Faced with a broken engagement due to her guarded heart and her family expecting to meet her fiancé during the first Christmas without her Gran, Lia Taylor decides to take her friends’ advice. She’ll take a fake fiancé home for Christmas.
Ryan Barton grew up in foster homes, unaware he had a family until he met his grandmother at sixteen. Lia’s offer of a noisy family Christmas with a big elaborate meal sounds like heaven, even the part about pretending to be her fiancé.
As Lia and Ryan get to know each other and practice casual touching, hugs, and kisses, their feelings grow. They decide to try for a real relationship with the promise that when either of them withdraws due to old fears, the other will pull them back.
But what will save them when they both withdraw in fear? Are their recent feelings strong enough to save their new relationship or will they hide within the safety of their guarded hearts?
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“They’ll expect us to touch.” Lia draped her hand across Ryan’s forearm and his eyes gentled, darkened. “Like this. Casual. Easy. And to hold hands. I hope you don’t mind.”
Ryan turned his arm over and linked his fingers through hers. “We got this.”
She swallowed, unable to tear her gaze off his, and nodded. It felt both foreign and familiar, holding hands with him.
“I think I’m going to like this gig.” He gave her fingers an easy squeeze. “Should we also practice…” His lashes lowered, gaze trained on her mouth. As the fingers of his free hand slid along her jawline, something like static electricity blazed across her skin.
Holy cow. Lia’s pulse bumped and her chest froze, making it difficult to breathe. She parted her lips to answer but couldn’t produce so much as a squeak. After she managed the tiniest of nods, he leaned forward, and his face blurred.
Ryan’s lips touched Lia’s and withdrew. He caught her in mid-gasp the second time and took advantage of her parted lips to flick his tongue against hers, igniting a fire that thawed her chest.
He angled his head and came in for more, tongues teasing, tasting, learning each other. His hands were firm on her back, pulling her closer until she was consumed in the solidness of him and the fire he stoked. She clutched at his shoulders as if they were her lifeline because she was completely engulfed in sensation.
And a choir of angels sang “Hallelujah.”
Ryan chuckled into the kiss, then tore away laughing. Lia scrambled for her phone, the Hallelujah Chorus one she’d assigned to her older brother because he rarely called. When he finally did, she considered it a small miracle. Not so much right now, though. His timing couldn’t be worse.
“What, Spence?” she demanded without preamble. “You’re on speaker.”
“Whoa. Ho, ho, ho to you, too, little sis.”
“Sorry, bad timing. We were…uhm, what’s up?”
“You tell me. My travel app shows your plane came in on time, but we haven’t heard from you. I was elected to find out what the holdup is.”
“Oh. Well, Ryan couldn’t get the same flight, and there was a slight delay, but he’s here now, and we’re about to leave the airport.”
“Right, the fiancé. We can’t wait to meet this guy and size him up.”
“Very funny. Best behavior today, and I mean it, Spence. So help me—” Lia looked over a sea of autos, anywhere but at Ryan.
“Kidding. Damn, girl, where’s your sense of humor?”
“Buried under travel stress. Hey, how’s Mom holding up?” Lia kept her brother on the line to delay renewed mortification over the kiss.
“Oh, you know.” There was a slight pause, and Spence’s voice quieted as if he’d moved out of earshot. “She’s…trying, but the tree isn’t decorated.”
“What?” Lia couldn’t believe it. She pressed her lips together. Ever since Spence had gone to college, her mom made a point of having the tree ready to welcome them home at Christmas.
“She said we’ll all do it together, and it’ll make Brian feel more at home. Having y’all here will help.”
“It’s Ryan. Geriatric brain, much?”
“I could’ve sworn Mom said Brian, but the TV was blaring. Oh, well. Hang up and drive, girl. We’re waiting, and hey, save me a hug.”
“Back at ya. Bye.” Lia returned the cell to her purse, taking extra care to stow it properly.
“Sounds like you deflected the name change deftly.” Ryan buckled his seatbelt.
Lia clicked hers into the slot, relieved to talk about any subject but their scorching-hot kiss. “Yeah, but I think it’ll be fine since your names are similar. Brian, Ryan. Easy to brush it off as ‘Oh, you misunderstood.’”
Silence fell between them. Lia found a radio station and slipped the gearshift into reverse. “Okay, let’s do this.”
– – –
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Author bio and links
Carol Burnside: Sizzling romance with heart and humor
Carol Burnside is an award-winning author of “Sizzling romance with heart and humor.” Her personal second-chance-at-love story resulted in an enduring marriage to her high school sweetheart. They reside in the Texas hill country, where Carol enjoys visiting wildlife from her covered back porch. Like any true southerner, she drinks tea in some form year-round. Carol’s novel length manuscripts have placed in numerous contests and won several, including the prestigious Maggie Award for Excellence. She also writes as Annie Rayburn.
Amazon reviews say Carol’s books are:
“Highly captivating!” “intriguing and a wonderful read” “Emotional and heartwarming” “Engaging!” and “Great reading!”
Carol blogs on her website at www.CarolBurnside.com. Connect with her via Facebook / Newsletter / Goodreads / Twitter / Pinterest
Carol is also releasing the 5th book in her Sweetwater Springs series: Mistletoe Weddings during the holidays. Check it out at your favorite retailer today!
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