Friday, June 20, 2014

Getting Out of Hand Chapter One

Getting Out of Hand
Erin Nicholas
Available June 24th


Mason Riley studied his best friend’s tight butt and long legs and reflected, not for the first time, on how much easier his life would be if they were attracted to one another.

“Oh, you’re going,” Lauren said, as she turned from retrieving the garlic bread from the oven.

“I’m not going.”

“You have to.”

“No, I definitely do not.”

“Come on. It’s your hometown.”

Initially, Mason had thought he was attracted to Lauren, but they had a hard time spending any time together that didn’t quickly divert into work talk. They’d tried. But they were too compatible in their work life to ever get beyond it.

And then there was the small detail of Lauren being a lesbian.
Technically, she was bisexual, but of her last three lovers, two had been women and those two relationships had spanned almost a year.

“I’ve lived happily for the past eleven years without spending time in Sapphire Falls. I can’t imagine why that would change now simply because they need something from me,” he said.

Lauren slid the bread into a basket and handed it to him.

“Mason Riley, your hometown needs you.”

He frowned as he carried the bread and wine to the table. “Too bad.”

“You inherited that land what, two years ago? You haven’t even seen it.”

“Not true. I spent hours and hours on that land growing up.”

“You haven’t seen it since you’ve owned it.”

“It’s a big old farmhouse, a barn and three hundred and sixty acres of fields. I imagine it looks much like it did when I last saw it.”

“You should be doing something with it. Or letting someone else do something with it,” Lauren said.

He glanced at the letter lying conveniently in the center of the table. “They want to build on top of it.”

Lauren set two plates of chicken parmesan on the linen placemats and took her chair. “It’s a legitimate offer. You have land that you’re not using and they need land to build on. Why shouldn’t they ask you?”

“It’s a town of twelve hundred people. What could they possibly be building that’s worth investing in?”

“Why don’t you go find out?

He took a bite of chicken.

“It’s your hometown,” she tried again.

That really didn’t matter. It might mean he was an ass, but it really didn’t matter that it was where he had grown up.

It didn’t make him feel special, or intrigued, or flattered to be on the list of five specially selected possible investors. He knew the other four men on the list. Too well. They’d been in high school with Mason. They’d all done well enough to be included on the list, but he knew for a fact that he was worth three times what the other four were—put together.

So they wanted him to invest. And they wanted his land.

He’d loved that farm and Milton Johnson, the man he’d worked for every day for nearly six years during junior and high school, but he had few positive emotions for the town where the farm was located. 
He hesitated to call it his hometown. He didn’t know that he’d ever really felt at home there. But it remained that he’d spent his formative years in the tiny Nebraska town. And now they needed him.

It was interesting. To say the least.

He’d been an outcast growing up. He’d skipped two grades, making him two years younger than the peers he went to class with. That made him weird. He’d been far more interested in the crops and animals he worked with on Milt’s farm than the dates and parties the other kids spent their time on. That made him weird. He’d been awkward around girls, hadn’t been able to discuss pop culture and didn’t care about Friday’s ballgame. That made him weird.

That was years ago, of course. But he hadn’t been back to Sapphire Falls since he’d finished his doctorate degrees, made his money, discovered the genius of custom tailored suits or realized that there was a fine science to women and seduction—and science was something he was plain made for.

Mason poured wine into both glasses and then took a long drink of his. He watched Lauren stab a green bean and chew, clearly thinking of a new argument.

“Why do you care if I go?” he asked.

“I just want you to.” She didn’t make eye contact as she pushed her chicken around her plate.

“How is this about you, exactly?”

“It’s about you. I think you need to go back there and blow them away.”

“You think my two PhDs will impress them?”

“Maybe. But they’ve always known you were smart. What they don’t know is that you now know how to dress, how to talk to women, how to order wine, how to—”

“Got it. And let’s not forget to mention that without you, I would be sitting in the corner, alone, dressed in ten-year-old sweat pants, lamenting the utter lack of anything positive in my life.”

