AVAILABLE MAY 2ND 2017
An ambitious Southern belle
Marabelle Fairchild knows she’s a gal who can get things done. Feeling unappreciated at the exclusive private school where she’s a kindergarten aide and varsity tennis coach, Marabelle determines to score with the next big fundraiser. What she doesn’t expect? A smokin’ hot football coach to throw her off her game…
A reclusive NFL bachelor…
NFL coach Nick Frasier is Raleigh’s most eligible bachelor, but he wants to focus on his career…not his playboy status. He doesn’t need a smart-mouthed, pint-sized kindergarten teacher pestering him. So he cuts Marabelle a deal—in exchange for Nick sponsoring a bachelor auction starring him and his gorgeous celebrity pals, Marabelle will pose as his fiancée to ward off unwanted advances.
What could possibly go wrong?
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The best things about the South can be debated until the cows come home. For me, the list changes as often as our weather. I was born and raised a Carolina Blue Tarheel, but after college, I made my home in Miami, Florida and stayed for over twenty years (A different kind of south altogether). But since returning to my Tarheel state, it’s quite evident, some things have changed…and some things have not!
Here’s one of my favorite things about the south: Southern Hospitality.
Yes, ma’am. Southern hospitality is so much more than being polite to one another. In the South we make our guests feel like family. Our southern drawl is our way of talking more slowly, letting our guests know they’re welcome to stay as long as they would like. Conversation flows seamlessly from the front door, to the dinner table, to the family room.
Southern hospitality is contagious and spreads like kudzu on a vine. We don’t expect reciprocity, but many times it happens nonetheless. And before you know it, friends have become family. Standing at the front door, the “goodbyes” can take quite a while, still talking and laughing while the hostess bundles leftover desserts and maybe a bone or two for Fido. We hate to see our guests leave and we always remember to say, “Ya’ll come back now real soon, ya hear?”
“Tinker Bell, we need to talk.” Nick caught up with Marabelle on the courts the next afternoon shortly after the gala committee meeting. She was in the middle of running drills for the team. She growled in his direction like a feral cat, but that didn’t deter him. He opened the gate to court one and forged ahead.
“I have nothing to say to you.” She continued to feed balls like a machine, with a death grip on her racket.
He watched the boys hitting behind the baseline. “Now, honey, is that any way to talk to your intended?”
“Get back on your court and keep drilling,” she ordered the boys as some of them started to gawk and work their way over to him. She threw her racket in the basket of balls and grabbed his arm to pull him off the court.
Nick allowed himself to be turned and then stopped. “Where’re we going, Thumbelina? Behind the bleachers to neck?”
“Fat chance. Away from the courts. Those boys have a fanboy crush on you, and I don’t want them to hear us.”
Nick strolled next to her toward the bleachers. “I think their crush is on you, not me.”
Marabelle stopped, eyes snapping as she dug her small fists into her hips. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means…those teenage boys have the hots for their tennis coach.”
Marabelle’s eyebrows shot so far up they got lost under her tennis hat. “Are you insane?” She put up both hands. “Don’t answer that. What kind of fiancé are you? You don’t write; you don’t call. I’m sitting on pins and needles here. This charade has gone on long enough,” she whispered fiercely.
Nick bit back a grin. “Awww, it’s only been two days. Have you been missing me?”
“Of course not. That’s not what I meant.” Nick started to chuckle. “I don’t think I can keep up this lie. In case you didn’t notice, those committee members want to lynch me,” she said, eyes flashing. “They’re very upset that the man of their dreams has taken himself off the market and gotten engaged to me.”
Nick had shown up at the meeting unannounced, and walked in on complete pandemonium with a lot of hysteria thrown on top. He’d managed to settle everyone down. Pledging a shitload of money will do that. Marabelle should be kissing his ass for saving hers.
“And that’s a problem because…” Nick shrugged.
“Because now the entire committee thinks I’m a slut. Hazel Cartwright asked how long I’d been ‘boinking’ you.”
“Really? Well maybe we should—”
“Look, can’t we pretend we had a big falling-out and broke up? I’ll tell everyone you dumped me for…for Jennifer Aniston. That’s totally plausible.”
Nick hated to burst Marabelle’s bubble, but he needed her more than she needed him. Marty Hackman loved the idea of his “engagement” and told Nick not to fuck it up…his exact words. And Nick had no intentions of disappointing the gruff, cigar-chewing owner of the Cherokees. If he asked Nick to join hands and sing Joni Mitchell songs, then he would do exactly that.
Nick placed his hand over his heart. “Tinker Bell, I’m wounded. Besides, Jennifer and I didn’t get along all that well.”
“You’ve actually dated Jennifer Aniston?” Marabelle drew back as her mouth formed a perfect O.
“We went out a few times. What’s the real problem here? I think the committee bought our story. We had them eating out of our hands.”
“Eating out of your hand. Look, it’s time we go our separate ways.” Marabelle ticked off on her fingers. “You do what you do best…date groupies. And I’ll do what I do best…make my mother’s life miserable. It works.”
Nick gave an exaggerated sigh and rubbed the back of his neck. “Anybody ever tell you you have no sense of adventure? You need to get out more.”
“I’m adventuresome. I’m all about adventure. Adventure is my middle name.”
Nick shook his head. “Huh-uh. My mind is made up. We’re engaged, and you’re just going to have to accept it. The sooner you do, the sooner we get to the good stuff.” He waggled his eyebrows at her scowling face.
“How can someone so gorgeous be so wicked and depraved?” Marabelle wondered aloud. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”
“Honey, I’m not picking on you. I’m playing with you.” Nick allowed his gaze to roam over the tennis sweats swallowing her petite body. “I can’t wait to play doctor and get to the part where I undress you,” he said in a husky voice, moving in close and invading her space.
“Oh my God…you’re impossible.”
“Sh-h-h, you’re drawing a crowd.” Nick pointed at nobody over her head.
Marabelle whipped around to see who was listening, and Nick took advantage by gathering her in his arms.
“Marabelle, honey, stop fighting. Trust me.” He slipped his arm around her waist and lifted her up on her toes.
Then he kissed her silly. Or did she kiss him silly? Because the second his lips met hers, he forgot what they were arguing about. He’d never had to work this hard to get a girl on board. Frustrated didn’t begin to describe his feelings. Maybe he was losing his touch. He lifted his head, and Marabelle’s whacked expression matched his. Nah.
“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” he murmured.
Marabelle lowered herself and licked her bottom lip as if tasting him there. “Mmm. Okay. We’ll pretend. But only when others are around. And no sex.” She narrowed her eyes to slits. “I’m no groupie. I worship only from afar. It’s safer that way.”
He pressed another hard kiss to her lips, wishing he could scoop her up in his arms and take her home. “Get back to work. I’ll call you later.”
“Yeah, right,” she mumbled. Nick watched as she trotted back to the courts, wondering how he was going to survive the next few months.