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A Free Excerpt From Our Romance of the Week Sponsor, Julia London’s Material Girl

by Julia London
4.2 stars – 23 Reviews
Here’s the set-up:
Rich. Sexy. Beautiful. Robin Lear is all that—and her jet-set life is golden. Until the day her indestructible father sends her tumbling off her pedestal with the startling news that he is dying. Then he further shatters her illusions by demoting her from the cushy job in the family business to teach her “about life.” In an instant her whole world unravels, and Robin is suddenly swimming in uncharted waters, including a bogus night in jail, a new job as the lackey of her toady ex-boyfriend, and a major distraction in the form of one very sexy contractor who’s renovating her house.Jake Manning has had some tough knocks in life. Now all he wants is to make enough money to finish his degree and, maybe, get a nice house with a nice wife and a nice kid. But this Prada-clad ice princess is turning his life upside down with her sassy—and disastrous—ways. Jake’s head tells him to run, don’t walk, from this gorgeous train wreck of a woman. A man would have to be crazy to pursue someone like Robin Lear. But Jake is crazy—about her….
The author hopes you will enjoy this free excerpt:

Thursday morning, Jake was on the job site at 8 A.M. sharp, surprised that he was there before Zaney, the guy he used on most of these jobs. Thinking he was probably stuck in traffic, Jake waited outside for about ten minutes, wanting to make sure Zaney found the place okay. When he got bored with standing on the sidewalk, he decided to stretch his legs and wandered around to the back of the Lear house.Raymond was already hard at work in the garden he had planted behind the guesthouse and waved Jake over to show him tomatoes as big as softballs. Suitably impressed, Jake had a look around at the rest of the produce, and when Raymond offered to sack some up, he said, very cool. Particularly since Jake didn’t really have any food in his house at the moment. After paying taxes and insurance this month, he’d come up a little short.He put the sack Raymond filled in a saddlebag on his bike and checked the time. Nine o’clock and still no Zaney. Okay, now he was officially worried. His old pal had suffered a head injury a few years ago working on an oil rig, and since then, he could be pretty dumb at times. But he was as steady as the day was long, and when he was this late, well . . . Jake dug out his cell phone and started to make some calls.So this was what the proverbial rock bottom looked like, and Robin had splattered herself all over it.

It was humiliating enough to have been brought in at all, much less wearing handcuffs. But then they took all of her belongings, including her belt, made her spread her legs so a female guard could pat her down, and when she was completely traumatized, they took her picture, fingerprinted her, and told her to quit whining; she was not going to see the sheriff, she was going to see a judge. Okay, she had said then, fully contrite for her folly, I give, let me out.

They said they would-if and when a judge said so.

And then they showed her the holding cell into which they had managed to defy physics and force at least a dozen women. Robin’s bathroom was bigger than that cell. It was a nightmare, a bona fide, unmistakable nightmare, complete with bodies under the benches and scary monster-type-looking humans, and she had no one to blame but herself. And damn it, Robin could not stop shivering-they had turned the air-conditioning on to a full-metal-jacket high, undoubtedly to keep the stench down. How long she sat there, she had no idea, and wouldn’t have been the least surprised if days had passed, maybe even weeks, until the door was at last pushed open and a guard came waddling in. “All right, ladies-time to go. You know the drill, everyone on their feet!”

Well, no, she didn’t know the drill, but Robin surged to her feet nonetheless, crowding with the others to get out of that stuffy little room.

They were lead to an open area with chairs and a bank of phones along one wall and told to make their calls. Robin went to a phone, picked up the receiver, grimaced at the greasy feel of it and debated who to call. Oh, hi, this is Robin, and I’m in jail. . . . Her attorney? Seemed logical, but no-she was also Evan’s attorney. Mia? Right. She didn’t answer the phone before noon.

Lucy? Well, sure, if she wanted it spread all over Houston. Kelly, Mariah, Linda, Susan-God, no! Her CPA? He’d probably have a heart attack.

That left only one viable option.

Grimacing, Robin dialed her grandparent’s number, praying to high heaven they hadn’t gone off on some trailer trip. Grandma answered the phone on the first ring. “Hel-lo-oh!” she sang.

“Grandma, it’s me,” she said low.

“Oh, hi, honey!” Grandma said cheerfully. “What are you up to?”

“Grandma, now don’t freak out, okay? I need you to come pick me up. Or get a lawyer-not my lawyer, but . . . oh hell, I’m not really sure what I need you to do-”

“A lawyer!” Grandma gasped. “Why on earth would you need a lawyer? And what is all that racket?”

“It’s a really long and stupid story Grandma, but . . . okay, listen, I’m sort of in a bind. You shouldn’t panic or anything, because like I said, it’s reallyreally stupid-”

“Where are you, Robbie?” Grandma asked, her voice going shrill.

There was no good way to say it.  Robin forced a laugh. “You won’t believe this, Grandma!

Ha haaaa, I’m . . . I’m . . . in jail.

They probably heard her grandmother’s shriek throughout the entire retirement community. “Jail!” she cried out. “Jail? Oh no, not jail! Elmer! Robbie is in jaaaail!”

