Authors: Cynthia Cooke
Love is the
After a failed marriage and quitting her high-pressure job, Carrie Steinhem is ready for uncomplicated
. Love? Not what she’s looking for. She’d rather crash a wedding with her friends and find a hot hookup. The bride’s father is onto her, though. But just as her night out veers toward public embarrassment, a sizzling stranger sweeps in and claims Carrie as his date.
Potential hookup? Check. If she doesn’t get cold feet first.
Ryan Burton is on the fast track to a promotion…assuming he can avoid distractions and nail this new account. Except the woman he rescued at a friend’s wedding ends up not only being his new neighbor—she’s his client’s ex-wife. And his client has
intention of winning her back.
Carrie and Ryan would love to leave complicated alone, but when two people share a duplex and irresistible chemistry, temptation—and love—is right around the corner…
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Cynthia Cooke. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at
Lovestruck is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Kate Brauning
Cover design by Heather Howland
Cover art from iStock
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition February 2016
I’d like to thank Kate Brauning, editor extraordinaire, for believing in this book and making it shine.
Crashing a wedding was always easier in the movies.
Carrie Steinhem hurried across the manicured lawns of the Tudor-styled hotel near Muir beach—a gorgeous spot for a nighttime wedding, full of twinkling lights and beautiful gardens. She spotted her friends behind the low stucco wall, surrounded by a throng of single ladies all waiting for the bride to turn and toss the bouquet. Their laughter reverberated through the air. Luckily their attention was on the bride and not on Carrie sneaking in the back gate. She was closing in, only ten feet away. Finding parking had been harder than she’d anticipated. She’d been away from this city too long and her timing was all off.
A trickle of guests had spilled out of the reception area and across the back lawn, smoking, laughing, and swapping stories. She quickened her step. Hopefully it would look like she’d just gone out to her car and come back. She was almost there—then her tall heel sank deep into the soft grass. Her ankle turned and pain shot through her foot. She let out a yelp and would have fallen, if not for the quick hand grabbing her elbow, the strong arm slipping around her waist.
“Are you all right?” a warm voice asked.
She looked up into incredibly clear grey-blue eyes and for a moment, her voice was lost. “I am now. Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he said with a smile that stole her breath and muddled her brain further.
This day was suddenly on an upswing. But before she could ask him his name, she heard Phoebe’s distinctive drawl carried over the rumble of the crowd.
“Oh, yeah, baby!”
Cringing, Carrie turned to see the bouquet sailing through the air and her friend leaping above all the others, her arm shooting up to grab it.
“Oh, no,” she muttered, and hurried toward the wrought iron gate. As she went through, she took a quick look back for her handsome rescuer, but he was already gone. She sighed. Another opportunity dashed. What else was new?
It was just—moments like that had become rare for her.
She joined her other friend, Naomi, and they both stood frozen and slack-jawed as they watched Phoebe take a picture with the bride, the bouquet clutched in her hand, a victorious smile on her face. “The bride has no idea who she is,” Naomi said.
Everyone assumed the best at weddings. If they didn’t know you, you were probably a cousin’s date or a coworker’s plus-one. “So much for keeping a low profile,” Carrie said.
“Yep.” Naomi gave Phoebe a big smile as she approached. Carrie followed her friends and they searched for an empty table at the edge of the stone courtyard, as far away from the bride and groom’s table as they could get and preferably behind a large potted palm or banana plant. The sweet scent of jasmine and gardenias drifted through the air, and tiny bright lights twinkled above their heads in the clear night sky. It was truly magical, and Carrie would be enjoying herself immensely—if they had been invited.
A waiter passed by with a tray of champagne flutes and handed each of them one. As she took a sip of the expensive bubbly, the father of the bride looked at them, the crease in his brow digging even deeper. “Don’t look now but I think the father of the bride is growing suspicious,” Carrie whispered.
“It’ll be all right,” Phoebe said, shrugging. “We’re old pros at this.”
old pros. Now we’re just old, or at least too old to be crashing weddings,” Carrie muttered.
“Ha! Speak for yourself, you’ve just forgotten how to have fun.” Naomi smirked and took a long sip of her champagne. Her auburn hair glinted brightly beneath the twinkling lights as she held up her wrist, displaying a white ribbon.
Phoebe grabbed Carrie’s wrist and tied a matching blue ribbon on it.
“Whoa. What’s this?” Carrie snatched back her hand and stared at the blue bow as if it was slithering.
“One of the ribbons from the bride’s bouquet.” Phoebe grinned from ear to ear. “This way you can share in my good fortune of being the lucky single lady to catch the bridal bouquet.”
