Love is a lot closer and more complicated than Marty ever dreamed.
Marty Dashwood is a true romantic. Hearts, chocolates, kisses on the hand—the whole nine yards. His killjoy brother Eldon doesn’t believe in love at first sight, but one day Marty will have the perfect meet-cute, she’ll fall helplessly in love with him and they’ll live happily ever after.
Brandy’s worked with Marty for almost two years. He’s the best friend she could ever have hoped for after the accident that took her husband. So she should be happy that Marty finally found what he’d always wanted, right?
So why does it feel like every time she sees Marty with the ‘Social-Media Angel’ he rescued from a mugger, a piece breaks off her heart? How can she explain any of this to him before she loses her best friend forever?
Reader advisory: Rash and Rationality is a modern gender-swapped friends-to-lovers Sense & Sensibility, set in a cozy bookshop.
Motown piped through her little apartment, causing her hips to sway as she worked the roller up and down the wall. Marty stood beside her, attempting to put his tiny brush to work and only covering a tenth of what she could.
“I’m going to beat you,” Brandy declared.
“Only because you stole that,” he complained, pausing in his artistic swipes at a flat wall. With paintbrush perched on his hip, he pointed at the roller that was constantly splattering paint back at her. Fat drops landed in her hair, but Marty somehow avoided all the spray. Maybe he was just that lucky.
Brandy dipped the roller through the paint tray. “I can’t steal what I bought. Not my fault you brought a tiny tool for a big job.”
“Ouch,” Marty scoffed. “I’ll have you know it’s not the size of the tool but the consistency and rhythm of the strokes that matters.” He cracked a smile at her and heat burned across her face. Had to be her damn apartment and the shitty air conditioning.
So much exercise in a tight space with two bodies…it was no wonder she felt flushed. Struggling to reach the ceiling, Brandy pushed harder against the wall. A large swipe of gross yellow lingered above their heads. “Damn it!” she gasped, straining on her toes and making no progress.
Her blackmailed man paused in his delicate strokes to watch her. The flush returned again, causing her to break out in fully flustered sweats. Uncertain what to do, Brandy kept trying to reach what she couldn’t get.
“Here,” Marty said. “Trade?” He passed her the small brush and took the roller for himself. Starting where she’d already greened up the wall, Marty began to inch the paint higher. A slick roll scattered over the yellow, but the line was light and left a two-inch gap above their heads.
He gritted his teeth and took a step closer, straining his hand far above his head. Out of ideas, Brandy stepped back and watched Marty. It was obvious he couldn’t get any farther past what she ‘d done, but he didn’t seem to want to give up.
She’d never thought of him as short. Okay, compared to the average guy, he was smaller. But it didn’t matter, not to be her friend. Not to be her…not to work in the shop. He never seemed to have that little-Napoleon complex, like a chihuahua trying to bite a Great Dane’s ankles. To think it bothered him to the point he felt like he had to prove himself with a cheating…
And there you go, thinking it’s your job to fix his relationship.
What? You’ll slot into the place where Janeth was kicked out of? Like you’re ready for that.
Too much pizza and alcohol sloshed about inside her, unsettling her stomach. Brandy reached to touch it, when she caught the paint-soaked brush in her hands. That would have been quite the mess—
“Ah!” Marty cried, and his straining tiptoes collapsed. He splattered right onto the wall that was coated in wet paint.
“Oh no.” Brandy dashed to his side, but it was too late. A great smear of mint green covered the entire front of his black T-shirt. Marty held up his hands, showing one stained palm too. The other clung to the roller and he stared in shock at the mess he’d made.
A strange smile rose on his lips and he took a step closer. “Brandy, come here.”
“Give me a big hug!” he said, flailing both hands.
She took a step back and knocked right into the damn stool she’d moved so they could reach the ceiling in the first place. Movement in her peripheral vision caused her to turn back to find Marty advancing.
“Don’t you dare,” she warned, shaking the brush at him.
He snickered at the empty threat. “Come on. It’s tradition.”
“No, it’s not,” she shouted, laughter escaping. Marty lunged for her, but Brandy was quicker and ducked under his arms. He spun around but kept lumbering toward her like a reanimated corpse.
“Of course it is. The Fourth of July hug.”
“Stop!” She full-on giggled, running for her kitchen. Marty was quick on her heels, his entire torso glistening from the wet paint.
