The Groom

Publisher: Cardinal Press, LLC

Formats: eBook, print 

ASIN: B086QB9QMR

ISBN: 

 

He broke her heart on national television, but can they team up to win a million dollars?

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The Groom




What would you do for a million dollars? 

The only thing more awkward than falling in love on national television, is having your heart broken in front of millions of viewers.

When Millie Kincaid signed up for the popular dating show, The Groom, falling in love was always a possibility. What she didn't count on was Jace proposing to someone else on the season finale. Hurt and humiliated, Millie returned home to her teaching job, ready to escape the glare of life in the spotlight. Too bad Hollywood had other ideas. This time she would be globe-trotting, competing for money, not love. Money that her school desperately needed. How could she refuse? 

Former star of The Groom, Jace Westfall went from fan favorite to villain overnight. Hurting the sweet and shy Millie cost him everything... his reputation, his endorsements and his heart. It was the last thing Jace wanted to do, but he had his reasons. Now on the verge of financial ruin, and with his family relying on him, Jace finds himself left with no choice but to do another reality show. What’s the worst that could happen? 

Game twist.

Millie and Jace must compete together. Neither wants to be teammates, but both need the money. As they race from country to country, trying to put the past behind them, two things become clear. They have a real shot at the million dollar prize…and a second chance at love. But only if Millie and Jace can overcome the biggest obstacle that stands in their way—each other.

* This is a revised, expanded version of a book previously published as Win, Lose...or Wed!


Read an Excerpt


“Two more minutes, Millie.”

Oh, boy. Millie Kincaid shivered. It was almost time.

She glanced at the gilded-framed full-length mirror hanging on the wall of an opulent mansion in Pacific Palisades, California. She barely recognized her reflection. The curly updo, the professionally applied makeup, and the elegant gown made her look like a princess, not a schoolteacher from a small town in Central Oregon.

She felt a little like Cinderella. Not that Millie needed an invitation to the ball to find her Prince Charming. She’d already found him on a reality television show, no less. Her heart beat faster. She just had to get through the final episode tonight when “The Groom,” Jace Westfall, a money manager from Philadelphia with his own company, would pick his bride.

An aviary’s worth of butterflies fluttered in Millie’s stomach. She couldn’t believe she’d made it to the finale. She’d only attended the audition so a coworker wouldn’t have to go alone and never expected to be chosen as a contestant. Her father, a successful motivational speaker, who didn’t think she was living up to her potential, told her she wasn’t ready for a show like this, and she’d wondered if he were right.

Until meeting the handsome “Groom” and falling for him.

Despite the certainty she’d found the “one,” she wasn’t expecting an engagement ring after only knowing each other a few weeks. What she wanted was time alone with him, away from the cameras, crew, and other contestants. How would they get along when it was only the two of them? Her head told Millie counting on forever was nothing more than a teenage fantasy. Yet, she couldn’t help believing she’d glimpsed her future in his eyes.

“Millie?” Avery, a young production assistant, adjusted her headset. “Are you ready?”

“Yes.” Millie stepped over cables running along the inlaid wood floor, teetering on the crystal-encrusted high heels they’d given her to wear, and ignored the bright lights and cameras focused on her. She straightened. “I’m ready.”

Grinning, Avery clutched a clipboard to her chest. “You look so beautiful. Just wait until Jace sees you. He’ll love you.”

Millie hoped so.

I never thought I’d find someone like you on this show.

Jace’s words, murmured in her ear after a goodnight kiss, sent anticipation rippling through her.

“Well, he knows the real me.” Jace saw beyond Mousy Millie, the nickname given by her father when she was an awkward, shy teenager, to the woman she really was inside. Jace asked questions about her job as a special education teacher and listened to her answers. He wanted to know her thoughts, her opinions, her dreams. He talked with her, not at her. As joy overflowed, Millie motioned to her fancy hair and beautiful dress. “The rest is window-dressing.”

“That’s why you were selected as the viewers’ bride choice on the show’s website. You and Jace are the perfect couple. Right up there with the ultimate reality couples Trista and Ryan, Amber and Rob, and Molly and Jason.” Avery sighed. “And you are beautiful. So accept the compliment and say thank you.”

Millie’s cheeks warmed. “Thank you.”

She appreciated Avery’s kind words, but she couldn’t help wondering how stunning her competition, Desiree Delacroix, a mortgage broker from New York, would look. The other bride finalist exuded strength, confidence, and raw sex appeal. If she wanted a new job, she would be the perfect social media influencer. Desiree had no problem wearing a string bikini or only a towel in front of Jace and the cameras.

Millie would rather face an entire class of kids sick with the stomach flu than wear a swimsuit on television. She’d chosen Whistler, B.C., as her final date destination instead of Cancun, Mexico, to avoid wearing skimpy clothing. Two women couldn’t have seemed more different, yet they shared a love of children, a belief in the institution of marriage...and an attraction to Jace Westfall. Thinking about their similarities and differences made Millie squirm.

As if someone had hit the mute button, the set went quiet. Avery touched her earpiece. “It’s time.”

Millie’s nerve endings sprang to life. Excitement surged. She couldn’t wait to see Jace.

She walked through the mansion, accustomed by now to ignoring the equipment, the cameras, and the crew. The show’s host, who also worked on the network’s nightly entertainment news show, gave her the thumbs-up. He’d interviewed her when she first arrived. Now only she and Jace would be there. Oh, and the cameras.

