anger, hurt and bitterness of her words. “I want Ben to know it, too. That’s why I need a date.”
“Someone to make Ben eat his heart out.” Iris grinned with evil intent.
Rose stared at the original artwork on the wall behind Lily. It was of a scarlet vase of wildflowers. “Someone handsome, successful, charming.”
“And rich.” Iris sipped her cucumber water.
“I don’t understand.” Lily slid aside her empty dinner plate. “You’re going to bring some stranger to your reunion and pass him off as your fake boyfriend so Ben will know you’re over him? What is this, some sort of low-budget TV movie of the week?”
“No, it’s revenge.” Iris drained her glass of water.
“Ben was cheating on me even before he proposed.” Rose shoved aside her halffull plate and leaned into the table. “Do you have any idea how that made me feel?”
“No, I don’t. But I know how it made me feel.” Lily’s voice was quiet. “And I know how it makes me feel to see you still so hurt and upset. Rose, you don’t have to miss the reunion. You don’t have to bring a fake boyfriend to it, either. There’s a third option.”
“What?” Rose regarded her sister closely.
“You could go by yourself.” Lily folded her hands on the table.
Rose’s eyes widened. “I can’t go to the reunion by myself.”
“Come on, Lil.” Iris added her voice to Rose’s. “It’s been sixteen months. Ben can’t know that Rosie hasn’t even had a date in more than a year.”
“Thanks, Iris.” Rose’s response cracked with sarcasm. Having her youngest sister put her fears into words made Rose feel worse. But Iris was right. She didn’t want Benjamin to know she hadn’t had anyone else in her life since she’d kicked him out.
A sudden restlessness overcame Rose. She stood and gathered Lily’s and Iris’s dishes and silverware, in addition to her own. She sensed her sisters behind her as she carried the load into the kitchen. Rose’s eyes moved over the familiar pale gold walls, blond wood furnishings and stainless steel appliances. Lily had done little to redecorate their family home. Was it because, like her, Lily found comfort in the surroundings?
“Rosie, you’re a successful, intelligent and beautiful woman.” The impatience in Lily’s voice took away from the compliment. “You don’t need a boyfriend—fake or otherwise—to be complete.”
“You’re not getting it, Lil.” Iris returned the place mats to the marble kitchen counter.
“I appreciate the sentiment.” Rose stacked the plates and silverware into the dishwasher. “But if I show up to the reunion alone, people will talk. Some will even snicker.” Her skin grew cold just imagining the negative reactions: stares, whispers, condescension.
Lily carried her step stool to the counter. She mounted the stool, then dug out a plastic storage bowl from the honey-wood cabinet above the stainless steel stove. “You’re acting as though none of your former classmates would be supportive of you. What about those friends you get together with every month?”
“They would be supportive.” To a point.
The Constant Classmates—they hadn’t changed much over the years—were three of Rose’s closest friends from her law school class. They were smart, successful, ambitious, condescending, narcissistic and competitive.
“I don’t know why you’re still friends with them.” Iris returned the pitcher of cucumber water to the side-by-side refrigerator. “You don’t really like them.”
“You guys have only met them once.” Rose continued to carefully load the dishwasher. Lily was very particular about the arrangement of the dishes. “I know they come across as a little full of themselves.”
“A little?” Iris snorted.
Rose gave her youngest sister a look. “We were study partners in law school. I wouldn’t have made it without them. And they were very supportive when I found out about Ben.”
Lily blew a dismissive breath. “You shouldn’t allow other people to make you feel bad if you want to go to the reunion on your own.”
“But I don’t want to go alone.” Rose faced Lily. “I want to go with a date.”
“Then I hope you find someone before the reunion.” Lily carried the dirty pans to the sink and filled them with soapy hot water. “Just let it happen, though. Don’t plan to bring a phony boyfriend.”
Rose straightened from the dishwasher, shutting the appliance’s door. “I don’t have time to depend on chance. The reunion is the weekend of September 18. That’s only three months away.”
“Those three months will just fly by.” Iris carried the baking pan to the sink and began cleaning it.
“Thanks, Iris.” Rose cut her baby sister another look.
“What are you going to do?” Lily propped her hips against the counter. Her blue terry-cloth shorts hung to midthigh. A purple tulip featured prominently on her white cotton T-shirt. “Put an ad in a newspaper?”
“I was hoping you or Iris knew someone suitable.” Rose rested her hips against the counter, facing her sisters. “I don’t know any men outside of work, and I don’t want to invite someone from the firm.”
“I’m dating the only handsome, successful, charming, wealthy guy I know.” Iris’s smile was satisfied.
Iris’s boyfriend, Tyler Anderson, was vice president of product development for Anderson Adventures, a family-owned computer gaming company. They’d met three months ago when Tyler hired Iris’s solo marketing and public relations consulting firm, The Beharie Agency, to help launch his company’s soon-to-be-released game, Osiris’ Journey.
“This is a bad idea.” Lily shook her head. “You’re giving Ben too much power. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. You know that you don’t need a man to validate you.”
“I do know that.” Rose sighed again. “But I really need you to support me in this plan. I’m sure it’s not an accident that Ben and I are on the same presentation panel. Someone deliberately put us together. I don’t want to show up alone.”
Iris crossed to Rose and rested a hand on her shoulder. “If Rosie shows up alone, it will seem as though she hasn’t gotten over Ben.”