Her gaze traveled over him, and Mason grinned, knowing what was coming.

“I really did do a hell of a job.”

Lauren wasn’t technically as smart as Mason, but she was smarter than ninety-six-point-four percent of the population, which meant she was hard to argue with. Making things even more difficult was the fact she could be impressively charming or incredibly manipulative, depending on what the situation required. Both of those things had helped them expand from a research lab funded by grants to an actual business that made a profit consulting with and developing projects for everyone from overseas governments to local farmers.

Innovative Agricultural Solutions was the perfect combination of all the things he and Lauren were good at and loved. This was where he was appreciated, needed, successful.

Why would he want to go back to Sapphire Falls even for a weekend? He had every intention of flat out ignoring the letter.

“They said in the letter that it’s the alumni weekend. They’ve invited you to all the festivities, to see what the town is really like and hear about their plans for the land. Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

Mason took a drink of wine and shook his head. “No.”

“You have to be,” Lauren insisted. “You haven’t been back in over a decade. You have to wonder, at least a little, what’s going on. Isn’t there anyone you would want to see again?”


It didn’t matter that Hailey Conner still lived there.

Nor did it matter that the letter to the potential investors had come from her. The mayor of Sapphire Falls.

Oh, yeah, the land would mean a lot to her.

But it didn’t matter.

He had a sophisticated lifestyle, the respect of the state and nationwide agriculture community and the attention of women that would make jaws drop in Sapphire Falls. He’d gained confidence and the ability to participate in social situations without embarrassing himself. He could out dress the models in GQ. He never had to look at price tags before buying anything and his taste in wine, entertainment, women and nearly every other facet of life was perfect.

He didn’t need to impress Sapphire Falls, or Hailey Conner, to feel good about himself.

Lauren continued to chew, her eyes on the wine bottle. Finally, she swallowed, set her fork down and regarded him with a serious look. 
“Honey, you have to go because…I need the time off.”

You need the time off? You’re coming with me?” He knew that wasn’t the case. Lauren didn’t spend the night in towns that didn’t have a Starbucks and a Macy’s. Sapphire Falls had coffee at the diner, Dottie’s, and at the Stop, the gas station/convenience store/pizza place/ice cream shop on Main and First—though not good coffee. The closest shoe store was twenty-two miles away.

“I need the time off from you.”

He selected a green bean as well and chewed as he watched her. “I have no idea what you mean by that.”

She tipped her head to one side. “The hell if you don’t.”

Mason took a sip of wine and shook his head. “No. I really don’t.” 
He did. But he did not want to go to Sapphire Falls.

“I can’t take time off if you don’t take time off,” she said. “And you know it.”

“You don’t need time off. We have a lot to do.”

“Look, Mason,” Lauren said. “Alex is a little intimidated by you.”

“Alex needs to man up.” Alexia was a tall, beautiful, willowy blond who was absolutely, no question, all woman.

“Ha, ha. What Alex needs is a weekend alone with me without you interrupting us.”

Mason knew exactly what she was talking about but he wasn’t about to admit it. “I don’t interrupt. I call you about work. If you’re in the middle of…things…when I call, that isn’t my fault.”

“The last eight out of ten times that we’ve been making love, you’ve called.”

“Not on purpose. Though if you had a webcam, I would very likely email.”

“Again, you’re hilarious.” Lauren drank the rest of her wine, set the glass down on the table and leaned in. “You owe me. I made you rich, hot and un-weird. Now I want you to leave town. Is that so much to ask?”

“It’s also not my fault that you take my calls and return my texts,” he pointed out, not wanting to admit or deny that he owed her. He did. Big. And he knew that no matter how wonderful Lauren was, she was going to cash in sometime. Maybe this was a good way to get it over with.

Lauren looked down. “You’re right.”

“I am?” He hadn’t expected that.