What was she doing in here? The stove and counters trapped her in place, pinning her between escape and Marty. He winked and—in his smoldering voice—said, “Don’t you want to be wrapped up in these arms?”
And she hated herself for it.
“Here.” Yanking a towel off the stove, she wiped at Marty’s hand. That seemed to slow the charging beast. His minty-green belly showed, but it stopped the attack. Instead, he stood silent as she wet the towel and kept cleaning him off.
“So you don’t…” Brandy glanced away from his nearly spotless palm up into his face. A breath rolled between his barely parted lips and his Adam’s apple dropped.
Shaking off the rise in her body, she said, “So you don’t make a mess of my place.”
“Too late for my shirt,” Marty said with an accepting sigh. “Well, don’t want to be a poor guest.” And, before she could get another towel to sponge off the paint, he gripped the neck of his shirt and yanked it off.
Holy crap. Shame tried to direct her to look anywhere but at the half-naked man attempting to rinse off the paint. But she couldn’t escape the pull. Instead of the nearly full spread of man fur of her dream, he only had a light smattering that was a softer brown than his head hair. It dashed halfway across his rounded pecs, then pointed straight down his flat stomach. Even with a giant pizza sitting in there, she could make out a hint of a four-pack flush to his half-moon belly button. And it was sexier than anything she could have dreamed.
Pride & Pancakes
Happily Ever Austen Series Book 1
When a cold-hearted singer and a hard-headed journalist are trapped together in a blizzard, there will be sparks—and pancakes.
When Beth Cho is tasked with interviewing elusive musician Tristan Harty, it’s hate at first sight. Despite his sapphire-blue eyes and lithe frame, he’s got to be the most infuriating man on the planet.
Tristan Harty is already sick of reporters and this one is proving no different. Sure, she might be adorable with her ebony hair and big brown eyes, but her incessant need to dig into his past is dragging on his last nerve.
The bickering duo vow never to meet again, but Mother Nature has other plans for them, trapping them in a Vermont cabin via a blizzard. The more Beth learns about the aristocratic Tristan, the harder it is for her to keep her professional distance, just as Tristan discovers that a loving heart beats inside the beautiful reporter.
But what happens when the snowstorm’s over, and the melted Tristan and enamored Beth are free to leave? Can their reluctant attraction bloom into a deeper love now their cold-as-ice judgment has thawed?
Reader advisory: Pride and Pancakes is a sweet yet steamy contemporary story inspired by the immortal Pride & Prejudice. There are references to sexual abuse, death from drug overdose and death in car crash.
“The snow’s stopped.” Tristan’s voice echoed through the cabin.
“Thank God,” she gasped, pressing Save and backing her work up into the cloud. At least this place had working internet and electricity. The heat seemed to come predominantly from the fire, but there were a lot of trees around. And all she had to do was make it through the night, then she’d be free of him.
He stared at her from the reflective window, but she wouldn’t look up. What time was it? The moment she saw it was nearing midnight, a yawn rumbled in her gut.
“There is the matter of sleeping arrangements,” the strange man she’d only met this afternoon declared.
Beth’s heart sank. One bed in the honeymoon cabin. Not a reason for another. “I don’t care how big it is. I don’t want it,” she babbled, rising from the couch.
To her surprise, and small delight, Tristan blinked in confusion, his brow clouding. “What…what are you? What do you mean?”
“The bed, the only bed.”
“Oh!” he gasped as if coming to God. He canvassed the ceiling before landing his sight upon her. “You referred to…yes, of course.”
“Why? What did you think I meant?” The moment the question left her lips, she played back what she’d said without thought and the innuendo it crafted. A blush moved to scamper over her cheeks, which she could disguise thanks to the firelight.
“You take the bed, alone,” he tacked on quickly. “I’ll sleep out here on the couch.”
Beth glanced at the small two-seater. She could probably scrunch up to fit, but no way he’d manage. “I’ll sleep on the couch. You, Mr. Big-Wig Musician, take the bed.”
“Ha,” he snorted. “You think I can’t hack it out here?”
“Damn certain you can’t.” Beth nodded to herself, well aware of the riders most celebs demanded just to sit for a few minutes and talk about themselves. No way anyone who’d gone platinum would demean themselves by sleeping on a couch.
“I’ll have you know, I’ve slept on buses in my touring days.” Tristan broke from his vigil over the snow, his closed-off body sliding closer.
