Married Till Christmas

ISBN: 978-0373623860

Married Till Christmas

December 2017
An impulse wedding…

Strong, sexy Nell Bravo won’t be fooled again. After all, Declan McGrath already shattered her heart into pieces—not once, but twice. When alluring CEO Deck sweeps Nell off her feet in Las Vegas, though, she tumbles headlong into an “only in Vegas” fling with her first love. But Nell sure didn’t bargain on a Vegas wedding!

…a lifetime of love?

It’s taken a long time for Deck to finally capture the one who got away. And this time, he’s charmed her straight to the altar. But Nell will stay married to him only until Christmas Day—unless Deck can prove that this time, it’s for keeps. With the clock ticking, can Deck convince Nell that he truly is her one and only…or has Mr. Love-’Em-and-Leave-’Em broken a Bravo’s heart for the last time?

The Bravos of Justice Creek: Where bold hearts collide under Western skies

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What Readers are Saying

“…well written, engaging, and delightful. I found the characters to be realistic and the story at times emotional. This was another of those I stayed up all night to read. I couldn't put it down until I found out how it all worked out. Fans of Category romances will enjoy MARRIED TILL CHRISTMAS. Fans of the Bravo series will love seeing Nell and watching her deal with her past. If you have not read any of the previous Bravo series books don't worry you won't be lost but you will want to read the previous titles in the series. MARRIED TILL CHRISTMAS has great characters, a wonderful setting, a believable story-line, and most importantly a HEA.”

Wendy, Goodreads, 4 stars

“I couldn’t put this book down and read it in one sitting. I highly recommend reading Married Till Christmas along with the other books in The Bravos of Justice Creek series.”

JudyRudy, Goodreads, 5 stars

“Well written romance that draws the reader right in. I love this series and hope other Bravo cousins come into play.”

Amary Chapman, Goodreads, 5 stars

“Awesome finish to this part of the Bravo family, can’t wait to see who finds love next?”

Therese Lopez, Goodreads, 5 stars

Chapter 1

“God, you are beautiful. That red hair, those big green eyes. That amazing body. And those lips. Baby, those lips were made for a man to bite. Can I tell you a secret?”

Nell Bravo had a one-word answer for that one. “No.”

But the handsome guy in the expensive suit wasn’t listening. He leaned extra close, breathing Booker’s Rye—and no, he wasn’t really drunk, only buzzed enough to get pushy. “I don’t usually go for tattoos on a woman.” He eyed the half sleeve of bright ink that swirled over her left arm from shoulder to elbow. “But, in your case, I’m definitely making an exception. I’d like to jump you right here at the bar.”

Nell considered summoning the energy to be offended, but that would be faking it. She’d never minded the brash approach, not as long as she was interested. Too bad she just wasn’t—and hadn’t been for a long time now.

Except for one man.

One man who managed to show up every time she turned around lately, a guy she was not letting close to her ever again, thank you very much—and that did it. That finished it. She’d had enough of the handsome fellow in the pricey suit.

Not only did he refuse to take a hint, he’d gone and made her think of the one person she wanted nothing to do with.

Ever again.

Not even in her mind.

Somewhere behind her, bells and whistles went off as a lucky slot player hit a jackpot. Nell grabbed her clutch, whipped out a twenty and slid it under her cocktail napkin for the bartender. “That’s it for me.”

“Whoa now,” said the guy beside her, whose name was Ron. “Put your money away.”

“Great to meet you, Ron,” she lied. “I’ve got your card and I’ll be in touch.” He owned Ron’s Custom Tile, with five stores in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Her company, Bravo Construction, ordered a lot of tile. Maybe they could have done some business. Probably not now, though. Ron was just way too interested in looking down her dress. “Good night.” She spun on her stool, lowered her Jimmy Choos to the floor and set off for the lobby area and the elevator up to her room.

But Ron was no quitter. “Hold on a minute.” He was right behind her. “Baby, don’t go…”

Nell stopped in her tracks. When she turned, he almost plowed into her. “Look.” She pinned him with her coldest stare. “I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. I’m not interested in being jumped by you—right there at the bar, or anywhere in else in this hotel. Good night, Ron.”