“I shouldn’t answer when you call. But I never know for sure. I mean, what if you need me? Or what if something huge happened at the lab? Yes, I’d want to know.” She looked up with the most desperate expression he’d ever seen on her face. “I can’t help it. I love Alex, but I also love what you and I do together, Mason. So I can’t ignore the calls. Which is why you have to leave town. Far away. For several days. Because when you’re here, you work. When you work, amazing things happen. When amazing things happen, I want to know. So you have to leave.”

He knew they were co-dependent. Pathetically so. Everyone knew that. They practically shared a brain. A big, amazing, no-one-else-could-do-what-they-do brain. They’d met in college and had been inseparable ever since. They worked together. Neither really socialized, so they didn’t need to do that together. But they ate at least a meal a day together—at work—saw each other at least a day a weekend—while working—and went out of town together—to work-related conferences and meetings.

And everything had been fine until Lauren had met Alex. Alexia had seen Lauren at the grocery store and had hit on her. Lauren had fallen hook, line and sinker, leaving Mason without a chef or someone who would put up with his eccentricities—of which there were many—or a partner who was at work constantly.

It was all quite inconvenient frankly.

“I don’t want to go.” He’d never pouted, even as a child, but he 
really didn’t want to go.

“Why not? Mason, God, you should want to go. Show them all how wonderful you are, how great you turned out, how hot you are now.”

“Yeah, you know I appreciate the compliment, but it’s a little empty from you. You don’t know hot unless it has long blond hair and wears red lingerie.”

Lauren laughed. “I don’t mind black either.”

“Hair or lingerie?”

She grinned. “Either.”


“And I do, quite obviously, know hot. I created you.”

Lauren had known Mason for exactly three days before she’d taken him to the barber and the mall.

The results had been…transforming.

“I don’t appreciate the I-owe-you bit, babe.”

“I know.” She grinned. “And I don’t really feel that way, you know. But I do expect a thank-you note from all of those women in Sapphire Falls.”

He sighed and cut into his chicken. There was no reason to answer and no point in arguing. He’d do anything for Lauren, and if all she wanted was a few days with Alex—a very sweet woman who made his best friend incredibly happy—then he could get lost for a long weekend.

But not in Sapphire Falls.

Three things intrigued Adrianne Scott about Mason Riley.

Two of those things had caught her attention as she’d written up his profile for inclusion on their list of potential donors for the building project. One, he was a genius. Literally. He had an IQ of 136. 
Second, he’d grown up and graduated from Sapphire Falls High but hadn’t stepped foot in the town in eleven years.

Third, and very interesting—he hadn’t dated Hailey Conner. Her boss. The mayor of Sapphire Falls. That almost made him more unique than the IQ thing.

“Why are we only inviting men you’ve had sex with?” Adrianne asked.

The first four men on the list were past boyfriends of Hailey’s. One had been her first love, one had been a friend who’d turned into more, one had taken her to two proms, and another had stolen her from the guy who had taken her to two proms.

Adrianne had heard all the details.

But her favorite piece of information was Hailey saying, “I never dated Mason. He wanted to go out, but I wasn’t interested.”

It was ridiculous that Adrianne cared who Mason Riley had or had not dated in high school, but she did. The only reason she could really give for that was that she was fascinated by the guy.

“And I didn’t say I’d had sex with them all,” Hailey protested. She tossed the photo she’d been looking at on top of the five manila folders that lay on the table between them. “But I’ll give you three reasons these guys are all on our list. They like me. They’re from here. They all have money.”

That was all true. Hailey seemed to have great taste in men. All five of the men on their list of possible donors were successful, intelligent and good-looking.

“You’re sure Mason likes you?” Adrianne couldn’t help but ask. 
“You turned him down, right?”

Hailey shrugged. “Yeah. But he’s the most successful of any guy who’s ever even asked me out, so I thought we might as well ask.”

“Sure, why not just ask? It’s only a hundred thousand dollars,” Adrianne commented dryly.

“And a chance to come home for all the alumni activities and reconnect,” Hailey added.

