Romancing His Rival by Jennifer Shirk
Series Accidentally Yours Book Three
Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Entangled Bliss
Publication Date February 11, 2019
Hopeless romantic Elena Mason doesn’t often hate people, but she hates her ex-fiancé’s insufferable best man, Lucas Albright III. She just knows Lucas is the one who talked her ex out of getting married—so Lucas is clearly the cause of all her problems.
And now she’s expected to work with him? Oh, heck no.
Lucas Albright wants nothing more than to make partner at his advertising firm, and he knows he works best alone. But then Elena ends up as his partner on an account that could win him a promotion. He had a great reason to end her engagement, not that she’d ever believe him. Still, he’s willing to try working as a team.
Unfortunately, his new “partner” wants him dead.
Elena knows she’s going to have to give in and work with her nemesis, though nobody said it had to be easy for him. But what happens when fighting starts feeling a whole lot like falling in love?
After dashing through the snow in a three-hour car ride up the mountains with “Feliz Navidad” playing in what seemed like a continuous loop on the radio, Elena Mason was officially done with Christmas.
And it was only December first.
She finally pulled into the condo parking lot, and of course, there were no spots near her unit. The lot was most likely jam-packed with would-be skiers, so she had to park two rows away. Good thing she planned ahead and wore her snow boots.
Her good friend and wedding planner, Arden Roberts, had just organized a wedding for a woman who was on her way to Aruba this week on her honeymoon. In thanks, she had given Arden full access to her condo in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains. Arden had meant well, granting Elena the use of the condo because she knew she needed a getaway. Or at least, she’d insisted Elena needed one. Elena wasn’t so sure. Right now, she was ready to just go home.
But then again, she wasn’t the type to look a gift condo in the mouth, so she pulled on her mittens and readied herself for a hike through the snow.
At least Elena had brought her sketch pad to help her relax. Arden had suggested she try ice skating (not likely) or do some skiing (even less likely) or just simply relax to get her mind off her canceled wedding, which would have been December twenty-first (still working on that one).
Seven months and fifteen days ago, her fiancé, Scott, had suddenly called off their wedding. It still tore Elena up to think about it. She and Scott were so good together. She’d been so happy. And why wouldn’t she have been happy? She was finally going to have the kind of perfect marriage her parents had. Scott was handsome, caring, and a financial planner just like her dad had been. He even proposed in the same way her dad had proposed to her mom: on top of the Empire State Building.
Coincidence? She thought not.
Scott was the perfect man. Actually, everything had been perfect. Right down to her dress, reception, and home they were going to buy together. Until the best man—Lucas Albright III—and his big fat opinionated mouth had to go and ruin her life. The cad. If she never saw him again in her lifetime, it’d be way too soon.
Lucas had planted some kind of crazy notion in Scott’s head that she wouldn’t make a good “executive wife.” He trusted Lucas more than anyone, which was why Lucas had Scott all of a sudden questioning their compatibility and then eventually their engagement. So what if she didn’t have a college degree or couldn’t talk finance?
The wind stung her cheeks as she lugged her belongings across the parking lot and up to the icy doorstep. Snow was still falling pretty hard, which made the trek all the more precarious with her hands full. Once she reached the door, she set down her bags and pulled the house keys from her pocket, double-checking the address written on the keychain.
This was the place all right.
Hmm…not bad. But based on the “Happy Easter” wreath adorning the door, she assumed the condo hadn’t been used in quite a while. She prayed the heater worked. Not quite the vacation getaway she or her friends envisioned, but a lot of her money was still tied up in down payments she’d placed for her wedding, so she didn’t have a lot of options as far as vacations went this year. Unfortunately, she still held onto hope that Scott would realize how much he couldn’t live without her, which was why she hadn’t been fighting too hard yet to get her money back.
She took a deep breath then nudged the door open, bracing herself for what she’d find inside. Whew. At least it didn’t smell funky. Tossing her belongings into the foyer, she then shook the snow from her boots before walking into the living room and having a look around. And for the first time in almost eight months, Elena actually wanted to smile.
The place was charming. A large comfy-looking sectional with lots of furry throw pillows filled the sitting area. A wall of windows offered a lovely view of the snow-covered ski slopes and—bonus!—there were two built-in bookshelves overflowing with books. Elena quickly noted a few written by Nora Roberts on the shelf and decided that maybe this little getaway was turning out much better than she’d anticipated.
Before she could check out the other rooms, her cell phone rang and she raced to the foyer to answer it. Maybe Scott has finally changed his mind!
No such luck. But she still smiled when she saw Arden’s picture pop up on the screen.
“Oh, I’m so glad you answered,” Arden rushed out. “Kinsley and I have been worried sick about you traveling in this weather. We heard there’s a winter storm warning in effect.”