“Good fortune? Not on your life.” Even as Carrie said the words, her gaze zeroed in on the dark blond with incredible blue eyes, her handsome rescuer, sitting at a table against the wall. And he was looking right at her. She flushed as he flashed her a confident smile that made her bones weaken. Her first instinct was to glance away, but she fought it. She was making changes in her life, big ones. Jumping back into the dating scene was just one of them. Slowly, she reminded herself. Perhaps not jumping, but dabbling. Toes first. One at a time. Remembering who she used to be.
Another waiter was back; this time placing plates of perfectly sliced wedding cake in front of them. She took a bite of the creamy raspberry filling and closed her eyes as the sugary sliver of heaven hit her tongue. The fact that this piece of perfection came from a wedding cake wouldn’t spoil the moment. Just because
marriage had crashed and burned didn’t mean other people couldn’t find happiness in the antiquated tradition.
“Much as you want to fight it, you and I are next.” Phoebe’s large brown eyes gleamed with mischief as she played with the bridal bouquet she’d practically knocked down three other women to catch. “Naomi’s already found her honey.”
“Yes, and that’s why we’re here. To gather wedding ideas for Naomi.” Carrie leaned toward her two partners in crime. “That’s why we were supposed to sneak in quietly and blend into the background, not rush to the front of a gaggle of screaming women and grab the bouquet right out of their grasp.”
Phoebe’s smile turned wicked. “I know, it was awesome, wasn’t it? I snatched that puppy right out of thin air. It’s an indication of good things to come. Naomi is going to have the best wedding this town has ever seen, and we’re going to get tons of ideas to make sure that happens. I love these party favors,” she said, picking up the little lace flowers off the center of the table. “You can take them with you and pin them to your collar. You’re the artist, what do you think?”
Carrie’s lips twisted in a frown. “Cute. But my artistic muse has been all but dead lately. The past two years in New York suffocated all the creativity out of her
“So about New York,” Naomi prompted. “You haven’t said much. Was there anyone special?”
“You mean in between high-pressure meetings and whirlwind business trips? No, I haven’t had a date in over a year.” New York was supposed to help her rebuild her life after her failed marriage, but she’d only drowned herself in work, and she’d missed her friends too terribly to keep paying the cost.
Naomi’s eyes widened with shock. “A year? Woman, you’re going to age prematurely!”
“Tell me about it.” Yep, she needed to get laid. And bad. Her gaze once more sought her handsome rescuer.
“A little heat in the sheets will fix you right up,” Naomi said, looking around her.
Carrie grinned. Heat in the sheets was exactly what she needed, but she was no longer sure she knew how to go about making that happen. She didn’t want the headache of a relationship. Not right now, not for a long time. Not after the divorce. But she wasn’t a one-night-stand kind of girl, either. She sighed.
“So now that you’re back in San Francisco, are you going to go back to your old job at Steinhem?” Phoebe asked, one perfectly arched brow lifted in question.
Carrie almost choked on her champagne. “Are you kidding?”
“Why not? You helped create the company, didn’t you?” Phoebe asked.
“I need to relax, take some time off to find myself. So hell no, I’m not going back to Steinhem. There is no bliss in Stu Steinhem’s world. There are only lies, selfishness, and me giving him all I have until there’s nothing left.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Naomi added.
Carrie shifted in her seat. She didn’t belong in New York, and she didn’t belong in her old job. Sometimes it felt like she’d completely lost who she was. “I just need to make a change, find my bliss,” she said, looking once more for the handsome man who’d saved her. It didn’t take long for her gaze to find its prize. He’d moved a few steps closer, chatting with an older man in a suit. As if he could feel her watching him, he glanced over. His gaze held hers. Instead of turning away, she smiled. “And I’m ready to play.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Naomi raised her glass.
“Wait,” Phoebe said.
So that’s what you, advertising executive extraordinaire, are going to do with your time? Find your bliss?”
“Yep,” Carrie answered. “And it will be absolute heaven. I’ve moved back into my half of the duplex by Golden Gate Park. I’m going to take walks every day, smell the flowers, take pictures, and wrestle my painting muse back into shape. No more board meetings, no more high-pressure contracts and presentations. No more people taking advantage of my need to do the best job I can until there’s nothing left. I need to refill the well, so to speak.”
“Forget the park. She’s going to hook up with some sexy guy and find her bliss in bed,” Naomi insisted.
Carrie grinned, her eyes once more meeting the stranger’s. Boy, it had been a long time since she’d looked at someone and felt that flutter. She held up her glass. “That, too. To finding our bliss.” Not to dating. Not to relationships. To something fun, something just for herself, for once in her life.