“Oh yeah? I’ve done Greyhound.”
“Vans, as well. One time, I had to sleep on the floor of an overbooked hotel room.”
“Big deal.” She prodded at him without touching him. “You ever slept on the floor of a cargo plane? Or a rickshaw? Or the bottom of a leaking boat?”
Her rather colorful background threw Tristan off. The cocky demeanor melted, his arms falling out of their tight cross as he eyed her. “No. No, I haven’t.”
“Then take the damn bed.” She indicated the bedroom, exhausted by his sudden chivalry. “I can handle myself on a damn sofa for a few hours. And no, I won’t mention it in the article. ‘Musician sleeps in bed.’ Hardly pull quote material.”
The edge of his stark-white canine emerged as he sneered. Had he perfected that in the mirror when younger or was it simply his face reacting to his soul? “You cannot stop riling people up, can you? Like a scrap of splintered wood rubbed over skin.”
Beth moved to rise to defend herself and point out how he knew as little about her as she did him. But the haughty musician spun on his heels and finally trudged off to the open bedroom. Without another word, the door slammed, rattling the cabin’s frame until snow plummeted off the roof. A shudder climbed her spine as she remembered she was trapped in a cabin with a stranger.
A near-stranger known to have a temper problem. He buried it under cold scowls and erudite language, but it was there. It was the sixth or seventh thing people thought about when imagining Tristan Harty. And Beth knew better than to ask about it, especially with no one around to pillow his punches.
Twisting in place, she glared at the short sofa she’d vehemently insisted be hers. Sitting up wasn’t so bad, with her back nestled against the armrest and her feet up on the cushion. But how was she going to sleep on this thing? She’d have to scrunch up like a child in the throes of a nightmare to fit. And he’d thought he could do it?
Too riled up to sleep, Beth turned her back to the closed bedroom and opened her laptop. The blank page mocked her, the blinking cursor questioning why she didn’t get a job in engineering instead.
Because you’re awful at math and fear being electrocuted.
At least engineers didn’t have to deal with being trapped in snow-bound cabins with fickle, thin-skinned musicians. He’d been so damn insistent she not take her car when there’d been a chance and now they were both stuck together. Always having to be right, having to throw his intellectual weight around as if it were a ten-ton wrecking ball.
Flexing her fingers, Beth laid into her keyboard to quickly type, Tristan Harty is an arrogant know-it-all who cares little for the consequences of his actions. The cursor flickered at the end of her cruel cut, wondering about the bias and the rather limp lede. Folding her other fingers into a fist, Beth plunged her pointer to the delete key, pressing to vanish every letter of the accurate but inflammatory sentence.
Tristan Harty is…
The sound of the door opening caused her to crane her head around. Instinctively, she closed her laptop as the subject of her non-start barreled out of the room. A blanket curled from his arms down to the floor and a pillow nestled against his chest. “Here,” he said, thrusting both at Beth.
She reached for them, confused as to why he’d bothered. Before she could ask, he spun on his heels and marched back into the bedroom, once again slamming the door. Wrapping her arms around the offering ripped from his bed, Beth breathed in a surprising masculine scent. Warmth lingered in the wool fibers. Had he been tossing and turning in the bed before deciding to give the blanket to her? Or had he been holding both blanket and pillow, pacing back and forth, wondering if she’d even accept them?
Despite her annoyance at the man, she wasn’t stupid enough to turn down potential warmth in the midst of a snowstorm. Tucking the pillow behind her back and laying the blanket out over her legs, Beth tried to dive back into her work. She stared blindly at the blinking cursor, watching as the document automatically synched up to the cloud with its half a sentence. As she leaned back into the pillow, warmth curled across her weary back and the smell of sandalwood spiced with juniper wafted around her.
Tristan Harty is confounding.
Ellen Mint adores the adorkable heroes who charm with their shy smiles and heroines that pack a punch. She has a needy black lab named after Granny Weatherwax from Discworld. Sadly, her dog is more of a Magrat.
When she’s not writing imposing incubi or saucy aliens, she does silly things like make a tiny library full of her books. Her background is in genetics and she married a food scientist so the two of them nerd out over things like gut bacteria. She also loves gaming, particularly some of the bigger RPG titles. If you want to get her talking for hours, just bring up Dragon Age.