“Yeah, don’t forget the free barbecue,” Adrianne muttered.

She loved the idea of Sapphire Hills. The shopping area they wanted to develop would be full of unique shops, offering everything from wine to purses to furniture. They’d come up with the name over margaritas and wine about six months ago. It would be on top of a hill. Kind of. The Sapphire part they were still trying to figure out. Of course, Sapphire Falls, founded in 1892, also didn’t have a blue waterfall—or a waterfall of any other color—within a hundred miles. But Sapphire Hills would boost the local economy, pull tourists in and give them a claim to fame.

Of course, they already had a kind -of claim to fame.

“Tyler Bennett is such an ass,” Hailey said with a groan, tossing one of the photos of Mason onto the table.

Right on cue. The subject of Tyler Bennett being an ass came up on a daily basis.

Hailey had never had trouble getting a guy to return her calls before, so she was completely out of her element having to talk to Ty about the project through his people. She was in touch with his lawyer, primarily, and the guy was either immune to Hailey’s charms…or he actually had Ty’s best interests at heart. They wanted to be sure everything was happening by the book, and happening successfully, before they committed any of Ty’s money or his name.

“Why does he have to be the most famous person from Sapphire Falls?” Hailey asked. “I swear, if I end up with wrinkles because of him, he’s paying for the Botox.”

The way she scowled whenever she talked about him, wrinkles were a real possibility in a normal person, but Adrianne wasn’t convinced Hailey’s skin could actually wrinkle. Like her hair seemed incapable of frizzing.

“I’m not sure he meant to end up famous,” Adrianne said.

Tyler Bennett was an Olympic silver medalist, born and raised in Sapphire Falls. That would have been enough to make him the most famous Sapphire Falls native, but he’d also landed himself in the media with some post-Olympic antics in Vegas and New York and a tumultuous romance with a big Hollywood star.

It was all a little ridiculous, but it was enough to make Ty a sort-of celebrity, which meant that he could attract some attention and traffic to Sapphire Hills. If he was a part of it.

He wasn’t willing to sign anything or make any commitments—or public announcements—until they had the building built and mostly paid for.

That was the part that was pissing Hailey off.

That he planned to put his name on it via a sports bar called Bennett’s was what annoyed Adrianne.

How a sports bar fit with candy, coffee, furniture and jewelry was beyond her. But she was determined to make it work. If anyone could convince people that beer and burgers fit with handmade greeting cards and locally produced jams and jellies, it was her and Hailey. And if those beers and burgers pulled people in to buy the cards and jelly, then she was all for it.

But first, they needed money. A lot of money. Money that was not magically appearing as Hailey seemed to have expected it to.

So Adrianne was assisting in efforts to find funding. It was right up her alley. She had a marketing and finance degree and had spent five years in sales and marketing for her family’s candy company. Her father had always said she could sell sand to a sheik.

Finding investors had been her idea. So had asking people from Sapphire Falls who had gone on to bigger, more lucrative things, but who had a soft spot for their hometown.

Hailey had been in charge of making the list.

“Don’t forget that Mason’s got the land too,” Hailey said.

“The land?” Adrianne frowned at her. “The farmland you want to build on is Mason Riley’s?”

Hailey nodded. “Kind of. He inherited it from the guy who lived on it for years. But he’s obviously not using it.”

“That doesn’t mean he wants you to pave over it,” Adrianne pointed out. She’d been out to the build site a number of times and it was beautiful. Peaceful, rolling fields, lots of trees and a gorgeous big old farmhouse complete with a wraparound porch and a swing. She remembered being tempted to sit on that old swing and watch the sun set over the fields.

She’d kind of hated the idea of building a shopping center and parking lot there. Sure their plans were for a collection of quaint shops with their own porch-type fronts with flower planters, wind chimes and wicker furniture. But there was something about that house and the porch that got to her.

But Hailey insisted it was the perfect place to build. What did Adrianne know?

“Did you choose the site because you thought Mason would donate it?” she asked.