With or without Lily’s approval, Rose was moving forward with her plan. But she really wanted both of her sisters’ support. The three of them had always been close, even more so since their parents had died. Iris understood. Why couldn’t Lily? Tension bunched in Rose’s shoulders as she waited for her younger sister’s response.
Finally, Lily turned. “If you’re going to do this, be sure the man you get to play your fake boyfriend is handsome enough to make Ben jealous.”
Rose smiled her relief. “That’s the plan.”
“I need a lawyer.” Donovan Carroll sat on the gray cushioned guest chair in Xavier Anderson’s office at Anderson Adventures. He balanced one of his company’s oversize coffee mugs on his right thigh. It was a match to the mugs Xavier and Tyler were using.
The tension that dropped into the room after his announcement was tangible. From behind his desk, Xavier’s gaze sprang from his mug to lock onto Donovan. In the matching seat beside him, Tyler, Xavier’s cousin, nearly choked on his coffee.
“Why do you need a lawyer?”
“What’s going on?”
Xavier and Tyler spoke at the same time. The concern in their voices was a reminder that, although he wasn’t related to the Andersons by blood or marriage, they’d accepted him as family since he’d first met the cousins in college.
It was just after 7:00 a.m. on the third Thursday in June. Anderson Adventures was quiet. Very few employees arrived this early. Xavier, the company’s vice president of finance, hadn’t been the same since his recent breakup with his girlfriend. The reason his five-month relationship ended probably disturbed Xavier more than the actual breakup. For that reason, he and Tyler had agreed to start their mornings with Xavier to show their support.
Donovan drew a deep breath, collecting his thoughts. The scent of strong coffee clung to the air. “A pawnshop is trying to move into one of the vacant storefronts in the same neighborhood where our shelters are located.”
In his life away from Anderson Adventures, Donovan, the company’s vice president of sales, served as president of the board of directors of Hope Homeless Shelter in downtown Columbus, Ohio.
Once his friends realized Donovan wasn’t in trouble, the tension dissipated.
“I’d read in the newspaper that Public Pawn had plans to expand its locations.” Xavier rolled up the sleeves of his dark blue jersey.
“I hadn’t realized the company had chosen its first expansion location.” Tyler drank more of his coffee.
“The board has been monitoring the pawnshop’s progress. The owner made the announcement at the end of the day, after news deadlines.” Donovan sighed. “We want a lawyer’s help writing and filing a statement with the Columbus City Council against the pawnshop moving into our neighborhood.”
“How much time do you have?” Tyler appeared calm in his dark brown polo shirt and tan Dockers. Usually the workaholic vice president of product development was itching to get back to work after ten minutes. But since he’d started dating Iris Beharie, Tyler had become more relaxed—and also more productive.
“Our response is due next month, the third week of July. We have four weeks to find a lawyer who can research, write and file our statement, all pro bono.” Piece of cake. Donovan’s natural wit failed to find the humor in this situation.
Xavier leaned back on his black leather executive chair. “Maybe our legal counsel has someone on staff who could help you.”
Donovan had considered contacting their legal counsel but then dismissed the idea. “The board can’t afford their rate, and I don’t want to ask them for any favors. That would compromise Anderson Adventures’ relationship with them in the future.”
Xavier’s dark eyebrows knitted. “What’s the shelter’s legal-aid budget?”
“It’s somewhere between zero and a prayer.” Donovan scrubbed his left hand over his face. “The shelter recently transferred its legal-aid funds into an operating account.”
“Wow.” Tyler arched his eyebrows. “It sounds like they were faced with tough budget choices—preserve a legal fund they may not need or pay immediate bills.”
“Exactly.” Donovan nodded. “Frankly, we need a lawyer who would represent us pro bono.”
Xavier exchanged a look with Tyler before meeting Donovan’s eyes. “That could prove difficult.”
“I know.” Donovan drummed his fingers against the arms of his chair as he scanned the room.
Like Tyler’s office, Xavier’s space was meticulous.
Black three-ring program binders were arranged on the shelf above the desk behind him. On his back wall, project folders were neatly arranged in a black metal file sorter on top of a three-foot-tall cabinet.
“Didn’t you date a lawyer?” Tyler cocked his head as though searching his memory. “What was her name again?”
“Whitley Maxwell.” She was attractive, intelligent and shallow.
“Whitley, that’s right.” Tyler snapped his fingers. “Maybe you could ask her to help.”
“You’ve still got a lot to learn, Ty, if you think that would be a good idea.” Xavier snorted.
“We didn’t exactly part on good terms.” Donovan glanced at Tyler. Had he brought up Whitley in an effort to amuse Xavier? His smile was faint, but it was the first sign of levity his friend had shown in more than a week.
Tyler shrugged. “She’s a good lawyer and you know her.”
“You’re right.” It wasn’t that Whitley hadn’t crossed his mind. But he was reluctant to return to any sort of relationship with her, considering the way their relationship had ended. “But she may be more trouble than she’s worth.”
“Maybe she’s changed.” Tyler’s voice was pensive.
“Can people really change that much?” Xavier asked.
Donovan studied the other man. He sensed Xavier was thinking about his ex-girlfriend when he posed that question.
He turned back to Tyler. “I’ll see if the other board members have luck finding a lawyer to help us pro bono. If not, I’ll give Whitley a call.”
He hoped the other members had a long list of recommendations for legal representation. He’d much rather not have to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend.