A Groom for Christmas by Cara Marsi
A GROOM FOR CHRISTMAS is a new twist on the classic Hallmark Christmas movie full of family, humor, love, and a little bit of redemption.
Family pressure just might make her do something crazy…
When a young woman hires her hometown’s former bad boy to be her pretend fiancé for the holidays, she finds she can’t wrap up her feelings as easily as a Christmas gift.
New York jewelry designer Graceann Palmer has two days to find a fiancé to bring home to Pennsylvania for the holidays so her matchmaking mama will quit fixing her up with jerks. The Falcon, a motorcycle-riding, leather-clad former high school crush, helped her out once before. Maybe he’ll do it again.
Jake Falco, man of many mysteries, is back in town on a mission—one the people of Spirit Lake most likely won’t appreciate. When Graceann presents him with her crazy scheme, it gives him something he’s always wanted—a chance to get to know Graceann. It also gives him the perfect opportunity to add fuel to his project of revenge.
But as Jake and Graceann grow closer, their engagement-of-convenience begins to feel like the real deal—until Jake’s secrets are revealed.
Can a relationship that began with lies and secrets bloom like a rare Christmas rose into happily-ever-after?
“I have two days to find a fiancé.” Ignoring the anxiety that tightened her stomach, Graceann Palmer dipped her fork into her apple pie à la mode and slipped the tasty treat into her mouth.
Her friend Kate sat next to her at the counter in the quaint fifties-era Spirit Lake Diner, located just outside the small Pennsylvania town of the same name. Kate grinned. “You could advertise online: Fiancé wanted for Christmas. Good pay. Temporary position.”
“Like I’d get a real upstanding guy that way,” Graceann said.
Kate shot her a sympathetic smile. “Face it. You’ll have to tell your family you lied.”
Bing Crosby’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas flowed from the jukebox, mocking Graceann. Her lie had caught up with her. She would come home for Christmas, minus a made-up fiancé.
Graceann finished her pie and pushed the plate away. “Tell my family the truth and have my mom try to fix me up with someone like the dentist she invited to spend the holidays with us last year? Boring, conceited, and he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Yuck.”
The door opened, bringing in a fresh round of cold, snowy late December air. Shivering, Graceann drew her sweater closer around her.
“I wouldn’t mind finding that under my Christmas tree,” Kate said.
Graceann followed her friend’s gaze to the tall man who’d just entered the diner. Dressed all in black—black motorcycle boots, black jeans, black leather jacket—and walking with the lithe grace of a panther, he took a seat at the other end of the counter. She studied him while he studied the menu. He had classic “bad boy” written all over his features—sharp cheekbones, dark stubble on a square jaw, and midnight black hair tied into a ponytail. Long, tapered fingers held the menu.
Suddenly, he looked up. Clear blue eyes connected with hers. Recognition spiked through her and sent her pulse jumping like a kid on Christmas morning.
“The Falcon,” she whispered.
“What?” Kate gasped. “You’re right. It is The Falcon.”
His full lips tilted in a slow, sexy grin, showing even white teeth. He nodded at them before turning his attention to the waitress. After he gave his order, he didn’t look in their direction again.
Kate gripped Graceann’s arm, her fingers digging into Graceann’s flesh beneath the heavy sweater. “Wow. The Falcon. I heard he left town the day after his graduation from Spirit Lake High fourteen years ago and hasn’t been heard from since.”
“Wonder what he’s doing back here,” Graceann said. In school, she’d had a crush on The Falcon even though he was two years ahead of her. She’d never told anyone, not even Kate.
“He’s a little scruffy,” Kate said.
“Scruffy, my tush. He’s hot.”
Kate grabbed her arm again as Graceann lifted her coffee mug. Coffee sloshed over the sides onto the counter. Setting the mug down, Graceann gave her friend an exasperated look. “What?”
“I have it,” Kate said. “Your fiancé.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The Falcon. I’ll bet he’ll pretend to be your fiancé. After Zach bowed out, you said you’d be willing to pay someone. The Falcon always needed cash. Do it. Ask him.”
“You’re crazy. I haven’t seen him in fourteen years. He could be a serial killer for all we know.”
Kate shook her head. “He’s not. We would have heard.” She leaned closer. “You’ll be at your grandmother’s with the whole family. You’ll be safe. Your grandmother is old-fashioned. She’ll put you in separate rooms. It’s not like he’s a total stranger. Bring him to meet the family, pretend you’re wildly in love. Your mom will quit trying to fix you up. After the holidays you won’t ever have to see him again. Once you’re back in New York, you can tell your family you broke the engagement. That’s what you planned to do with Zach.”
Graceann put a hand up. “This is the craziest idea you’ve ever had, and you’ve had plenty. I can’t ask this guy to go along with my scheme. I’ll have to resign myself to fending off another loser my mom pushes at me. She means well, but she won’t accept that I’m not interested in marriage. After what Michael did, my whole family feels sorry for me. I don’t want or need their pity.”
“Michael was a jerk. He didn’t deserve you. Listen to me, Graceann. Ask. The. Falcon. What could it hurt to at least ask?”
“His name is Jake, and I’ll think about it.”
“Don’t wait too long. He’ll be out of here and you’ll have missed your chance.”
Graceann sipped her coffee and stole glances at Jake Falco. Maybe Kate was right. Jake had always been nice to her and had even come to her aid once when the mean girls were harassing her. He might help her out now. At her grandmother’s, they’d be surrounded by family. She wouldn’t be alone with him. Her gut feelings were usually on target, so she’d learned to listen. She’d ignored her instincts with Michael and look how that had turned out. Something was telling her to go ahead and take a chance on Jake.
“I’ll do it.” She stood before she lost her nerve.
He raised his head as she approached. His eyes, blue as a bright winter sky, lit with awareness. He brazenly scanned her in the same way he used to check out some of the other girls in school, but never her.
Her heart pounded, the sound pulsing in her ears. She nearly turned to rush back to her stool, but desperation propelled her toward him.
“Graceann Palmer,” he said when she reached him. His voice, deep, smoky, richer than she remembered, warmed her like well-aged whiskey.
The opening line she’d rehearsed dried in her throat. “Hello, Fal…Jake,” she stammered.
He gestured to the stool next to him and threw her a sardonic smile. “Have a seat. Catch up on old times.”
What was she doing? They were no longer in high school. This man was a stranger to her now. She sat down gingerly and glanced over at Kate. Her friend gave her the thumbs-up sign.
“So, Graceann Palmer,” he said, turning in his stool to face her. “What have you been up to?”
Giddily flattered that he remembered her name, she found the words to answer him. “I moved to New York City.” She smoothed a hand over her jeans, feeling as nervous as the awkward teen she’d once been. “I design jewelry.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Impressive. Did you design that necklace you’re wearing?”
She raised her left hand to rub the large blue stone set in sterling silver and hanging from a silver chain. It was one of her favorites. “I did.”
Uneasy under his intense gaze, she lowered her hand to rest it on her thigh.
“Not married?” he asked.
Her chest knotted with the familiar pain of betrayal. “Not married. What about you?”
“Nope. Never been.”
Whew. She hadn’t considered the possibility he’d be married. “Where do you live and what sort of work do you do?”
“I live here and there,” he said with a shrug. “Some would say I don’t work at all.”
“Intriguing.” She noted the age and well-worn dullness of his distressed leather jacket. Maybe Kate was right. He’d lived on the poor side of town when they were growing up. Maybe things hadn’t improved since he’d lit out all those years ago.
The sounds of food sizzling on the griddle and silver clanking against glass filled the diner, but an uncomfortable silence settled between them. The pungent odor of hamburger and onions cooking roiled her already unsettled stomach.
“I’m surprised you recognized me,” she said into the silence. “It’s been fourteen years.”
He studied her. When his glance dropped to her mouth, his eyes darkened. “How could I forget those beautiful green cat eyes of yours or those lips?” he said in a husky voice.