“That makes sense doesn’t it?” Hailey asked. “If we can get it for free from a guy who isn’t here and doesn’t intend to ever be here, isn’t that better than having to negotiate with Ken Stevens for that lot down by the highway? And then putting up with Ken afterward?” Hailey rolled her eyes. “That’s the only other place that’s big enough. And Ken’s a dick. And he’s asking way too much. Everyone says so.”

Everyone meant Hailey’s dad and Drew Thurman, a high school classmate of Hailey’s who’d appointed himself one of her advisors because he had an opinion on everything, and Betty Newman, a life-long Sapphire Falls resident with slightly more money than pieces of gossip—which meant she was quite wealthy. In fact, 
Betty had agreed to match whatever they could raise for the building project. But that also, apparently, gave her a vote in everything from where they were building to the color of the shingles.

“And you know he wants to have one of the shops for his loser son to open a taxidermy business.”

Adrianne stared at Hailey. “What?”

“Ken Stevens,” Hailey said impatiently. “He said he’ll only sell the land if we promise to give one of the shops to his son, Eddie. 
Eddie’s going to do taxidermy.”

“Which is stuffing dead animals,” Adrianne said to clarify.

“Yes. That’s exactly what it is. Which should go nicely with the specialty coffees and gourmet candy that we want to sell there, don’t you think?” Hailey asked. “The advisory board feels very strongly that Mason’s land is a better choice for several reasons.”

Ah, the advisory board had evidently given itself a title since she’d 
last seen them.

The four of them were a force to be reckoned with though. They loved to argue with one another—and anyone else who dared open their mouths—loudly and for long stretches of time while having coffee and donuts. It was exhausting, and Adrianne had long ago given up trying to give any insight or opinions. Now when they had meetings she found something else to do. Far from the office.

She’d left Chicago to escape that kind of ridiculous fighting, stress and wasted time. Sapphire Falls was supposed to be quiet and calm and simple. Dammit.

Of course, with all their meetings and donuts, she’d assumed the issue of where they were building the damned thing had been finalized a long time ago.

The whole thing drove her crazy, but Adrianne was committed to the Sapphire Hills project for reasons that went beyond being Hailey’s assistant or believing it was a good move for the town. It would give Adrianne a place to start her own shop. Something she’d been thinking about more and more over the past year.

Working for Hailey had been exactly what she needed when she’d come to Sapphire Falls. She’d escaped Chicago and the pressures of her family’s business just before it killed her. Literally. Her mild heart attack at age twenty-seven was a medical anomaly, but it had scared the shit out of her. She’d checked out of the hospital, given up smoking, quit her job and started yoga all on the same day.
A week later, she was in Sapphire Falls working as the assistant to the mayor—a cushy job in a sleepy little town with lots of fresh air and nice people.

She was healthy now, happy, converted to small-town life. It was time to buy a house and some land. And open a shop. She wanted to be secure without stress, and thanks to Sapphire Falls, she knew that was possible.

It could happen.

It was why she was here. And why Sapphire Hills had to happen.

“Tell me about Mason,” Adrianne heard herself say.

What? Why did she want to know more about Mason? From Hailey or anyone?

She had the basic information they needed to include him on the list of invitations—he was from Sapphire Falls and had money to 
donate. That was all she needed. Period.

But she wanted more details.

It was ridiculous.

He was some guy whose name showed up on the list Hailey had written on the back of her grocery receipt.

Adrianne had wanted to know about all five men Hailey had decided to approach about investing. So she’d begun her research on the Internet but quickly discovered the most comprehensive information on the guys could be found at the diner downtown. All the local men aged seventy and older congregated at the diner every morning for coffee and gossip. They had all lived in Sapphire Falls forever and kept track of everyone and everything.
They were able to report where each of the men were now, what they were doing, how much they were worth and the probability they would invest.

Except for Mason Riley.

They knew where he was and that he made a lot of money. Beyond that, they were no help.