Elena unwound the scarf from around her neck as she spoke. “Aw, you two are so sweet. I’m perfectly fine, but it sure is nice to be worried about nowadays.”
Sad, but true. At this point in her life, she’d never felt so alone. With both her parents gone, being an only child, no fiancé, and now the holidays rolling in, getting through the month that should have been her honeymoon was going to be a complete bear. Thank goodness she had her friends.
“Hush, girl. We’re always concerned about you. And not just because of what Scott did. You’re a wonderful, beautiful person who will find love again. You just need to be patient.”
Mm-hmm. Says the woman who recently married her high school crush.
Elena shook her head, even though she knew her newly married and completely over-the-moon-in-love friend was trying to be supportive and upbeat. “I don’t want to find love again. I already found love. And quite frankly, I just want it back.”
Oops. She’d said it out loud.
Yes, poor, pathetic Elena was still in love with and wanted the man back who, without warning, had broken her heart along with their engagement. But it was the truth. She desperately wanted Scott back. She wanted that part of her life back. She hadn’t been truly happy since.
Arden let out a sigh. “Honey, it’s been a while. I don’t think you and Scott—”
“Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about it right now,” she said, carrying the grocery bag of food she’d brought with her into the kitchen. It was depressing to hear the pitying tone in her friend’s voice. But the truth was, Arden didn’t understand. None of her friends did. They hadn’t grown up in a household of love like hers with such wonderful and nurturing parents.
Was it wrong to want that kind of life for herself?
She hadn’t realized how happy her life had been—until they’d been in a terrible parasailing accident while they were on vacation. She was left utterly alone at the young age of twenty-two, and her life had begun to head in a downward spiral of depression and emptiness.
Until six months later, when she’d met Scott. A time in her life when she needed him most, so because of that, she’d always think of him as her savior.
Scott Coban had come to town for a coworker’s anniversary party. And he just so happened to be staying the weekend at the Harbor Light where she worked. Before that moment, love at first sight was just something she’d read about in her romance books. But it was real. She had experienced it firsthand.
Scott had charmed her and asked for her number right away. That night he’d ended up leaving the party early and immediately called her to meet him for a drink which she’d readily accepted. And the rest was history.
Until she became history.
No thanks to Scott’s friend and would-be best man, Lucas Albright.
“I’m sorry,” Arden said, breaking into Elena’s morose thoughts. “I just don’t want you getting your hopes up for no real tangible reason, that’s all.”
“I’m not getting my hopes up.” My hopes are already up.
“I mean, sure, I guess it’s possible you two could get back together. But, honey, the reason we wanted you to take this vacation was to get your mind off Scott. You know, like a Scottcation.”
Elena pulled out a bottle of red wine, then another for good measure, and nodded. If that failed, she had plenty of chocolate and tequila as a backup. “I will try my best.”
“Great! And while you’re at it, try not to think of that Lucas Albright either.”
The wine almost slipped from Elena’s hand. “Now why on earth did you have to go and mention his name?”
“Oops, sorry. It’s just that…well, I didn’t want to mention this before, but the condo you’re staying in kind of belongs to his sister, Michelle.”
Elena sat on the nearest chair, fearing her legs would give way. Of all the places she could have gone, it would have to be tied to a man she wanted nothing to do with ever again in her life. “You were smart not to mention that to me before. I would have never come.”
“Before you go torching the place in a fit of vengeance,” Arden lectured, “please just try to remember that his sister happens to be a very good client of mine and a sweet person.”
She snorted. “Yeah, too bad she’s related to the Spawn of Voldemort,” she grumbled back.
“Honestly, Elena, I’ve met Lucas, too, at her wedding, and I have to say, I can’t imagine him being the kind of person to break up anyone’s engagement.”
“Well, he did. Scott told me so himself. And whose side are you on anyway?”
“Yours! Always yours. I’m just playing devil’s advocate.”
“Are you finished playing?”
“I suppose so.”
“Good,” she said, ripping open the bag of marshmallows she’d brought and popping one in her mouth. “Because let me tell you something about Lucas Albright III. I don’t know what kind of snow job he laid on you, but I know for a fact that he is a cold, insensitive man and a liar—not to mention a terrible friend. And you can rest assured that nothing and no one could ever possibly change my opinion about him.”
Lucas’s life motto could easily be summed up like this: when a person gets stressed, that person gets to skiing. Which was how he found himself traveling late at night in the middle of a snowstorm to his sister’s condo up in the mountains.
Although the weather wasn’t doing anything to calm his nerves, it did manage to make him forget he was past due on his marketing deadline at work. The advertising campaign he’d been assigned was supposed to have been completed before Halloween. Two extensions later and they were still way behind on the Christmas ad season. His only saving grace was that a bulk of the marketing could be done online and would be rolled out rather quickly once he had the design and slogan down.