Stunned silent, she opened her mouth and snapped it shut. Up close, he carried the scent and the appearance of the outdoors—all hard muscles, bronzed skin and the aroma of clean, pine-scented air. She swallowed. It was easy to believe the rumors that had swirled around him in school, stories about the women he’d slept with. Not girls. Women. He was playing with her. He couldn’t really be trying to seduce her. Unlike the insecure girl she’d been, she could now handle the likes of Jake Falco.
Graceann drew a deep breath and plunged in. “I have a proposition for you.”
He quirked that eyebrow again. “Sounds interesting.”
“It’s not what you think.”
He laughed. “What I’m thinking is very good.”
Heat suffused her cheeks. “Clean out your mind. It’s a business proposition.”
“Too bad.” He signaled the waitress for two cups of coffee, then re-settled onto his stool, his attention on Graceann. “Go on. I’m listening.”
Covering her anxiety, she added cream to her coffee, stirred, then took too big a sip and choked as the liquid burned its way down her throat.
He patted her on her back until she waved him away. “I’m fine,” she managed. Pushing aside her cup to let the drink cool, she locked her gaze with his. She would not let him intimidate her.
“I need a fiancé.”
His lips tilted in amusement. “Are you asking me to marry you, Ms. Palmer?”
“No. I’m asking you to pretend we’re engaged.”
He lowered his gaze, stared into his coffee, then back to her. “Why would I do that?”
“I’ll pay you five thousand dollars.”
His features tightened. “You think I need money?”
“No! I’m the one who’s desperate.”
“I see.” He smiled, but the smile didn’t touch his eyes.
“Wait. That didn’t come out right. I’m desperate because my pretend fiancé canceled out on me at the last minute and I need a substitute. Fast.”
“Baby, I’m not a substitution for any man.”
“No, I didn’t mean—”
“Forget it.” He studied her for a moment, then smiled thoughtfully and reached out to brush a strand of her hair off her face. His touch sent heat flowing like warmed honey through her veins. “Just know I’m the real thing, princess.”
She pulled away. “Stop playing with me. This is strictly business. You come with me to my grandmother’s house day after tomorrow. We stay through the holidays. We pretend we’re in love. Everyone is happy. New Year’s Day I pay you the five thousand. We go our separate ways.”
Turning away, he sipped his coffee. Then he put down his cup and met her gaze. “Why would you need a fake fiancé? I would think you could have as many men as you wanted.”
“Why is my business. What do you say? Or do you already have Christmas plans?”
A shadow seemed to flit across his face. “I have no plans.”
She bit down on her lip. “Well?”
He glanced at her left hand again. “We’ll need a ring.”
Relief flooded her. Yes! He’d do it. She was safe from another terrible fix-up. “I made a ring. It’s cubic zirconia, but it looks like the real thing.”
He laughed. “You come prepared.”
“A friend was going to act the part of my fiancé, but at the last minute he got an invitation to go to Santo Domingo with his new girlfriend.”
“Not much of a friend.”
“Zach would have stayed, but I told him not to worry about me. He really likes this new girl and I didn’t want to wreck it for him. Zach had his heart broken a year ago and needs someone in his life. ”
“You’re a good friend as well as beautiful.” Giving her another of his sexy grins, he held out his hand to shake hers. “Well, Ms. Graceann Palmer, it’s a deal. You’ve hired yourself a fiancé.”
Cara Marsi, an award-winning author and self-proclaimed TV junkie, is a former corporate drone and cubicle dweller. Freed from her fabric-covered cage, she can now indulge her love of all things romance. She craves books with happy endings and loves to write about independent heroines and the strong heroes who love them. And she loves to put her characters in dangerous situations or situations merely dangerous to their hearts and watch them fight for the happy endings they deserve.
An eclectic author, Cara is published in romantic suspense, paranormal romance, and contemporary romance. She’s also published numerous short romance stories in national women’s magazines and online. When not traveling or dreaming of traveling, Cara and her husband live on the East Coast in a house ruled by their fat black diva of a cat named Killer.
My website: www.caramarsi.com
My Amazon Author Page where all my books are featured: http://www.amazon.com/Cara-Marsi/e/B002BMIB8S
Cara Marsi–Award-Winning Author
Sensual, Sweetly Romantic Love Stories
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