Rounding the corner to the final set, she saw him standing on a balcony with hundreds of flowers. Her stomach fluttered.

Jace wore a black tuxedo with a red rose boutonniere pinned on his lapel. He seemed taller, almost larger than life, all dressed up and his light brown hair neatly styled. This was how he would look on his wedding day.

She sucked in a breath.

His eyes widened when he saw her.

Uh-oh. He looked almost...scared. Her heart went out to him. This was a big moment for both of them. Millie fought the urge to run and reassure him the way he had that first night on the show when the world of reality TV had threatened to overwhelm her.

But before she reached him, he smiled.

At her.

Suddenly all was right in the world.

In Millie’s world.

The backdrop of the Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon brought out the blue in Jace’s eyes. If they had children, would their babies have his eye color or would they be green like hers? Maybe hazel?

No, she was getting ahead of herself. But that was part of his appeal. He might be strong and solid, but he also made her loosen up and want to take chances. When Jace was around, her dreams became possible. She loved that about him.

If they had children someday, Millie hoped the kids inherited Jace’s smile. She loved his wide, easy grin. Not to mention the determined set of his jaw and the little bump on the center of his nose. He was so handsome, so supportive, so caring. And he was also a family man. He loved his family so much. He’d mentioned to her how close they were. Relatives worked for his firm, and he even supported his mother.

So kind. So sweet.

Contentment coursed through Millie. The way his gaze never left hers made her feel cherished and adored. She seemed to float, even though she knew that was physically impossible. Unless a fairy godmother had waved a magic wand.

Maybe one had. The balcony defined romance with the elegant flowers and flickering candles everywhere. Music—Pachelbel’s Canon in D—played from hidden speakers while waves crashed against the shore below.

A breeze ruffled Jace’s hair. A strand fell forward across his forehead, making him seem appealingly real and approachable.

Even though the killer setting was as carefully contrived as her appearance tonight, Millie found herself caught up in the mood. The moment. The magic.

She moved toward him.

The scent of roses, her favorite flower, wafted in the air. She caught a scent of salt, too, blowing off the ocean. Millie wanted to etch every detail on her brain so she wouldn’t forget anything. Of course she could watch the scene over and over again. That was one good point of the show, a visual recording of their falling in love.

Millie stopped in front of him. “Hi.”

“Hi, Freckles.” His appreciative gaze started at the top of her head and went down to the tips of her oh-so-out-of-her-budget slingbacks. “Though I don’t see many freckles tonight. You look amazing.”

Okay, relenting and allowing the production staff to do her hair, makeup, and clothing for tonight’s show had been a good thing. She enjoyed looking and feeling like a princess. Millie wiggled her toes.

“Stunning,” he added.

His words wrapped around her heart like a warm hug.

“Thanks,” she said. “You, too. Gorgeous. I mean, handsome.”

“Millie.” Smiling, he reached toward her and his large hands engulfed hers. “My sweet Millie.”

This was it.

Her pulse quickened. She wanted to hear him say that he chose her. That he wanted her.

“Being with you has made these past few weeks fly by.” His warm voice, his words, resonated with her. “You always had an encouraging word or a smile for me. I don’t know how I would have made it through without you.”

“Me, either.”

“We had so much fun together.”

Remembering all the good times, Millie nodded. Those were only the beginning. They had a lifetime of memories to create together. A lifetime. She nearly sighed.

He looked at their linked hands. “You became my confidant, my counselor, my good friend. I’ll always value our friendship.”

Friendship?

Anxiety spurted through Millie.

Okay, don’t overreact. A relationship, not to mention marriage, needed a strong foundation that friendship provided.

Jace squeezed her hands. The action gave her no comfort. Zero reassurance. She needed him to say she was his choice.

His gaze returned to hers. “But you deserve someone better than me, Millie.”

Oh, no. He can’t be serious.

She searched his face for a sign to contradict his words, but found...nothing except for a fleeting look of regret in his eyes.

A vise gripped her heart.

She couldn’t breathe.

“You need someone who will love you the way you should be loved. Someone who can take care of you the right way.” Jace said the words as if he were doing this for her own good. “I can’t do that. I just...can’t. Too many people count on me already.”

Millie heard a gasp. She wasn’t sure if it came from her or one of the crew. It didn’t matter.

She wanted to run away, but her feet remained cemented to the balcony. She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it. What was she going to say?

I can’t do that.

His words reverberated through her body. Her eyes stung, but she was too numb to know if she was crying or not.

“I’m sorry if I hurt you,” Jace said, his eyes dark. “I never wanted to do that, Millie. But with my…family situation, Desiree is the better choice. But I really do...like you.”

Like.

Not love.

He didn’t love her. He didn’t want her.

The truth hit fast and hard, like a javelin aimed right at her heart. Millie wrapped her arms around her stomach, trying to quell a rush of nausea.

Jace had never said he loved her. She’d known he’d kissed Desiree, too, but Millie had thought... She’d believed...

She had been wrong. About every moment they’d spent together. About every kiss they’d shared. About everything she thought she knew about Jace Westfall.

She had been duped. Used. Dumped.

And she’d merrily gone along.

Innocent. Naïve. Stupid.

Millie turned away from Jace. She forced her feet to walk off the romantic set. Ignoring the cameras focused on her, she hoped someday to forget the looks of pity on the crew’s faces.

Never again. Millie left the mansion and stepped into an idling limousine. She would never let someone do this to her again.