The problem was he had nothing yet. Nada. Zilch. And if he didn’t come up with an idea fast, he’d also have no job.
Lucas turned up the heater in his SUV and breathed in slowly. He could do this. He had to do this. Relax and focus. Once he got to the condo, he’d start a fire, grab a beer, and get to work. His sister’s place had always been like a balm to him. Even after his divorce, he found a lot of comfort in the brisk mountain air and its remoteness. A man could do a lot of life thinking and prioritizing up there.
And now, he hoped, a lot of creating.
He pulled into the parking lot and noted that most of ski buffs already had the same idea as him, knowing there were going to be great conditions with all the new snow predicted to fall. It was accumulating quickly, and it looked as if the snow plows couldn’t keep up, since the snow already reached his shins as he made his way across the street.
Just a few lights were on in the buildings. It was late. Almost eleven o’clock, but he was wired enough from the drive to be able to fit in a few hours of work. He couldn’t spare the time anyway. He had to bring something to his clients by Monday.
Lugging his two bags, he reached the doorstep. He stuck his spare key into the door, but realized rather quickly that it wasn’t necessary. The door was already unlocked.
Weird. And very unlike Michelle. His senses went on alert. Had someone broken in? He carefully turned the knob and nudged the door open, but waited a few beats before taking a step in.
One light in the living room was on, and everything appeared neat and tidy. He quietly placed his bags on the floor and glanced around. No evidence of a robbery or a break-in. But something seemed off. He took a step forward and sniffed the air, smelling something that resembled…burnt marshmallows? Again, weird. His sister was on her honeymoon, and his parents were still in Cape Harmony. That’s when it hit him.
He stumbled back as something spongey yet firm smacked up against his face again. His head shot back and it slammed against the wall. Pain shot through his skull. He raised his arms to protect himself and cracked one eye open, then caught a glimpse of his assailant.
Surprise and relief struck him at once. Thank God. Not exactly a friendly face, but much better than a robber.
“Elena,” he said, holding his palms up in surrender, “it’s me, Lucas Albright.”
Before he could regain his balance, he was hit with another swipe to the face.
“Hey!” He rubbed his jaw. Damn, that hit packed an even stronger punch. What kind of woman knew how to use a pillow as a weapon? “Elena, stop. I said it’s me, Lucas.”
Unsmiling, Elena slowly lowered the pillow. “I heard you.”
“Jeez, then why’d you still hit me?” he asked, moving his jaw and checking for loose teeth. Did she have a crowbar wedged in the stuffing?
She gave a small shrug. “Sorry. My hands must have slipped.”
He narrowed his eyes. Yeah. Right. Obviously, Elena Mason held a small grudge against him. Not that he totally blamed her.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, hiding a grin as he took in her pink pajama bottoms that had pictures of chocolate chip cookies and the words “Tough Cookie” all over them. Otherwise, she would have made an intimidating figure for sure with her long brown hair spilling over her shoulders, cheeks flushed, and brown eyes blazing.
“I was invited.” She walked back into the living room and tossed the pillow onto the couch. “What are you doing here? You gave me a heart attack, sneaking in like you did.”
“I didn’t sneak in. The door was open and I walked in. And--you were invited?”
Elena whipped her hair off her shoulders like a regal debutante and nodded. “That’s right. Invited. And I was specifically told I would be alone. So you better run along now.”
He cracked a half smile as he began unbuttoning his coat. He didn’t remember Elena being this feisty when she was engaged to Scott. But damn, if she didn’t wear her temper extremely well. And damn, if that didn’t make him want to stir it even more.
“I’m not running along anywhere,” he told her matter-of-factly.
“What? But you can’t stay here. Not with me, anyway.”
“I can and I will. With you. This is my sister’s condo, and she lets me use it whenever I choose. And I happen to choose now.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Oh my gosh, after everything you’ve done to me, I can’t believe you have the nerve.”
“Everything I’ve done?”
“Don’t play dumb, Lucas. Scott told me everything you said about me.” Her breath caught and she paused. “You know, just because I don’t have a college degree doesn’t mean I’m not executive wife material. I…I have a lot going for myself.”
Although her words lacked the confidence to be effective, Lucas still didn’t doubt that for one minute, which was why he had never said a single one of those things to Scott about her. Scott had created that reasoning all by himself.
Truthfully, from the several times Lucas had spent in her company while she’d been engaged to his friend, he’d found her to be smart, engaging, trusting, and loyal. Not to mention incredibly pretty. And, if he were being even more honest, incredibly sexy.
Not that Scott or Elena would appreciate hearing that last bit.
