My grandmother introduced me to Harlequin romances when I was thirteen. Back then, they were a lot tamer. In fact, they were kind of silly. Throughout the whole book, this couple would be arguing over everything. He was usually a coldhearted jerk, and she was an innocent virgin. At some point, he would say something rude, and she would slap him. In retaliation, he would grab her and kiss her. Then all of a sudden, they are professing their undying love to each other even though I was quite sure marriage wouldn’t work between them because they argued non-stop and didn’t seem to have any common ground.
I am so glad romances have changed, and I am especially glad the heroines have changed. Personally, I prefer a strong, opinionated woman who doesn’t back off just because the hero is cute. The modern heroine is rarely a virgin. She definitely is not a shrinking violet.
If you also like a strong protagonist, let me introduce you to Anna Burkhart, a lawyer at Griffin, Hyde, & Pierce. She’s just been promoted and can’t wait to see her new office. When she finds three bouquets waiting on her desk, she’s pleasantly surprised. But then she notices one is not like the others. It is made from condoms in colorful squares of foil. The nasty note accompanying it says it all. Someone thinks she slept her way to the promotion.
Griffin’s son shocks her with a crazy offer. If she pretends to be engaged to him, the gossip will fade away. He insists that if he tells
everyone in the office they’ve been engaged for over a year and didn’t say anything because she wanted to earn a promotion, she’ll have their respect.
And what does Skylar get out of it? No one in his family likes his risky lifestyle. Since he lost his wife, they’ve been worrying about him nonstop, and his father doesn’t think he’s in any shape to take over the firm once the father retires. Skylar thinks that by putting a ring on Anna’s finger he will get his family off his back and secure
his father’s chair.
But then his family expects her to join them in their Vermont
home for a long holiday weekend. What’s worse is that they expect her to share Skylar’s bed. At first, she’s worried about her privacy.
But as she grows closer to Skylar and his family, she realizes it’s her heart she needs to worry about.
Here is a short excerpt from the morning after they’ve spent the night in separate rooms even though his family thinks they are sleeping together. His spunky grandmother is determined to catch them in their lie.
Since he’d slept in the den he had let Max sleep on the floor next to him. He took the dog outside so Max could do his business. On his way back in he caught sight of his grandmother taking a tray of food upstairs, and he instinctively knew she was headed for his bedroom. She was determined to prove he was lying. It was a game to her.
Unfortunately for her, he loved winning. He was also faster on his feet. He took the backstairs and ducked into the bathroom he shared with his sister when they were both around. After locking the door, he stripped his clothes off and wrapped a towel around his waist. Knowing his grandmother was quick to pick up on clues, he turned on the shower and ran his head under the water. He didn’t have time to get into the shower. Anna was going to need him.
He peeked into the hallway and saw Grandma Dot balancing the teetering tray of food while using the spare key to open his bedroom door.
She ducked inside. The bedroom light snapped on, and his grandmother spoke in the loud, clueless voice she always used when trying to trap one of them in a lie. “Why are you sleeping alone, dear?” Dottie laughed, but he could tell it was fake from years of experience. “Don’t tell me Skylar slept somewhere else last night?”
Skylar popped in behind his grandmother. On her stomach, Anna had raised her head off the pillow and was staring at his grandmother through narrowed eyes. Her silky blond hair fell in a curtain over one shoulder. Seeing Anna in bed, even with most of her hidden
beneath the covers, his body reacted to hers.
Clearing his throat, he focused on his grandmother. “Did you wake Anna? Why would you do that? I went to a lot of trouble not to disturb her when I got up to take a shower.”
“Hmph.” Grandma Dot pursed her lips and wagged a finger at him. “You may fool everyone else around here, Skylar Dean, but I can always tell when you’re hiding something.”
“The only thing I’m hiding right now is behind this slipping towel.” He took the tray from her. “Thank you for breakfast. Now we won’t have to leave our room until lunch if you know what I mean.”
Grandma Dot stomped out into the hallway.
He followed and took the bedroom key from her hand before closing the door in her startled face. Then he held a finger to his lips to stop Anna from talking until the woman was out of earshot.
Anna flipped over and rubbed her eyes while sitting with her back against the padded headboard. The sheet slipped a couple of inches, but it didn’t seem to matter. She appeared to be wearing fuzzy gray sweats. Every bit of her skin other than her face and hands were covered with the soft material.
Still, his fingers itched to touch her.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “But I did try to warn you about her.”
Anna blinked. “You didn’t say she would break in while I was asleep.”
“Break in?” He laughed. “She had a key, and she brought you breakfast. It was hardly an assault.”
He set the tray on her lap. Grandma Dot had thrown the meal together in a hurry by the looks of it. Steaming hot coffee filled a single cup—she had obviously been sure she would find Anna alone—and a stale croissant rested on a small plate. There was a smear of butter on the rim. At least she had added a glass of orange juice.
“You can have the juice,” he said. “I need the coffee more than you do.”