Robin heard the receiver on her grandmother’s end bounce on the phone table. “Grandma!” she cried into the phone.

“Robbie, is that you?”

Thank God, Grandpa! “Yes, yes, it’s me, Grandpa! Is Grandma all right?”

“Are you really in jail?”

“Yes, I-”

“Oh yeah? What’d you do?”

“I didn’t really do-”

“Drugs?”

“Grandpa! Of course it wasn’t drugs!”

 

“Well then, what? Murder?” He chuckled appreciatively at his own jest. Robin stared at the phone cradle in front of her. Why hadn’t she realized before this crucial moment that her grandparents were insane? “Oh dear, it wasn’t murder, was it?” he asked, his voice suddenly anxious.

 

“Of course not!” she cried. “It’s too long to explain now, but Grandpa, please come get me. This place is horrible! Everyone smells, and who knows why they are here, and the guards are just . . . just mean, and I have no idea how long they will hold me or anything, but please, please come get me,” she said, feeling suddenly and dangerously close to tears.

 

“Well, of course we’ll come get you, Robbie-girl! You just hold tight. We’re gonna come get you.”

 

“Thanks, Grandpa,” she whispered tearfully, and heard him shout at Grandma to hurry up as the phone clicked off.

 

Feeling a little better having called in the cavalry, Robin endured another interminable wait until they were led, single file, into another long room where a judge’s bench was elevated above the rows of wooden benches. They formed two groups, men and women on opposite sides of the room. Now Robin was feeling particularly slimy. The last seventy-two hours had been a personal trip through hell, and all she wanted was out-she had never felt so alone or so vulnerable or so insane in her life. What sort of moron picked a fight with a cop?

 

She shivered. They waited. She wondered what time it was, had that slow and thick feeling of having flown through too many time zones on a long transatlantic flight. When at last the judge did arrive, Robin was surprised; the diminutive African American probably didn’t reach five feet.

 

The bailiff announced Judge Vaneta Jobe and told them all to rise. Judge Jobe climbed up onto her big black high-back leather chair, and with her head barely visible, and her feet probably swinging a foot above ground, let her gaze travel the crowd. “All right then,” she said, slipping on a pair of round, silver-framed glasses. “Listen up, everyone. Y’all have some rights you’ll need to know about. . .” She proceeded to inform them, in a booming voice that belied her size, of their rights and the different types of bonds available to them. Then she announced she would bring them forward to hear the charges being made against them, and when she had finished her speech, she asked, “Is that just clear as mud? Let’s begin, Mr. Peeples.”

 

The bailiff picked up a sheet and squinted at it. “Rodney Trace.”

 

A man from the third row of benches stood and came forward, his head hung low. When he approached the bench, Judge Jobe glared down at him. “Seems like you gone and done a stupid thing, Mr. Trace. How many times are you gonna be stupid? Until you kill someone? Or until they send you down to the farm?”

 

Rodney Trace shrugged.

 

Judge Jobe sighed. “Bail set at twenty-five thousand dollars. Who’s next on our hit parade, Mr. Peeples?”

 

Horrified, Robin watched as Judge Jobe and a long string of people who alternately tried to argue their charge or took whatever bond she set with a shrug. She was beginning to feel less and less optimistic about what would happen to her, and started like a jumping bean when the bailiff finally called her name. She hurried forward, clasped her hands tightly in front of her and tried very hard not to shiver.

 

The judge leaned over the bench to have a better look at her, shaking her head. “Urn, um, um . . . don’t know what’s got into you, girlfriend,” she said, and picked up a manila folder. “Do you think this town belongs to you?”

 

Was she supposed to answer that? Robin glanced uneasily at the bailiff. “Uh . . . no,” she stammered. “No, of course not.”

 

“Then why were you so nasty to Officer Denton?”

 

“I, uh . . . I d-didn’t know that I was.”

 

The judge peered over the tops of her round glasses at Robin. “You trying to tell me that you didn’t know you were mouthing off to him? Or that you were being nasty? Or that by refusing to give him your name, or provide your license, or proof of insurance, that you were being disrespectful? Is that the way you do people, Ms. Lear?”

 

“No. . .”

 

“No?”

 

“Uh, yes . . . well, no,” Robin stuttered.

 

The judge snorted, looked at the bailiff. “Ms. Lear got herself an attitude problem, Mr. Peeples. That superior attitude got her into a little bit of trouble, didn’t it?”

 

“It sure did, Your Honor.”

 

“I’m surprised Ms. Lear managed to make it this long before someone knocked her down a notch or two.” The judge tossed the file down and bestowed a fierce frown on Robin that sent another shiver down her spine. “You need to wake up and smell the coffee! How many of your fine and fancy friends get themselves thrown in jail for talking trash?”

 

“I don’t know any,” Robin answered truthfully.

 

“Maybe that’s cause they don’t go around thinking they’re better than everyone else. If you’re gonna walk around thinking you are, you’re gonna keep making trouble for yourself, do you understand me?”

 

“I don’t think I’m better-”

 

“I said, do you understand me?” Judge Jobe demanded.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Robin answered softly.

 

“I’m gonna accept your plea of guilty for driving without a license or insurance and fine you seven hundred fifty dollars for wasting my time.”

 

Robin blinked. When, exactly, had she pled guilty?

 

“Now follow the deputy here, and try not to be annoying,” the judge said and handed the deputy a piece of paper. He pointed toward the door; Robin walked, head down.

 

And found herself waiting in another large room after she had received her personal property, which consisted of a belt, a Cartier watch, an emerald ring, and a half-empty purse, in which, fortunately, there had been a lone credit card in the side pocket. The very helpful deputies also gave her a paper with the location of her car and pointed to the window where she would pay her fine along with everyone else in Houston.

 

Robin made the mistake of asking the clerk when she could pay, which earned her a reprimand to be seated while the clerk and her friend chatted away as if they had nothing else to do. Dejected, exhausted, and feeling terribly low, Robin sat, wondering if it were possible to get a bazooka in here to break up their little coffee klatch. Her head ached, her back ached, even her butt ached from sitting for so many hours on rock-hard benches like the one on which she was sitting now. She felt grimy, her mouth tasted rank, and her stomach was in knots. All she wanted to do was go home and burrow under the covers of her bed for the next five months.

 

She waited.

 

Until someone sat hard next to her, jostling her almost off the bench, that she realized she must have been drifting on the edge of sleep. With a jump, Robin blinked, looked to her left. A man with impossibly broad shoulders had fallen onto the bench next to her. He was wearing a weathered leather jacket and faded jeans, had a crop of thick dark brown hair, and when he turned to look at Robin, he smiled and said with a wink, “Hey.”

 

“Get real,” she muttered, and scooched over.

 

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad,” he remarked, as if they were sitting in a park somewhere.

 

“What would you know?”

 

“Okay, so I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bump into you. Truce?”

 

She really was not in the mood to make friends just now. With her hand, she gestured for him to move. “Just . . . please go away.”

 

“Believe me, lady, I’d love to oblige you,” he said, his voice less friendly, “but in case you haven’t noticed, it’s pretty crowded in here.”

 

“You can find another seat.”

 

“Maybe you’d like to find another seat. I’ve been waiting two hours.”

 

Only two hours? How did he get out so fast? That infuriated Robin-she had to wait all night, and this dude was out in two hours? “I was here first,” she pointed out.

 

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “Clearly, I misunderstood.” But instead of moving, he just settled in.

 

Robin glared at him. “What do you think you are doing?”

 

“Like I said, the room is full, so unless you can produce a deed or something that proves you own this bench, I’m not going anywhere.”

 

“Great,” Robin snapped, and abruptly stood up.

 

“Nice talking to you, Miss Congeniality,” he said as she started to push her way down the row.

 

Three or four seats down, she glared at two Hispanic men who, after exchanging a wary glance with one another, moved to make a seat for her.

 

She squished in between them like a sardine, then glanced down the row just as the jailbird got up and sauntered off. Bastard! But Lord . . . what a saunter that bastard had! Even in her dejected, repulsed, and generally miserable state, Robin could not help noticing how fine he was in his ancient denim jeans and briefly wondered what he might have done to land himself in hell.

 

He suddenly turned and caught her staring at his backside and flashed her a lopsided, knew-it smile. Robin frowned deeply, turned her attention forward, and did not look again. Except once. Maybe twice. By the time they finally called her name, she had definitely lost sight of him and was in such a hurry to get out of that stinking hellhole that she almost collided with him when she turned from the window, clutching her freedom on a receipt marked PAID.

 

“Oh man.  Well, hello again, Sunshine,” he drawled.

 

“Jesus!” she exclaimed, holding the hand with the receipt over her flailing heart as she glared up at him. “Can’t you take a hint?”

 

“Hey, Queenie, I’m just waiting in line like everyone else.”

 

“Uh-huh, right,” Robin responded irritably and wondered for a split second why men thought women were so ignorant of their motives.

 

The man all but choked. He stared down at her, his copper-brown eyes wide with surprise. And then he laughed. Laughed. Laughed so roundly, as if that was so hilariously preposterous, that several heads turned in their direction. But he didn’t seem to care-he leaned forward, bent his head until his mouth was just an inch or two from her cheek, and said, “Sunshine, you’re cute” -he paused, lingered there for a tiny moment, his breath warm on her face, so close that she could smell his cheap (but not altogether unpleasant) cologne- “but no way are you that cute. And you’re mean.” He straightened up and calmly stepped around her to the payment window.

 

Okay. Well. She was now officially in hell. Some . . . jail guy . . . had just dissed her, and it was so unbearably humiliating that Robin beat a hasty retreat out the double glass doors, into the lobby of the processing center, clutching her purse and her receipts like a mad escapee, frantically searching the milling crowd for her grandparents.

 

Fortunately, her mother’s parents were easy to spot. There was her grandfather, who had the distinct misfortune to have been named Elmer, and the even greater misfortune, in his declining years, of actually resembling Elmer. He was round and squat with hugely enormous feet typically encased in white Easy Spirits, which heralded his arrival a good city block before him. And in fact, it was Mr. Fudd’s shoes Robin saw in the lobby before she saw him.

 

Her grandmother, Lil, was the physical opposite of Elmer. She was tall and reed thin, and wore big pink-rimmed octagonal glasses that covered her cheeks and eyebrows and made her eyes look like big blue stop signs. She also wore Easy Spirits. The taupe ones.

 

Grandma spotted Robin and came hurrying like a squirrel across the lobby, darting in and around people in her haste to get to her granddaughter. “Robbie!” she exclaimed, and grabbed her in a bear hold, nearly squeezing the breath from her. “Oh my God, sweet pea! What has happened!”

 

“Robbie-girl, you all right?” Grandpa asked, rescuing her from Grandma’s grip.

 

“I’m fine,” Robin insisted. “It’s really so stupid. I’ll tell you all about it in the car, but please, let’s just get out of here,” she urged, ushering them in the direction of the door.

 

Grandpa had scored a prime parking spot into which he had maneuvered his Ford Excursion, an SUV the size of a small condo. Robin gratefully crawled into the cavernous backseat.

 

“Buckle in, hon. Now, are we going to hear what you did?” Grandma insisted, fastening her seat belt.

 

Best to get it over. “I got stopped for speeding-”

 

“Speeding! Where?” Grandpa insisted.

 

“On six-ten-”

 

“Well now, six-ten, that’s just a death trap.”

 

“-And I guess I sort of mouthed off a little. I mean, I wasn’t doing any faster than anyone else, and I told the cop so.”

 

“That’s my girl!” Grandpa said proudly as he coasted out of the parking lot.

 

“So he asked me for my license and registration, but the thing is, I had left them on my desk at work-by the way, Grandpa, I need to go by my office and get my wallet, okay? Anyway, I didn’t have my license or registration, and suddenly I’m a criminal! So the cop told me to step out of the car, and . . . well, I just thought . . . I just thought that he was overreacting and I shouldn’t have to step out of the car.”

 

“Well, he should have taken your word for it!” Grandma said with an indignant nod of her head. “Surely when you told him your name he ran some sort of check or whatever they do in their cars to make sure you weren’t lying!”

 

Robin squirmed.

 

Grandma swiveled sharply to look at her. “Well?” demanded Grandma. “Didn’t he?”

 

Robin sighed, leaned her head against a headrest covered with a pink baby T-shirt. “I was really tired and really cranky, and I didn’t exactly tell him who I was. I just sort of thought it wasn’t his business. So he arrested me.”

 

Grandpa gave a shout of laughter, but Grandma threw a hand over her mouth and stared at Robin in horror for a moment. “Can they do that?”

 

“Apparently,” she answered dryly. “He arrested me for failure to identify myself, driving without a license, and driving without insurance.

 

“Oh my goodness, what does this mean?” Grandma asked.

 

Robin grimaced at her grandmother’s look of shock, and turned away, to the window, where cars were swerving from behind Grandpa and whizzing past as he pushed the SUV up to sixty. “It means they slapped me with a Class C misdemeanor, took seven hundred fifty dollars for their trouble, and told me to go home.”

 

“Did you see any murderers in there?” Grandpa asked.

 

“Elmer! This is no joking matter!”

 

“I didn’t think that was joking!”

 

“Grandpa, don’t forget to go by my office, okay?”

 

Grandpa acknowledged her request by putting his blinker on a good two or three miles before their exit.

 

“Well, you can’t work today,” Grandma said in a huff. “You don’t want everyone knowing why you were late-Aaron wouldn’t like that at all.”

Honestly, Robin didn’t know anymore. Maybe Dad would think she deserved to be publicly humiliated. “I just need to get my things and a couple of files, that’s all. Maybe Grandpa can go in for me,” Robin said absently.

 

“I just can’t believe you have been arrested,” Grandma said and shook her head again.

 

Too exhausted to think, Robin stared out the window, felt her eyelids growing heavy. The next thing she heard was Grandpa, saying, “Uh-oh. Looks like a fire.”

 

Robin opened her eyes and glanced out the front windshield. As her mind began to grasp that they were on the street of her office, she suddenly grabbed the back of Grandpa’s seat. “Oh my God!” she cried. It couldn’t be. Couldn’t be! Robin quickly counted the floors of her office building and felt her heart sink to her toes. Oh yes, it could be, and it was. The LTI offices were on fire. Her office was on fire.

 

In front of her, Grandpa shook his head. “Some fool probably left a cigarette burning or a computer on or something like that,” he opined, disgusted.

 

Left something on . . . the suggestion was suddenly clawing at Robin’s throat, choking her. The coffeepot.

 

She had left the coffeepot on.

Julia London’s Material Girl Is Our New Romance Of The Week Sponsor!

Material Girl, the first book in Julia London’s Lear Sisters Trilogy, is here to sponsor lots of great, free Kindle romance books:

Material Girl (Lear Sisters Trilogy)

by Julia London
4.2 stars – 23 Reviews
Lending: Enabled

Here’s the set-up:

Rich. Sexy. Beautiful. Robin Lear is all that—and her jet-set life is golden. Until the day her indestructible father sends her tumbling off her pedestal with
the startling news that he is dying. Then he further shatters her illusions by demoting her from the cushy job in the family business to teach her “about
life.” In an instant her whole world unravels, and Robin is suddenly swimming in uncharted waters, including a bogus night in jail, a new job as the lackey of
her toady ex-boyfriend, and a major distraction in the form of one very sexy contractor who’s renovating her house.