“In bed.” Naomi and Phoebe chimed in as they clinked glasses. A little too loudly.
The father of the bride was staring at them again. With her luck, he was going to barge right over and throw them out. “Perhaps we should call it a night. I think we’ve gotten all the great ideas we can from this one.”
“But I’m not done with my cake,” Naomi said. “Besides, you still haven’t told how you, workaholic, make-it-happen Carrie, are going to go about finding this bliss.”
Carrie pulled her gaze away from her mysterious rescuer. She knew what she wanted to do right then—dance. It had been too long since she’d relaxed enough to have fun. She shrugged her shoulders. Before she could answer, the groom and dear old dad stopped in front of their table. She looked up into their hardened gazes.
. She swallowed. “Yes?”
“Can you tell me who you’re here for?” the groom asked.
“She’s here with me,” her handsome rescuer said, suddenly appearing behind her. His hand dropped on her shoulder and he leaned down to kiss her cheek. “Sorry I took so long, darling.”
Carrie swallowed her tongue. His warm touch, his manly scent, and the gentle touch of his lips combined with the slight scratch of stubble set her body on fire. All she could do was nod dumbly with what she was sure was a dazed expression on her face.
“Ryan, yes. Good to see you here,” the groom said. He bowed to the women awkwardly then gave an embarrassed smile. “Sorry for the misunderstanding.” With a hand on the old man’s shoulder, the groom led him away.
“Thank you so much,” Phoebe said, flashing her brown eyes at him.
Were her eyelashes actually fluttering? Carrie glared at her friend and opened her mouth to call dibs on the man, but that felt too much like high school.
“My pleasure.” Her savior looked down at her—he’d saved her twice in one night. “Would you like to dance?” he asked.
Carrie flashed Phoebe a victorious smile, and placed her hands in his. “Yes. I’d love to.”
Phoebe, grinning hugely, tapped her wrist reminding Carrie of the blue ribbon tied to her own. Carrie scowled. Phoebe winked. And just as she and Mr. Hottie reached the floor, the music shifted into a slow song.
He stepped toward her, his arms slipping to her waist and drawing her to him as couples surrounded them. “You crashed this wedding, didn’t you?” he asked softly.
“Of course not,” she sputtered, mortified.
A devilish glint of humor danced in his eyes. “Yes, you did. You’re a wedding crasher. Scandalous. Wildly irresponsible.”
Embarrassment warmed her cheeks. Hoping to distract him, she slid her hands up his chest to rest on his shoulders as they swayed to the music. His hands dropped down to the curve of her hips. He felt nice. He smelled nice. Too nice. She took a deep steadying breath, an influx of oxygen to help keep her wits about her.
The bride and her father floated by them. Carrie nestled closer to her handsome rescuer, burying her face in his chest. She felt a deep chuckle, and glanced up.
“You can confess your secret to me.” His voice was low and close to her ear, bringing sweet tremors to her skin.
“You don’t know anything.” But even as she said the words, her skin flamed.
His lips were almost touching her overheated skin. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep your secret.”
His nearness, his hot breath sent tingles lighting through her. Her breath quickened as his lips brushed against her ear. He was stirring embers she’d thought had burned out a long time ago. Apparently they just needed a little stoking. At least from the right guy. From
They swayed in silence for a moment, their bodies moving against each other, causing sweet friction. Suddenly, he released her, took a step back and held out his hand. “I’m Ryan Burton. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” His smile was irresistible. She took his hand and he pulled her back into his arms. “A real pleasure.”
She lost herself for a long moment in his blue gaze. Staring into their depths, she thought she could lose herself forever. Her heart clobbered her chest with a quick beat. Why was her body acting like she was still in high school?
“Now if you tell me your name, we could be friends.” His sexy voice promised so much more than that. Just the thought excited and scared her at the same time. Was she ready?
“We’ll see if you get to know who I am,” she said, and she didn’t even recognize the confidence in her voice.
If he didn’t know who she was, he couldn’t pin her down. Couldn’t call her in the morning. Couldn’t make her face what she was feeling, and how far she might be willing to go.
This one time
“Ah, so I’m dancing with a mystery woman.” He raked his hands slowly up her back, starting a shiver thrumming through her. The music was winding down, but she didn’t want the song to end. Didn’t want to stop this dance. He pulled her closer, pressing her up against his chest. Her breasts tingled with the pressure. He dropped his head, waiting, bringing his lips close to hers as her hands circled his neck. He was going to kiss her, right here in the middle of this crush of people. Would she let him? Did she want him to?