Mason’s family had moved to Sapphire Falls from “some big city” when he started kindergarten. His parents doted on him but socialized very little with the rest of the town. When Mason graduated from high school, they’d moved away, back to “some big city.”

Neither he, nor his parents, had been back to Sapphire Falls since.
What she had found out from the Internet—which no one in Sapphire Falls seemed to know—was that he had two master’s degrees and a PhD. He was a world-renowned agricultural engineer. 

His company had done a number of projects for various government and private groups. And they had made him a lot of money. They had also gotten him selected to head a task force for the White House. They had gotten him published in six different 
scientific journals.

But she didn’t need to know anything about him beyond the fact that he was from here and had enough money to make a sizeable donation to their project.

It didn’t matter that he was—

“A dork.”

Adrianne blinked at Hailey. “I’m sorry?”

“Mason Riley was a dork. A nerd.” Hailey shrugged and took a long drink of her iced tea.

“Because he was so smart?”

“I suppose. And because he was…different. He was nice. Sweet.”

Hailey smiled softly at the picture of Mason. It was from high school and he did look a little nerdy. The pictures Adrianne had seen online were of a very handsome, sophisticated man with dark hair and dark eyes. If she looked closely, she could see the resemblance between the successful man and the geeky boy, but she had to look very closely.

Adrianne was grateful for the Internet. All the other men had responded to their invitations to attend the town’s annual festival and alumni reunion along with some special events for investors only. With their RSVPs, they had been asked to provide a current bio and photo. They’d heard nothing from Mason.

But Hailey definitely had an affectionate look on her face for the Mason in the photo.

“He was weird?”

“Yeah. Typical nerd, for sure,” Hailey said. “He was so…beyond all of the rest of us. More mature. Interested in politics and world events and science and machines. He knew nothing about football or baseball. So around here, he didn’t fit in well with the guys. He also didn’t care too much about girls, really. I mean, he never flirted, never looked at a girl’s butt, never went out. Of course, people thought he was gay for a while.”

Adrianne rolled her eyes and sipped again. Of course.

“But the weird thing was…” Hailey trailed off, looking at the picture, and sighed.

“The weird thing was…” Adrianne knew she had to hear this.

“He was a great kisser.”

Adrianne knew it was stupid, but she felt her heart drop at those words.

“You kissed him?”

“Yeah. Once. On a whim.”

“At a dance?” Damn Sapphire Falls and their dances. What was in the punch they were serving these kids anyway?

Hailey sighed again and Adrianne had to resist the urge to sigh in frustration.

“No. Not a dance,” Hailey said.

That made Adrianne feel better.

“And?” Adrianne asked.

“He was great.”

“You mentioned that.”

“I mean, he didn’t date, flirt, make out.” Hailey lifted her gaze from the photo to Adrianne. “How’d he get so good?”

How indeed? The fact certainly didn’t make him less interesting to Adrianne. Or, apparently, to Hailey.

The minute Mason walked through the doors to the Come Again, the only bar in Sapphire Falls, he knew he’d made a mistake.

He could have bought a plane ticket from Chicago to anywhere and been, well, anywhere else by now. Instead, he stood inside the social mecca for a town he had hoped to never visit again. Not only was he back in Sapphire Falls, but he’d seemingly found the bulk of the town’s population all at once.

He was hungry. The Come Again was the only place that made food at this time of night. Unfortunately, it was also the only place that had a dance floor, and that was apparently a big draw tonight.

It only took him thirty seconds to notice Hailey Conner.

She was being escorted around the surprisingly large dance floor by Kevin Marshall in a traditional two-step. She looked gorgeous. Her hair hung to the middle of her back and was held away from her face by a gold clip, the lights above the dance floor making the blond highlights glow. She was smiling, but her eyes were unfocused and directed over Kevin’s shoulder as if she was only pretending to pay attention.

“Mason? Is that you?”

And so it began.