Jake Manning has had some tough knocks in life. Now all he wants is to make enough money to finish his degree and, maybe, get a nice house with a nice wife and a nice kid. But this Prada-clad ice princess is turning his life upside down with her sassy—and disastrous—ways. Jake’s head tells him to run, don’t walk, from this gorgeous train wreck of a woman. A man would have to be crazy to pursue someone like Robin Lear. But Jake is crazy—about her….

 


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Our Romance of the Week Sponsor, Julia London’s Wedding Survivor, Provides This Free Excerpt!

Julia London’s Wedding Survivor, part of her Thrillseekers Anonymous series:

by Julia London
4.5 stars – 16 Reviews
Here’s the set-up:
Thrillseekers Anonymous is a members-only adventure service that caters to the rich and famous. Living on the edge is nothing to the men who started the service, but “extreme sports” takes on a whole new meaning when they run across women who can give as good as they get…Wedding Survivor When a pair of A-list movie stars decides to combine a wedding with an extreme sport outing, ex-stuntman Eli McCain isn’t too happy. One of the Thrillseekers Anonymous founders, he was jilted at the alter a year ago—and he has no interest in hearing wedding bells. Unfortunately, hes’ been outvoted, and now there’s a crazy wedding to stage with a bridezilla from hell.In comes wedding planner Marnie Banks to save the day—and, she hopes, make some romantic connections with Hollywood’s jet set. Only one problem stands in her way: Eli McCain, who may look like a movie star, but has no appreciation for the finer things in life.
And now, the author presents this free excerpt:

 

ELI caught her arm before she could grab her melon and run, and at least got her to agree to hear what they were trying to accomplish with the audition.

Thrillseekers Anonymous, he said, was an ultrasecret, ultraexclusive, members-only sports club catering to the extremely wealthy.

The “extremely wealthy” point instantly caught her attention, and she had stopped wrestling Eli for the melon and demanded suspiciously, “Like who?”

“Like . . . we can’t tell you unless you get the job,” Cooper said.

That clearly disappointed her, but she did agree to come into the pavilion and sit down to listen to their spiel—a spiel they’d given so many times that they all knew it by heart.

It went something like this: Eli, Cooper, and Jack had grown up best friends on the West Texas plains. Their love for anything sporting had started then—football, baseball, basketball, rodeo—whatever sport they could play with the goal of outdoing the other two. They were still pups when it became clear that regular sports were not enough to satisfy them. They began to create elaborate, double-dog-dare tricks using rooftops, trampolines, and swimming pools. And they created a dirt-bike trail through the canyons that rivaled the professional circuit. They made a game out of breaking horses without using a bit, and built motorized conveyances that they would race across fallow fields.

As they grew older, their competitive spirit grew more extreme, and they became experts in white-water rafting, rock climbing, canyon jumping, kayaking, surfing, and skiing—name a sport, any sport, and they had tried it.

After college, Jack went into the Air Force so he could fly higher and learn how to do stunts in airplanes. Cooper and Eli weren’t as interested in flying as they were in jumping off buildings and blowing things up, so they headed out to Hollywood to hire on as stuntmen.

With Jack in the Air Force, Eli and Cooper got their start working on some of the biggest action films in Hollywood. Their ability to do any stunt and their willingness to go the extra mile eventually led them to choreographing huge action sequences. Through a series of big blockbuster films, they earned a solid reputation for being fearless, unconquerable, and astoundingly safe, given what they did.

And still, with all the action in their day jobs, Eli and Cooper routinely trekked out on weekends to ocean kayak, or kite surf, or helicopter ski—whatever caught their imagination.

But it wasn’t until they got the bright idea to take along a couple of pals who just happened to be movie stars that their outings began to be the talk around movie sets. Their reputation as tough guys grew exponentially—the more Hollywood bigs they took along on their adventures, the bigger their adventures became.

Perhaps more important, and amazingly without a lot of forethought, what Eli and Cooper proved adept at doing was keeping these jaunts out of the press. In fact, they became masters at it.

It was Cooper who came up with the idea of making a business out of their love of adventure—after all, extreme sports didn’t come cheap. And an increasing number of Hollywood moguls wanted the exclusive and exotic outings they offered, particularly if the adventure came with the guarantee of total privacy.

When Jack started making noises about getting out of the Air Force—he’d learned to fly anything with wings, and was ready to move on—they persuaded their old pal to come and join them in California. They figured if they could provide their own transportation and fly their clients to their adventure destinations themselves, they’d be that much more mobile and private.

Jack was more than willing to do it—he missed his old pals, missed the extreme sports with them. But he had one condition—he wanted to bring a friend.

During his years of service, Jack had become friends with Michael, a fellow extreme-sports enthusiast. It so happened that Michael was also considering moving on from his job—he was a CIA operative who was growing weary of being out in the cold.

As Jack had explained it to Eli and Cooper, what Michael brought to the table was invaluable—the guy had a contact for just about anything anyone could imagine. He’d known arms dealers, jewel thieves, opium traders. He’d dined with Saudi kings, had lived with a Parisian diplomat, and had at least two Swiss bank accounts that Jack knew of. He was a gold mine of information and resources.

