Single mother Kyra Kokinos spends her days waiting tables, her nights working on her real estate license, and every spare moment with her precocious six-year-old daughter, Ruby—especially when Ruby won’t stop pestering their grumpy next-door neighbor. At first glance, Dax Bishop seems like the kind of gruff, solitary guy who’d be unlikely to offer a cup of sugar, let alone a marriage proposal. But that’s exactly what happens when Ruby needs life-saving surgery.
Dax showed up in East Beach a year ago, fresh from a painful divorce and looking for a place where he could make furniture and avoid people. Suddenly his life is invaded by an inquisitive munchkin in sparkly cowboy boots—and her frazzled, too-tempting mother. So he presents a practical plan: his insurance will help Ruby, and then they can divorce—zero strings attached.
But soon Kyra and Dax find their engagement of convenience is simple in name only. As their attraction deepens, a figure from the past reappears, offering a way out. Can Kyra and Dax let go so easily—or has love become a preexisting condition?
Dax thought he was dreaming when he heard the tap tap tap on his door. He lifted his head and blinked and then looked around. Everything was as it should be—Otto snoring at the foot of his bed, the light from the streetlights near the lake weakly filtering in through his curtains.
He’d imagined it. He punched his pillow, then resettled.
The knock came again, only this time it was loud and insistent. Otto leapt from the bed, barking and sliding across the hardwood floor as he tried to get out of the room and head for the front door to rip someone’s head off.
The pounding came again, and Dax felt a slight panic. No one came knocking on a person’s door in the middle of the night except the police or home invaders. What time was it, anyway? He glanced at the clock. Half past twelve.
The knocking came again, and he shouted, “Just a damn minute!” He groped around, trying to find something to clock this person with. Finding nothing in the bedroom, he marched through the kitchen, saw some tools on the kitchen table, and grabbed a crowbar.
“This had better be good,” he muttered.
Otto was scratching at the door, barking. Dax had to lean around the damn dog to push aside the drapes and peer out. It was dark, and he could only make out a figure. And while he couldn’t see the person’s face, he knew it was Mrs. Coconuts.
He flipped on a light and yanked open the door. “What the hell?” he demanded, taking note of Mrs. Coconuts’s blazing eyes. In fact, if those lovely teak eyes had been guns, he’d be lying in a pool of blood right now. Otto chose that moment to leap up and plant his paws on the screen door. Stupid dog would have taken the shot for him. Dax shoved him aside. “What’s wrong?” he asked and pushed his fingers through his unruly hair. “Something happen to the kid?”
“You want to know what’s wrong?” she snapped and slapped a hundred-dollar bill up against the screen door. “That’s what’s wrong.”
He looked at the bill. Then at her. “It’s called a tip.”
“It’s called charity,” she said. “And I don’t want your stupid charity. Open the door.”
“Open the door! Open it right now or I’ll put my foot through it!”
He didn’t think she was really capable, but he pushed the screen door open. Otto burst out with so much force that she was knocked backward, almost falling, but she grabbed onto the screen door, then used it like a slingshot to propel herself inside. She awkwardly slapped that bill against his bare chest and held it there. “I wanted to stuff it in your pocket and tell you to take a flying leap, but since you don’t have any pockets . . . take it.”
He glanced down and remembered he was wearing nothing but boxers. He fixed his gaze on her and all her craziness and covered her hand with his. “Okay.”
“Let go and I’ll take it.”
She yanked her hand free, then turned to go.
“I was trying to help,” he blurted. That’s all he’d meant by the tip. He hadn’t known she was waiting tables until he saw her at the bistro, and he’d thought of how much he imagined waitstaff made, and how the kid had wanted that purple octopus bath toy, and he’d left a big tip.
But Mrs. Coconuts whirled around so fast when he said it that it startled him. “By leaving me an unreasonably large tip? How exactly was that helping, other than contributing to the Kyra Kokinos charity? And why didn’t you acknowledge me?” she demanded. “You acted like you’ve never met me—or couldn’t stand the sight of me.”
“I didn’t act like that,” he scoffed.
“Yes, you did. You know you did. Why?”
Dax didn’t know how he’d acted to Kyra. He’d been too uptight about Heather. “I was on a date.”
Her eyes narrowed. “So?”
“Why didn’t you say something if you were so concerned about it?”
“I don’t know—maybe because you would hardly even look at me?”
Dax shrugged, feeling a little out of his depth here. Being on a date seemed a perfectly reasonable explanation to him. He wasn’t supposed to look at another woman while he was on a date, was he? Especially not one with a dark mane of hair and arresting eyes.
“Are you embarrassed by me?” she asked.
“What? No,” he said. Where did she come up with that? “Then why?”
He sighed. He dragged his fingers through his hair. Why was a difficult question to answer. All he knew was that when she’d looked at him like she had last night, he’d felt things stirring in him that he didn’t want to stir. He’d been sort of intrigued, sort of shocked, sort of scared, and the truth was, he still felt that way. He didn’t want . . . complications. He didn’t want to feel anything for her, and yet he couldn’t seem to bury the tiny shoots of feelings growing in him. Today at the bistro, he’d been confused about being confused and had felt very uncomfortable looking at Kyra while he was on a date with Heather. “I didn’t want you to be . . .” He whirled his hand around. “You know.”
“No, I don’t know.”
Neither did he, but he went with it. “You know,” he said again.
She blinked. But then something sparked in those lovely eyes, and they narrowed dangerously. She said, in a low voice that probably set off male alarms across East Beach, “You thought I’d be jealous?”
Jealous? Was she crazy? Well, yes, she was—but there was no way she should be jealous of Heather.
“You thought that I would be jealous of a girl because she was at lunch with you?”
She shoved him in the chest with what looked like a supreme amount of effort on her part, but which barely registered on him.
“Calm down,” he said.
“If you want me to calm down, then don’t you dare patronize me!”
“Patronize.” He snorted. “I’m not patronizing you, Kyra. You’re acting crazy. You seem a little volatile.” He was grasping at straws, trying to figure a way out of this while his body was trying to figure a way in.
Kyra gasped. Her eyes sparked with so much fire that he was amazed she didn’t torch Number Two to the ground. And then she lunged at him. Dax had a split second of believing she was going to choke the life out of him, and he moved to grab her arms in case she had that in mind, and then he was kissing her.
He was kissing her, and oh God, it was good. It was more than good, it was hot.
About the Author
Born in Canyon, Texas, and raised on a ranch, Julia London didn’t have her eye on writing romance right away. After graduating with a degree in political science from the University of Texas in Austin, she moved out to Washington, DC, eventually working in the White House. She later decided to take a break from government work and start writing. Today, she is the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author of more than thirty novels. She writes historical romance and contemporary women’s fiction, and her most popular series include the Secrets of Hadley Green series, the Cabot Sisters series, the Desperate Debutantes series, the Lear Sisters series, and the Pine River series. She is a recipient of the RT Book Reviews Best Regency Historical Romance award for The Dangerous Gentleman, and a six-time finalist for the renowned RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction. She resides in Austin, Texas.