Publisher: Cardinal Press, LLC
Formats: eBook, print
"Behind all the crazy happenings and the clueless characters is a heartwarming story that delivers valuable lessons on life and love." —Isha Coleman at Hopeless Romantic
A Little Bit Engaged
One little public scandal—and now they’re engaged…sort of.
When Cara O’Neal finds herself dragged into a PR nightmare with A-list actor—and former crush—Brody Simmons, a pretend engagement seems to be the only way to stop the madness. But she’s not an actress, and faking anything with Brody has epic failure written all over it. It’ll take nothing short of an Oscar-worthy performance to survive with her heart intact.
Brody enjoys playing the role of Cara’s adoring fiancé way more than he should. Acting like he’s in love with the pretty bookworm isn’t exactly a chore. She’s always been a good friend, but he can imagine her as more, which complicates their charade. When the lines between make-believe and reality blur, can Cara and Brody turn their fake relationship into a true happily ever after?
Read an Excerpt
A loud noise woke Cara O’Neal. Bolting upright in bed, she blinked. Once, twice…
The time on the digital clock glowed a faint green.
Clutching the comforter, she half-expected a tremor to roll through the condo—a disturbing thought given San Francisco’s Marina District was built on a landfill.
A buzz shattered the silence. It was her building’s security system. Not an earthquake.
Nothing to worry about.
She flexed her fingers, allowing her racing pulse to slow to a more normal rate.
The building’s front door was kept locked. An intercom system allowed visitors to buzz a resident’s unit, and then they had to wait to be let inside. Except…
No one she knew would drop by this late on a Monday night. Maybe Geoff, her friend from unit 301, had gone for a run and left his keys at home. That had happened before but never past bedtime.
Reaching toward the nightstand, she turned on the lamp.
Loki, the longhaired black cat she’d adopted years ago from a rescue group in Southern California, meowed from the pillow next to hers. He flicked his tail once before giving her the evil eye. Not his my-bowl-is-only-half-full-I’m-starving look, but his you-woke-me-up-now-rub-me-back-to-sleep-or-diegreen-eyed glare.
“Sorry to disturb His Royal Highness, but I can’t leave someone outside at this hour.” At least the weather in early March had been warmer than usual. Yawning, she crawled out of bed, padded across the floor, and then pressed the intercom button. “Hello?”
“It’s Brody. Let me in before someone recognizes me.”
Her breath caught in her throat, her muscles tensing.
What is he doing here?
She pressed the button to unlock the front entrance.
Growing up, Brody had been her closest friend. She’d had a crush on him from high school through college. Okay, maybe a little longer than that. But no one knew, thank goodness. That would have been awkward when Brody and Caitlin, her twin sister, started dating.
Three years, one month, and four days ago.
Not that Cara was counting.
But his late-night visit with no warning concerned her. Running her thumbs across her fingertips, she thought about calling Caitlin. Maybe her sister would know what was going on. Except Caitlin hadn’t returned any calls or texts for over two weeks. Brody wasn’t much better. He rarely called, but he would occasionally text or video chat.
Cara hadn’t seen him in person since he’d taken her to the Academy Awards ceremony last year when Caitlin had been too sick to attend. Cara had loved the once-in-a-lifetime experience. Since then, Brody had been filming one movie after another. A week ago, she’d glimpsed him and her sister at the Oscars. They appeared fine, but something must have happened to bring him to San Francisco.
A fight with Caitlin? A problem on his latest movie set? A need to escape the rabid fans chasing after one of Hollywood’s sexiest leading men?
Loki rubbed against her leg.
“Brody will be here in two or three minutes,” she said to the furry love of her life.
She didn’t consider changing out of her tiger-striped footie pajamas. Sexy lingerie and sophisticated styles weren’t in Cara’s dresser or closet. She preferred footie, flannel, and fleece jammies. Not only did they keep her warm at night, but they were also comfy, cute, and fun.
After brushing her fingers through hair that was tangled and wavy from the braid she’d worn earlier, she gave up with a sigh. Brody wouldn’t care if she answered the door naked. The only woman he noticed, the only one he wanted, was Caitlin.
Their love emanates beyond the screen.
Cara winced. Three years later, the movie critic’s observation still stung. She’d never stood a chance with Brody except in her dreams, but Cara had almost convinced herself that he and Caitlin had simply nailed the roles of star-crossed lovers because of their acting abilities.
Until the two kissed at the movie’s premiere.
No one could fake that kind of passion, that kind of…love.
What Cara had wanted with Brody.
But the fantasies had blown up in her face. Right there on the red carpet. Her dreams hadn’t come true. They’d been crushed and pummeled into grains of sand.
Unlike her sister, Cara wasn’t a good actress, but hiding her crush had been easy enough. Keeping her broken heart a secret from the two people who knew her best, however, had proven impossible when they acted so lovey-dovey around her. Not their fault, but she couldn’t handle being the third wheel and witnessing their constant PDA.
To distance herself, she’d moved from Los Angeles after she found a better librarian job in San Francisco. Caitlin purchased this condo for Cara to rent after she’d mentioned her trouble finding an affordable place that allowed pets, and she appreciated her sister’s generosity. Caitlin’s crazy schedule kept the two from talking much these days, and Cara missed their phone calls. Even though Caitlin defined diva, they were still twins who shared a bond few understood.
Time had flown by since Cara moved nearly three years ago. Too bad she didn’t still have the job that had brought her to San Francisco. Ten months ago, she’d been laid off.
Three long knocks sounded, followed by two short ones. It was the secret code they’d used at the tree house behind Brody’s childhood home where his parents still lived.
“Cara.” He sounded impatient.
Inhaling deeply, she opened the door.
Sunglasses covered Brody’s killer baby blues, but they did nothing to mask his classically handsome features. A multicolored, striped beanie hid his wavy brown hair, which curled at the ends. An oversized navy hoodie disguised his to-die-for body. With his six-foot-plus height and athletic build, he could easily be mistaken for a professional athlete.
She clutched the door handle.
It was a good thing she’d developed immunity to his attractiveness and charm. No more weak knees. Forget the drawn-out sighs. She’d left those behind with her crush. For her sake and her sister’s.
“Hey.” Brody stepped inside, closed the door behind him, dropped his backpack onto the floor, and enveloped her in a bear hug. His trademark since he was fourteen and no longer embarrassed to touch girls.
Although, she wasn’t sure if he viewed her as a female or ever had. She’d been parked in the friend zone for so long her windshield was plastered with tickets. Yet, that hadn’t stopped her from trying to get him to notice her in high school. She’d been so hopeful then.
Now she could enjoy taking a glimpse or two, but that was as far as it would go.
His scent—a mix of his shampoo and him—surrounded Cara. She wanted to inhale deeply to soak up the smell, but she didn’t.
“It’s good to see you.” Brody let go of her. Off came his sunglasses, hat, and sweatshirt. He placed them on top of the small wooden bookcase where she kept her purse and keys. “Sorry I didn’t call first. Nice pjs.”
Cara struck a silly tiger pose. “A birthday present to myself.”
“Not a book?”
“I gave myself one of those, too.”
Brody laughed. “Were you asleep?”
“Yes, and Loki’s not pleased. He doesn’t like to be disturbed.”
“Sorry, dude,” Brody said to the cat.
Turning, Loki presented a perfect view of his backside.
Typical cat. “I thought you were filming.”
“Finished.” Glancing around, Brody shifted his weight from foot to foot. “You alone?”
Cara wanted to groan. Of course she was alone. She wanted nothing more than to fall in love—to open her heart and her life to someone special. So far, no luck.
“Only Loki and me.”
“You mentioned something about a date the last time we talked.”
He’d wanted to know how she was doing after being unemployed and then finding a job to tide her over until she found a new position in her field. “Yes. Turns out he’s allergic to cats. Sneezing, eyes watering, and hives broke out when he entered the condo. Shortest first date ever.”
“Try, try again.” She motioned Brody into the living room. “So…”
He plopped onto her couch, a slipcovered love seat she’d assembled herself. “How do you like being a book concierge?”
That was her title at Cassandra’s Attic, an independent bookstore here in San Francisco, where she worked part-time. “I enjoy it. Cassie’s a great boss, her husband, Troy, has wonderful ideas for improving the store, and my coworkers are nice, but…”
“You miss working in a library.”
Yes and no, but the bottom line came down to the one thing her parents wouldn’t allow her to forget. “It’s what my degree is in.”
“How’s the job search going?”
Heat rushed up her neck. So many libraries had turned her down that Cara felt as if she were a new college graduate with zero work experience, but she wasn’t giving up. The perfect job was out there somewhere. She would find it.
“I have a second interview on Friday for a position I’d love.” She crossed her fingers. “I’ve also been volunteering at a public library when I can. I may have found a new calling.”
A ball of warmth formed in her chest. “Working in the children’s section.”
His mouth quirked. “I thought rare books were your thing?”
“They are, but I’d forgotten how much I enjoy story time. Another employee handles it at the bookstore, but I’m having fun at the library.” Picturing the children from Friday’s session filled her with joy. “Seeing young faces light up as I read—their eyes full of excitement and anticipation—is incredible. It makes me remember why I fell in love with books when I was younger.”
“Doing this really makes you happy.”
“So happy. I feel like I’m making a difference with these kids.” She shimmied her shoulders. “I’m going to ask if the library will let me start themed book clubs for various ages, and then I want to propose a theater and dance reading group for kids who learn better kinesthetically.”
“Wow. Fantastic ideas.” His face brightened. “You sound excited. Much better than I thought you’d be doing.”
She shrugged. “I have an occasional off moment, but I won’t let losing my job bring me down.”
“The university was stupid to let you go.”
“I didn’t have enough seniority. Nothing anyone could do.” If she’d stayed in Los Angeles, she would still be employed. But moving had been the right decision. Her new job had been a dream while it lasted, and the distance had allowed her to get over her crush. Brody was nothing more than a friend now. Although…she’d created yet another problem by leaving Southern California. She now felt like an outsider in her family.
“What’s going on with you?” she asked. “You didn’t come here to talk about my employment situation.”
Humor flashed in his eyes, followed by a sheepish grin. One he’d used for as long as she could remember. Knowing she could still read him filled her with a sense of relief. “You’ve always been the smart one.”
The three of them used to joke about how Caitlin got the beauty and Cara the brains. Being smart was great, but more than once, she’d wished they’d been identical twins instead of fraternal ones. Looking like her sexy, gorgeous actress sister wouldn’t suck.