Mason turned to find Drew Thurman standing toward the back of the crowd gathered around the dancing. Drew had been their class president and Mason knew, from the alumni newsletter that surprisingly found him no matter where he moved, that Drew had taken over his father’s plumbing business. As far as Mason knew, Drew had never been more than one hundred miles from Sapphire Falls.

“Hey, Drew.”

“Holy shit! It is you.” Drew came forward, took Mason’s hand and pumped it up and down enthusiastically. “I wouldn’t have even guessed it was you if I didn’t know you were invited. They said they hadn’t heard from you though so I didn’t think you were coming.”

“I didn’t know I was coming until the last minute,” Mason 
admitted, pulling his hand from the other man’s firm grasp.

“Well, damn, man, it’s good to see you.”

Sure it was. The only conversation Drew and Mason had ever had was the daily ritual when they passed each other in the hallway on the way to their fourth period classes. Drew would ask, “What’s up?” to which Mason would answer, “Same stuff.”

They’d done that routine for two years.

Mason assumed Drew knew his name only because he had apparently been a topic of conversation over the past few days because of the investment opportunity.

“I thought I should come and see about this big plan,” Mason said. He could admit, to himself only, that he was curious. Not curious enough to truly entertain the idea of giving money, and definitely not curious enough to make the trip without Lauren’s pushing, but curious.

“Oh, it’s big all right,” Drew replied with a large grin. “Gonna be great for the whole town. They’re promising to buy local. That means I get to do the plumbing and stuff.”

Sure, that sounded cost effective. Exactly what a potential investor was looking for.

“Come on, I’ll buy you a drink. Hailey and Adrianne are officially the people in charge, but they’re busy.” He gestured toward the dance floor. “So I’ll be the one to first welcome you back to town.”

The song ended as Mason followed Drew, weaving through the crowd on the way to the bar. The dance floor was surrounded on all sides with spectators and they all turned to the podium set up on the far side of the room.

“Okay, boys,” Jack Morgan, the local banker and city council member for nearly thirty years, said. “Get ready to cough up some more cash.”

Everyone cheered and Mason found himself interested in spite of himself.

“Come here, girls,” Jack said.

Hailey and nine other women of varying ages, sizes and attire lined up in front of the podium, posing, smiling and blowing kisses, winking and waving at the audience. All except one. A curvy blond stood next to Hailey, barely smiling and not flirting or strutting at all. She was the only one Mason didn’t know.

Mason found himself studying her as Drew handed him a beer. He didn’t like beer outside of one microbrew he’d found in Chicago. 
He preferred martinis and scotch. He gave his attention to the woman in hopes of avoiding further conversation with Drew. Since he and the man had absolutely nothing in common, avoidance seemed the best way to prevent an awkward situation.

The woman was very pretty. When Hailey was around, Mason had always had trouble noticing anyone else. Or anything else. Like open locker doors or chairs in his path, for instance. He assumed by the way they acted around her that other men had the same problem. Perhaps they were more graceful than Mason about it, but men still acted stupidly around her.

But Mason found it quite easy to keep his eyes on the woman to Hailey’s right. She turned and said something to Hailey. Hailey shook her head and the blond rolled her eyes and visibly sighed.

“Charlene is first, boys.” A short redhead grinned and waved. 
“Who’s in?”

“Ten bucks,” somebody yelled from the right side.

“Twenty,” someone else called.

“What’s going on?” Mason asked Drew, unable to keep from addressing the other man after all.

Drew took a long draw of beer and then said, “It’s an auction. Kind of like those bachelor auctions. But the guys are bidding on dances with those girls. Later, the women will bid on ten guys. The money goes to the building fund.”

Mason was sure the men were not bidding because of the building fund, but he refrained from saying so.

“You one of the guys they’ll be bidding on?” Mason asked, already knowing the answer.

“You bet.” Drew grinned. “It’s great for the ego.”

