It is a truth universally acknowledged that Brodie Bishop is the worst.
Vivian Trent is desperate. Her family doesn’t approve of her life as a single mom and the small town of Austen still won’t accept her as one of their own four years later. Playing Elizabeth Bennet at the annual Jane Austen Festival is the perfect way to win over the locals and prove that she’s thriving. But when Austen’s favourite festival hero is replaced by his tattooed, metalhead brother, how is she supposed to achieve perfection with such a bad boy playing Mr. Darcy? He’s never read the book. He’s brash and unpolished. He’s… blond?!
You must allow me to tell you how ardently I dislike you.
Brodie’s used to being the town disappointment, so when Vivian turns her nose up at him, he’s not surprised. Hot librarian or not, she’s way too uptight. But once the festival gets underway, they see new sides of each other. When he finds out her dark secret, suddenly she’s much more endearing. She’s vulnerable, but strong. And the way she looks in that gown only blurs the lines between playing the part and falling for her for real.
But when her goal is within reach, can Vivian go off-book and choose Brodie, if it means risking everything she thought she wanted?
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Cuppabeans was the only cafe in town, a cute little corner shop with a mint green and white striped awning out front, knotty pine framing inside, and a constant, thick miasma of warm, rich Arabica beans in the air.Inhaling deeply as I stood in line, I tapped my foot and checked the time. It was fine. I still had a good cushion to get this done before I had to be at the library. I reached the front and ordered the largest size they had.“Name?” the perky teenage server called over the morning din.“Vivian,” I said.“Lydia?” she asked.I emphasized each syllable so she could at least read my lips. “Vivian
.”She nodded in a way that made my hopes plummet. I crossed my arms and stepped to the side to let the next person up. I blinked as I saw the man who’d stood behind me. He wore black head to toe, including a thick pair of leather cuffs at his wrists, the dark shade contrasting with his fair skin. The only hint of colour on him popped from the tattoos covering his forearms and the wheat blond of his overlong hair. He left his black aviators on as he put in his order and came to stand beside me, crossing one long leg over the other as he leaned back against the wall.
I watched him in the mirror on the opposite side of the cafe. He crossed his arms and appeared generally standoffish, the sharp line of his jaw ticking as he clenched it. I watched the muscle move as discreetly as I could. By the look of him, he was hardly a Prince Charming candidate, but I could still appreciate a nice jawline. I was only human, after all.
But then a smirk kicked up one corner of his mouth and he tipped his sunglasses down, revealing that his eyes were locked on mine in the mirror. My heart squeezed in surprise. Not only from the frantic feeling of being caught staring, but the shock of how incongruously dark brown his eyes were against that hair, stark in his only slightly sun-kissed face. They tilted up slightly at the outer corners, reminding me of a cat. He nudged the shades off his face and turned to me with a matching feline languor.
I flicked my eyes to the ground, face flaring with heat.
“Don’t like tattoos?” he asked, his voice a slightly gravelly tenor. By that grungy, heavy metal look, he’d probably spent his life screaming into a microphone.
“I wasn’t looking at your tattoos,” I said with a sharp shake of my head. Hopefully, my neck wasn’t going blotchy with embarrassment.
“Yeah?” he asked. In my periphery, I saw him lean closer. “What were you lookin’ at?”
I threw a desperate glance at the server and she held a cup up with a nod. Relief flooded me as I grabbed it and pivoted on my heel to escape this awkward encounter. But as I passed the man, I faltered, frowning down at the cup. It read Vanilla. “Oh, come on,” I grumbled under my breath.
A snort drew my eyes back up to the man. His dark eyes sparked with a mocking amusement. “Hey, at least she got the V right.”
I rolled my eyes and marched past him, ignoring the snicker that followed me out the door.
I swallowed thickly, letting him guide me across the dance floor. Was it just me or had it cleared of swaying bodies to form a loose circle of spectators? It was hard enough to ignore the dizzy feeling his gaze sent over me without worrying about having such a rapt audience. I moved through the steps stiffly, my back rigid where he touched me.
“Relax,” he whispered, barely moving his lips.
“You relax,” I shot back between gritted teeth.
He snorted softly, biting back a grin. “We’re doing great. They love it.”
“That’s the problem,” I whispered, my hand instinctively flexing on his shoulder. He had good shoulders. Lean, but strong. And the cut of his jacket emphasized their dramatic lines.
His hand squeezed at my back a little and my nipples tightened. Heat flooded my face. Come on libido, don’t screw me over like this. His thumb rubbed discreetly over the thin fabric separating our skin. “You’re doing so great,” he assured me under his breath. “You got ‘em eating outta your hand.”
“They’re looking at you,” I countered, flushing when I stumbled and he caught me with ease.
“Then, they’re crazy,” he said, the fingers of his leading hand curling tighter over mine. “You’re a feast for the eyes.”
“Stop,” I said, the word spilling out of me before I could snatch it back. I hated how breathless my voice was. Hated being so transparent. It left me vulnerable and I couldn’t afford to be that again.
“Stop what?” Brodie asked, without a hint of confusion. His chin dipped as his eyes flicked between mine. Something about the way he looked at me felt like a challenge. A dare.
“Nobody can hear you. Stop messing around,” I admonished him.
He responded by tightening his arm at my back. I could feel the muscles in his forearm shift with the movement. He was so warm, I could feel his heat through our clothing as if I wore nothing at all. An excited titter moved around the crowd.
But I barely heard it. Brodie was like an eclipse, forcing everything else to fade into the shadows. His eyes roamed over me, lingering on details that made my neck flush. The corner of my lips. The spot on my neck where my pulse must be visible.
“Who says I’m messing around?” he whispered. The rasp of his quiet voice shivered up my spine.
How did I let this happen? How did I start falling all over myself for this man? One day, he was just Brodie, my ridiculously-dressed, sarcastic festival partner. Then, suddenly, all I could see was how confidently he swept me around the dance floor, how safe he felt to confess my secrets to… and how elegantly handsome he looked under the warm light of a million candles.
But the whole purpose of us being here was to convince other people we were falling in love. I wasn’t supposed to fall for it too.
I couldn’t afford to be the fool again. Not after everything fell apart with Sam. The prickly pity in my family’s eyes as I’d embarked on single motherhood had knocked me out at the knees. I’d believed in my happily ever after back then. Believed in forever.
But Brodie wasn’t a forever kind of guy and I wasn’t a temporary kind of girl.