Eli and Cooper said they didn’t care about that, but could the dude ski? Repel down cliff faces? Sky surf or kite surf? Jack said he could, so a few months later, during a Lakers game one night, Thrillseekers Anonymous, or T.A., as they called it, was officially born. The four of them agreed that night that no fantasy adventure was too fantastic for them. They agreed they would not fulfill fantasies that were illegal or included illicit sex or drugs, but anything else they considered on the table. Their motto became Name your fantasy and we’ll make it happen.

In the last two years, T.A. had grown to the point that they were scheduling adventures monthly, if not more often. Word of their business had spread beyond Hollywood, and high-tech billionaires, European royalty, and New York real estate aristocracy, among other wealthy and famous people, sought their services.

The adventures were top notch. They had surfed thirty- foot waves off the coast of Washington, had canyon jumped through the alpine mountains of Europe. They had forged new helicopter skiing in Canada, going where no skier had gone before. They had careened down some of the meanest Class V white waters in the world, had raced motorcycles across the roughest terrain in South America, had climbed the frigid mountains of Russia. Whatever the fantasy sport, they had done it.

But then something peculiar happened.

Their clients were men of power and extraordinary means. But behind every one of those men stood a woman, and over the course of a year, some of their best clients had begun to call up inquiring about the same sort of gig, usually beginning with a heartfelt apology for even asking.

The wives and girlfriends of these men were just as attracted to the privacy T.A. offered as were their mates. But they didn’t want extreme adventures—they wanted extreme social events. They wanted someone to organize an Antarctic cruise for fifty of their closest friends, or arrange an anniversary party on a remote island and give it a Gilligan’s Island theme. They wanted someone to organize a girls’ week out, which would include someplace very cool— floating down the Amazon River in luxury, for example. But most of all, they wanted the privacy.

At first, the guys balked. They rarely attended social events, and usually only when one of them happened to have a girlfriend, which was a hit-and-miss sort of thing, given the nature of their business. They certainly didn’t do social events, and the first time they received a call requesting one, they had been collectively insulted. They specialized in dangerous, breathtaking, thrilling trips into the wilds of the world—not tea parties.

But the requests kept popping up, and they began to realize if they didn’t go with the flow on this, they might start losing some valuable clients.

And then this happened—this being the wedding of the century, of course.

What made this different from the previous requests was that the two stars involved—Vincent Vittorio and Olivia Dagwood—wanted their wedding to occur at the end of an extreme sports trip. Sort of a hybrid, Vince explained to them.

Specifically, they wanted to return to the remote mountains on the border of Colorado and New Mexico, where they had filmed the epic movie The Dane. Vince had done some extensive training for that film, and his idea was that he and Olivia and a couple of T.A. guys would all go canyoning, which involved riding waterfalls and rappelling down rock faces or jumping in alpine pools so that they could slide down a water chute to the next foaming pool, only to climb out and up the next rock and do it again.

At the end of their jaunt, Vince proposed that they would hike up to a pristine and beautiful little dale at the top of the San Juan Mountain range. The dale was only a quarter of a mile up from the Piedra Lodge, the luxury summer resort where they had resided during the filming of The Dane. In that tiny dale was an old miner’s cabin that had been converted into a plush honeymoon cabin. It was, Vince said sheepishly, the setting Olivia wanted—between towering mountains covered with summer alpine wildflowers and spruce trees.

And he was willing to pay them a shitload of dough for what Olivia wanted.

The request had been an agonizing development for T.A. They didn’t want to lose out on the chance to go canyoning—the four of them had bemoaned the fact they didn’t have the time to do it before The Dane wrapped. They did not, however, want anything to do with a wedding. Even one tacked on to canyoning.

But Vincent Vittorio was one of their best clients. He was a short guy, had a bit of a Napoleon complex, and was constantly trying to prove his mettle through extreme sports. In his zeal, he had brought T.A. some of their most lucrative contracts. Worse, not one of them could deny the lure of the money Vince was willing to pay them. They had quickly determined they could book an entire year’s worth of expenses against what they would make off this one event.

At first, the guys had tried to find a way out by searching for some hole in the logistics of doing a wedding there, but really the logistics weren’t that difficult—the spot was remote, and the nearest airport, a two-hour drive, was only a regional one. A single two-lane road led up to the old mining sites, and even that was closed for most of the year. As a result, no one was up there save cattle, elk, and the occasional bear. It would be a cinch to keep the event private. Moreover, the lodge and honeymoon cabin were available at the time they wanted it.

No matter how they looked at it, they couldn’t find a really good reason to say no. It was just that none of them wanted to be involved in a wedding, because none of them knew how to be involved in a wedding.

They needed, Jack said then, a wedding planner. He convinced them that with a wedding planner, the rest of them had to merely show up.

But hire a wedding planner? Let a female into their inner sanctum? It seemed impossible, inconceivable, and a really bad idea. Much argument and discussion and—after a trip to the store for a case of beer and some ribs—even more argument had ensued, until the four men resolved the issue by taking a vote.