Charlene ended up partnered for the next dance for thirty dollars.
Linda, a forty-ish blond in tight black jeans, promised the next two dances for thirty-five dollars and Betty, a cute little white-haired lady with enough jewelry to fund the entire building campaign times three, went to stand next to a tall bald gentleman who was grinning widely in spite of having spent fifty-three dollars on two dances.

Then Hailey stepped forward.

“And who’s next on Miss Hailey’s card?” Jack asked the crowd.

Several hands went up and Mason noticed that the guy she’d been dancing with was one of them. Mason leaned an elbow on the bar and took a sip of his beer while keeping track of the bid while it 

Finally, her previous dance partner agreed to pay eighty-one dollars for three dances and all the other hands fell.

She looked less than thrilled but still gave the guy a huge smile as she went to stand next to him.

“’Kay all, Adrianne’s next.”

A hand shot up in front before Jack even asked for a bid.

Jack chuckled and started the action at thirty dollars. It quickly climbed to two dances and fifty dollars.

Adrianne. Mason had no idea who she was, but it was obvious she was damned popular. She was no Hailey Conner, and in Sapphire Falls she never would be, but at least the guys around here hadn’t missed the silkiness of the blond waves that fell to her shoulder blades, or the sweetness of her smile, or the perfect curve of her ass—

Mason straightened. What the hell was that? His type was about four years younger than Adrianne, twenty pounds lighter and not from Sapphire Falls.

“What’s her story?” he asked Drew.

“Adrianne Scott,” Drew said with an appreciative sigh. “She’s new.”

“Yeah. I noticed.”

“Been here a couple of years. She’s friends with Hailey. Everyone wants her.”

He’d noticed that too. And it bugged him.

“She’s not dating anyone?”

Drew chuckled and shook his head. “Nope. Not for lack of trying. She never dates. The first guy to kiss her gets a hundred bucks.”
Mason raised an eyebrow. He didn’t necessarily approve of guys kissing a woman to win money, but then again, he was quite sure that no man would want to kiss Adrianne just for money.

“Everyone wants her.”

The guys in Sapphire Falls might have more taste than he’d given them credit for.

He drained the beer he didn’t want and disliked immensely and decided to place a food order to go. This was all of no interest to him.

“Okay, sixty-five dollars and three dances with Miss Adrianne Scott. Going once—”

Then she laughed at something the woman next to her said.

And Mason was in trouble.

Well, hell.

“Three hundred dollars,” he called out.

Blurb:  Sapphire Falls has few good memories for Mason Riley. So what’s he doing in the middle of the annual town Festival/class reunion eleven years after leaving town without a look back?
Letting the most popular girl in town—then and now—kiss up to him.
Mason has come a long way from the nerdy outcast Sapphire Falls remembers. His genius IQ has helped him make a name for himself with everyone from the World Health Organization to the White House. He’s also got the bank account to make the Mayor of Sapphire Falls herself—the girl who broke his heart in high school and the one who now wants him to donate to the town’s big building project—take notice.

He can’t wait to tell her no in person.

Adrianne Scott loves Sapphire Falls. The sleepy little town where her college roommate was elected Mayor has been the perfect place to escape the fast-paced, high stress sales job she had in Chicago.  She’s happy, healthy and the new project means her dream candy shop can now become a reality. Everything is good in her quiet life.  Until Mason Riley comes home.

Mason sure doesn’t look—or kiss—like a socially awkward geek. In fact, he makes Adrianne’s heart pound like nothing she’s ever experienced. Which means she needs to stay far away from him.
A great plan, until her friends inform her that Mason’s donation to the project is dependent on keeping him away from the Mayor while he’s in town.

Now all Adrianne has to do is keep Mason busy, distracted and feeling good about—and generous toward— his hometown… oh, and avoid falling for the world-saving, nerd-turned-hot-guy in the process.

PREORDER it now as part of the Love, Laughter & Happily Ever Afters boxed set!!  Releasing June 24th!  Only .99!!


  1. Love this! Made me go and one-click the preorder on Amazon. :) Can't wait to read more!