He hung up his coat and slipped out of his snow boots. “Look, Elena—”
“Oh, no, don’t get comfortable,” she said, pointing to his socked feet. “You’re not staying.”
He sighed. “I know you’re not thrilled to see me right now. I get that. But I only pointed out things to Scott about my own marriage that he already knew. As his best man, I owed him that. If Scott happened to take that information and form his own opinions on what does or doesn’t make a great relationship, well, I can’t be held responsible. Maybe what it comes down to is that you and Scott really weren’t meant for each other.”
She gasped. “How can you say that? Who made you the Be-All-End-All Relationship Guru? Just because your marriage didn’t end well doesn’t mean my and Scott’s marriage would have ended poorly too. He loves me.”
“I don’t doubt that he cares for you or even loved you, but that doesn’t always hold a marriage together. Trust me, I know.”
He sure did know. Once upon a time he’d thought his marriage to Catherine was one for the romance textbooks. Everything he’d thought a good, loving relationship should be. At least on paper. They even had the house in the suburbs of North Jersey with the yard meant for a dog and several children. But after a few years, Catherine missed city living and the entertainment New York could bring and often traveled into the city to shop or meet friends for lunch. He’d learned later that one of her friends had been a male coworker from her old job—and more importantly, that they weren’t just meeting for lunch.
It was his own fault, he knew now. He wasn’t meant for marriage. In fact, when he was born, he should have been slapped with a “does not play well with others” label.
Still, failures hurt, which was why succeeding in his career felt like a balm for his soul. He could “win” at something, at least.
“Save it, Lucas,” Elena spat, folding her arms defiantly. “Don’t even try to pretend you had my best interests at heart when you convinced Scott not to marry me. You’re… You’re… You’re deplorable.”
He banked down his own frustration. He’d hardly convinced anyone to do anything. But he’d admit he was glad of the outcome. She and Scott never really made sense to him. She obviously was hurting, though, and Scott still seemed confused about his feelings. So, better she think Lucas was the villain in this situation. After all, he’d probably never see her again after this weekend anyway.
“I am sorry,” he offered. He truly was. Sort of. Scott was a decent guy, but a little selfish in the relationship department. While Elena deserved… She needed a man like…
Hell, what did he know what kind of man she should be with? But to be honest, he really couldn’t picture her with anyone specific.
She turned away, but not before he’d seen the tears in her eyes. “Just go. If you are sorry, then the best thing you could do for me is leave. Please.”
As soon as he saw the tears, his chest felt as if a gorilla had collapsed on it. But the whispered please she’d tacked on at the end nearly brought him to his knees. The last thing he wanted to do was make her cry. In fact, he’d been trying to save her from heartbreak. How did this get so complicated? “I…I can’t go anywhere.”
Her shoulders stiffened, then she glanced back. “Well, then I’ll leave.”
But before she could storm away, he took hold of her arm. It was a knee-jerk reaction. He wasn’t thinking beyond the fact that he couldn’t let her go out there alone in that weather. But touching her like that had him immediately pulling back and standing stock-still as if his fingers had been seared.
He cleared his throat. “I don’t think you understand. You’re not going anywhere either.”
He guided her to the nearest window and raised the shade. “That’s why.”
“Oh my gosh!” She pressed her nose up against the glass and blinked at the thick white flakes swirling from the night sky like a shaken snow globe.
“Yeah, it’s really coming down,” he told her. “I was lucky to make it here when I did. There’s no way you’d go fifty yards before getting stuck in that mess. I heard on the radio there’s a special storm warning in effect from midnight until five in the morning.”
Elena backed away from the window and looked at him in horror. “So, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying what you’re not willing to hear. Like it or not, sweetheart, it seems we’re stuck with each other for the night.”
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of ROMANCING HIS RIVAL by Jennifer Shirk, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 2/15/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Jennifer Shirk
USA TODAY bestselling author, JENNIFER SHIRK, has a bachelor degree in pharmacy-which has in NO WAY at all helped her with her writing career. But she likes to point it out, since it shows romantic-at-hearts come in all shapes, sizes, and mind-numbing educations. She writes sweet romances (some even funny!) and won third place in the RWA 2006 NYC’s Kathryn Hayes Love and Laughter Contest with her first book, The Role of a Lifetime. Recently, her novel Sunny Days for Sam won the 2013 Golden Quill Published Authors Contest for Best Traditional Romance. She’s a board member for Straight Ahead Ministries, an organization involved in helping spread the gospel and aiding medical and pharmacy students in Russia. She’s also a board member of the Ocean City Library Board of Trustees. She resides in a beach resort in NJ, and when she’s not involved in all the above, she’s taking care of her most treasured possessions: her husband, daughter, guinea pig (Rocco), puppy (Sox) and four hermit crabs.