He grabbed the cup before she could protest. The hot beverage burned his tongue, but it didn’t stop him from guzzling the whole thing. After he finished he set the cup back on the tray.
“Rough night?” she asked, eyebrow raised. “Is the couch in the den that uncomfortable?”
Ignoring the question, he removed a pair of jeans from the dresser. When he caught her staring at him with a glimmer of attraction in her eyes, he grinned. His empty hand went to the front of the towel. “Avert your eyes… unless you want to satisfy your curiosity.”
Her cheeks flamed hot pink. “The only thing I’m curious about is your lack of manners.”
“Ouch.” He ripped the towel off his body, and she jerked her head to the side so she was staring at the window instead of him. If she peeked, she would have seen he was wearing boxers. He
pulled the jeans on. As soon as he had them zipped up, he said, “You can look now. It’s safe.”
Anna chose to butter her croissant with the provided knife instead of glancing his way. She took a bite and chewed slowly. Her gaze lifted to meet his. “It’s good. Want a bite?”
He shook his head as he crossed the room to stretch out next to her on the bed.
“Tell me about Clare,” Anna said.
His heart jumped. “W-why?”
“Your grandmother told me I’m nothing like her and that’s why she doesn’t believe we’re a couple. So tell me about her.” Anna’s beautiful blue eyes stared into his, making him want to give her, her every desire. She added, “Please.”
He cleared his throat. “Uh… she was sweet and generous, but she was the most stubborn woman I’d ever met. She was older than me and was a law professor, and she thought that made her right about everything. Man, we had some wild knock-down fights.” He snapped
his fingers. “That’s it!”
Anna’s eyes widened. “What’s it?”
“You and I have been acting too perfect. My family has seen me in a relationship. They’ve seen my ideal woman. You and I need to have an argument, a big one. Then they’ll believe.”
She shook her head. “I can’t. I’m terrible at play-acting. I can’t pretend to fight with you.”
“Don’t sweat it. We won’t be pretending.”
He jumped up and rounded the bed to pull her to her feet. She protested mildly as he pushed clothes into her arms and told her to get dressed. Then they would have a fight that would convince even his grandmother they were a real couple.
“I will not fake a fight with you.”
“It won’t be fake.” He took her by the shoulders and asked her an important question. “What do I do that makes you mad enough to want to strangle me?”
“Oh come on. Everybody has quirks that make other people mad.”
She shrugged. “I don’t freak out over quirks.”
“What about bigger issues then?”
“Well… your comments in the car on the Jensen case made me want to push you out the door.”
“That’s it then.”
She left the room with her clothes in hand, and he prepared a plan while she was changing. It didn’t take her long. Once she returned he kept the bedroom door open. He wanted everyone in the house to hear what was about to happen.
“Jensen is guilty,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t take the stupid case, and I still can’t believe you did. The evidence may be circumstantial, but it’s pretty solid.”
She rolled her eyes. “I told you I can’t pretend to fight.”
“I’m not pretending. I am seriously telling you how I feel about you representing Jensen.” He raised his voice again. “Jensen is guilty, and you’re going to look like a fool when the prosecution proves it.”
Her jaw tightened. “I looked at the evidence, too, and I interviewed the kid in jail. He didn’t do it. I would stake my reputation on it.”
“Of course you would.” The volume of his voice shot up. “And you are. That kid is guilty, and you don’t want to see it for some reason. Open your eyes!”
She yelled, “I’m not an idiot! I did the research before I accepted the case. Just because you’re jaded and think everyone is guilty doesn’t mean the rest of us do.”
Anna stormed down the hallway with him a step behind her.
“And not everyone is a bleeding-heart tree-hugger!” he shouted.
She stopped halfway down the stairs and spun around to jab a finger at him. “You don’t have to worry about my case! It’s mine, and I don’t need your permission to do my job.”
She flew down the rest of the stairs and headed for the door. He moved between her and her escape, determined to get the last word. After all, he was right, and she was wrong. How could an otherwise intelligent woman be so naive when it came to criminals?
His mom and grandmother came in from the kitchen to watch their fight, and Becca emerged from the living room. The argument was for their sake, but that didn’t seem to matter anymore. Anna had pushed his hot button. She sounded just like Clare. “It doesn’t matter if they’re guilty. Everyone deserves the best defense.”
“You may not need my permission right now,” he said. “But you will soon enough. I am taking over the firm, and I’m making changes.”
“What is that supposed to mean? What sort of changes?”
“We are not defending scumbags that we know are guilty for one thing.”
“You can’t do that!”
Anna shook her head at him. “You are never telling me what case I can handle. Do you understand me?”
The blood drained from his face and pooled in his stomach.
Anna looked as if he’d slapped her. She slowly turned around and raced back up the stairs. After a moment he heard his bedroom door slam shut. He knew he should go apologize, try to talk to her, but he couldn’t face her at the moment. He couldn’t face any of them.
He turned and went out the front door.
His mother’s words rang in his ears as she spoke to his grandmother. “Told you so.”
The Business Engagement is on sale for the release.
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