It was three to one, Eli voting against.

He had his reasons.

They all knew his reasons. It had been only a year since he’d been jilted at the altar in another big to-do. Yep, Eli McCain had been left standing holding the proverbial bag while the rest of the world read about it in the tabloids. The last thing he wanted or needed was a wedding in his life.

Nevertheless he was voted down—they would hire a wedding planner. But they agreed they would hire an unknown planner who didn’t have a public relations office so the press wouldn’t get wind of it. And as the wedding itself would require some hiking and lifting and various other physical activities (the dale was beautiful, but it was awfully remote at eleven thousand feet), they would need a wedding planner who could at least climb trees and rocks. Thus, the idea for the audition was born.

At that point, the guys had tackled the even harder issue of who among them would lead this expedition into virgin territory. No one stepped up. All of them said, “Not me, pal.” Several bawdy and impolite things were said about weddings and marriage in general. They had at last decided which of them would lead—from the canyoning all the way to through the wedding—in their usual customary fashion.

In a cruel and ironic twist of fate, Eli lost his round of rock, paper, scissors.

Personally, he didn’t think there could possibly be a worse choice than him. As Cooper explained everything, just watching Marnie’s eyes light up at the very mention of wedding plans and exotic locales made his stomach churn. What was it with women and fancy weddings? If Eli ever contemplated marriage again, which he’d never do, he’d run off to Vegas or something.

“So what do you think, Marnie?” Cooper asked after the spiel.

It was clear what Marnie thought—she beamed like a ray of pure sunshine, the light coming right out of her maple eyes. “Are you kidding? A wedding in the mountains? I can’t think of a more romantic setting!”

“I guess it’s romantic,” Cooper said with a shrug, “but it’s not easy. It involves a lot of physical stuff. And we can’t afford to have a team member who isn’t in shape and can’t pull her own weight, you know what I mean?”

“Absolutely.”

“That’s why we need you to climb that rope.”

Marnie’s beaming smile faded a little. “Well . . . okay. Sure.” She didn’t sound very sure, but she put aside her bag, her melon, and her red hat nonetheless. “I’m not exactly dressed for it,” she said, looking down at her black slacks.

“That’s why I said to dress in banging-around clothes,” Eli explained.

She gave him a brief, withering look. “I didn’t realize ‘banging around’ meant rope climbing.” She walked past him to the edge of the pavilion and stared at the rope. “Just up and down once, right?”

“Right,” Coop said.

With a small sigh, she headed for the rope. The guys followed her. She stopped at the rope, rubbed her hands on her black slacks, then rubbed them together as she eyed the thing. Eli stepped up to spot her. “It’s easy,” he said. “Watch me.” He jumped up on the rope, quickly scaled to the top, then just as quickly lowered himself to the ground.

Marnie frowned.

“Marnie . . . have you ever climbed a rope?” he asked carefully.

“Of course I have climbed a rope,” she said. “Granted, it’s been a few years, like maybe twenty-five, but hey, I’ve climbed one. I can do this.”

Okay, then, it was clear they weren’t going to find a wedding planner who could climb a rope. And honestly, Eli felt a little sorry for her. She seemed so . . . so spunky and so desperate to get this job. She definitely got extra points for being the only one of the four women they had talked to who’d made it to the rope.

“Listen,” he said, “if you can’t get all the way up, don’t worry about it. We’re not going to cut you for failing the rope climb. It’s just so we can get a feel for your strength.”

“You might want to stand back,” she said, ignoring him, and with a grunt, she launched herself at the rope, jumping up and grabbing on about halfway up.

And there she hung, clinging desperately to it, her legs wrapped tightly around it, her hands white-knuckled in their grip as the rope swung lazily.

Eli winced when she didn’t move for a long moment. “Just use your legs and inch your way up,” he suggested.

“Right.” she said brightly. But she didn’t move.

“It’s okay, let go,” Eli said, putting his hand on the rope.

“No! I can do it,” she gasped, trying to shake his hand off with a wiggle of her hips. “I just have to pull . . .” She made a very strange sound and managed to get one hand above the other.

For a moment, he thought she was going to make it. But then she began to whimper.

“Let go, let go,” Eli urged her, and grabbed the rope, began to peel her fingers from it, one by one. When she was in danger of falling, she let go and landed off balance, knocking into him. Eli grabbed her shoulders and straightened her up.

A frown creased her brow as she pushed some loose hair behind her ears. “You made me lose my grip!”

“Actually,” he said with a hint of a smile, “you were gripping the hemp out of that sucker.”

“I was?”

He nodded.

Marnie sighed. “That bad, huh?”

Worse. It was horrible. No upper-body strength at all. Marnie groaned, but Eli said, “Hey, it wasn’t too bad,” and patted her kindly on the shoulder. “I thought it was great. A for effort.”

Marnie smiled gratefully, and Eli noticed with some surprise just how warm that smile of hers was.

“Well,” Coop said, shaking his head as he sauntered up to them, “I guess we can try running.”

They escorted Marnie through the garden and around a stand of trees to a small, half-mile track Vincent kept to stay in shape. She exclaimed her surprise when she saw it, and exclaimed even louder when Michael told her they wanted to get a feel for her endurance. “If you could just run around the track a couple of times,” he said, making a circular motion with his hand. “Maybe four. That’s all we need.”

Marnie looked down at her white silk blouse. “I wish I’d known to wear something a little sportier.”

“I said ‘banging around’,” Eli objected again.

She flashed him a look that said she thought he was clearly a moron and walked to the starting line. She paused, fixed her hat and her hair, and pulled her shirttails out of her pants. “Do I have to be fast?” she asked.

“Nah,” Michael said easily. “Just run.” And the four of them lined up behind her, watched as she started to jog . . . well, bounce, really . . . around the track.

“Gotta say, this one is a definite improvement over the last one,” Coop said with a grin.

“Not bad, not bad,” Michael added, smiling appreciatively, too, as they watched a very nice ass bounce as she ran by. “But she runs like a girl.”

“This is the dumbest idea we’ve ever come up with,” Eli snorted. Not that he wasn’t appreciating the package bouncing around the track along with the guys. “We’re making a wedding planner run around a track. Do you know how stupid that is?”

“Shut up,” Jack said. “I’m enjoying the show.”

Marnie made it around one and a half times before she had to stop and put her hands on her knees to get some air. When the guys joined her, she apologized between gulps of air, and admitted to being very amazed that her trips to the gym hadn’t yielded a better performance.

While they all hastened to assure her that it was quite all right—they admired her willingness to try—there wasn’t a man among them who didn’t wonder if she could pull her own weight at eleven thousand feet. They were used to enduring extreme conditions with strong men. Not women who ran like girls.

Fortunately, Marnie fared much better on the next phase. The idea, as they had developed it, was to make sure their wedding planner could handle the press. In the pavilion, Michael began to fire a set of nonsensical questions at her, asking and re-asking the same thing, trying to shake her up.

Marnie did a great job—none of the questions about affairs or babies or drugs rattled her in the least. She had a great laugh and a charming smile, and laughed appropriately at the ridiculous questions but still answered them with aplomb. Better yet, she gave up just enough of her made-up version of the wedding for the press to have a story, but not enough where they could actually learn when or where it was.

The last phase of the audition was Jack’s creation. He thought it necessary to give the candidates some “what-if” scenarios to see how they’d react. “The bride hasn’t decided what to wear for the wedding,” he said, harking back to an Oscar moment that Olivia had told them about. “She has three or four dresses. When she gets up to the site, she decides to wear a Vera Wayne, but you don’t have a Vera Wayne,” he said, making it sound like a matter of life and death. “What do you do?”

“Wang,” Marnie said.

“Huh?”

“Vera Wang. This is a tough one,” she said thoughtfully. She tapped a manicured forefinger against her lips, then said, “Okay, here’s what—I’d try and talk sensibly to her and point out all the good things about the gowns she’s got.”

No one had anything to say to that.

“Okay, that’s dumb,” she said hastily. “This is Olivia Dagwood we’re talking about. How about . . . I’d try and pass off one of the gowns there as a Vera Wang?” she asked. When no one spoke again, she said, “No? Okay, I give. What is the right answer?”

“Hell if we know,” Jack said.

In the end, having exhausted everything they could think of, and being in turn exhausted by Marnie’s knowledge of weddings, the guys sent Marnie back to the Lincoln to wait, and they caucused in the pavilion.

It was clear they had their wedding planner. Jack lamented that she didn’t have the physical stamina they were hoping for, but they all agreed that she likely wouldn’t look as hot as she did if she had the physical stamina of a discus thrower, which was, if they boiled it down, what they were hoping for.

“So what do you think?” Cooper asked them all. “Do we take her on?”

“Have we got another choice?” Jack asked. “She’ll do, assuming she comes up clean on a thorough background check.”

“I like her,” Michael said. “She’s cheerful. I like cheerful in a wedding planner.”

“I like legs on a wedding planner, and she’s definitely got those,” Coop snorted. “I say we do it.”

The three of them looked at Eli. He sighed wearily. “I still say it’s the dumbest thing we’ve ever done.”

“Great,” Cooper said, and with a grin, shoved Marnie’s forgotten melon at Eli. “Then you can call her with the good news when we finish the background on her.”

Wedding Survivor, by Julia London, just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

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Wedding Survivor
by Julia London
4.5 stars – 16 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled

 

Here’s the set-up:
Thrillseekers Anonymous is a members-only adventure service that caters to the rich and famous. Living on the edge is nothing to the men who started the service, but “extreme sports” takes on a whole new meaning when they run across women who can give as good as they get…Wedding Survivor When a pair of A-list movie stars decides to combine a wedding with an extreme sport outing, ex-stuntman Eli McCain isn’t too happy. One of the Thrillseekers Anonymous founders, he was jilted at the alter a year ago—and he has no interest in hearing wedding bells. Unfortunately, hes’ been outvoted, and now there’s a crazy wedding to stage with a bridezilla from hell.In comes wedding planner Marnie Banks to save the day—and, she hopes, make some romantic connections with Hollywood’s jet set. Only one problem stands in her way: Eli McCain, who may look like a movie star, but has no appreciation for the finer things in life.

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