He started to speak again, but she didn’t hang around to hear it. Instead, she took off, moving faster now, weaving her way past the rows of whizzing, dinging slot machines and on to the never-ending main casino floor. She flew past the gaming tables and more bars and restaurants, her high heels tapping hard over polished floors, ears tuned for the sound of Ron’s footsteps behind her.

Yep. The idiot was following her.

So what? He wasn’t going to catch her. She kept going, never once looking back.

Finally, she reached the blue-lit hotel lobby with its glittering waterfall wall and swirling peacock-colored carpet. As she veered by the concierge desk, she slipped her key card from her clutch.

Entering the marble-lined bank of elevators at last, she pushed the button to go up.

Unfortunately, no car was available.

Crap. Okay, she could just keep on going out the other end of the bay and circle back around, hoping to lose Ron in the process.

Or simply wait.

Screw it. She waited, which gave Ron the chance to catch up with her. When he reached her, she glanced the other way. Maybe ignoring him would do the trick.

Not so much. He grabbed her arm and pulled her around to face him. “Now, just a damn minute here.”

“Ron. You don’t look all that handsome with that mean scowl on your face.”

“I just want to—”

“No, Ron. I said no.”

“There’s no need to be rude, Nell.” He spoke through clenched teeth and he still had a death grip on her arm.

Nell felt a burning need to give Ron the sharp knee in the family jewels he very much deserved. But she kept her cool. “Seriously, Ron? This is going nowhere good. It’s a casino, in case you didn’t notice.” She pointed at the camera mounted up where the wall met the ceiling. “The eye-in-the-sky sees all. I only need to let out a scream and your evening will be downgraded from bad to a whole lot worse.”

His grip on her arm loosened. Before she could congratulate herself for some smooth handling of an iffy situation, she noticed that Ron’s narrowed eyes had widened and shifted upward toward something behind her.

Yanking her arm free, she turned.

Not possible. “Deck?” It couldn’t be.

Oh, but it was: Declan McGrath, all six foot four and two-hundred-plus muscled-up pounds of him, right here in Vegas. At her hotel.

“What a coincidence running into you here,” said Deck in that rough, low, wonderful voice of his.

Nell rolled her eyes so hard she almost fell over. “Coincidence, my ass. Don’t even try to tell me you’re here for the Worldwide Hard Surfaces Trade Show.”

“Okay, I won’t.” The corners of his mouth inched upward in the slow, delicious smile that used to make her life worth living. Years and years ago. Back when she was young and trusting, before he’d dumped her flat—twice. “God, Sparky. You do look good.”

She gave him the same look she’d been giving Ron—a look of ice and steel. “How many times do I have to say it? Don’t call me Sparky.”

“I just can’t help myself.”

“You don’t want to help yourself.”

“That’s right. I never give up. And we both know it’s just a matter of time until you give in and give me a break.”

“You’re delusional.”

“I prefer to call it thinking positive.”

“Hold on just a damn minute,” Ron piped up from behind her. “What the hell is going on here?”

Nell turned to tell the tile man—again—to get lost.

But Deck stepped around her and took Ron’s arm.

Ron flailed. “What the hell, man? Let go of my arm.”

“In a minute.” Deck glanced back to pin Nell with a look. “Do. Not. Move.” And then he pulled Ron down to the other end of the enclosure and whispered something in his ear. Ron paled.

The nearest elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Several people filed out. Nell watched them go, thinking that she should get on and get away before Deck came back.

But then again, no. Just no. She’d been walking away from Deck for months now. Enough of that. This time he’d finally gone too far.

Following her to Vegas? Who did that?

She wasn’t surrendering the field this time. Not until she’d treated him to a very large piece of her mind. And maybe the kick in the cojones she’d almost given Ron.

More elevator cars arrived and more people spilled out as Deck whispered in Ron’s ear.

“Got it,” said Ron, blond head bobbing. “Loud and clear.”

“Fair enough.” Deck let go of his arm.

Ron backed away with both hands up. “But hey, like I said, she’s not wearing a ring.”

“A ring?” Nell demanded. Not that either man was listening.

“She’s naughty like that sometimes,” Deck said with a so-what shrug. “Now get lost.” Ron didn’t argue. He took off. Nell leaned against the marble wall, her arms crossed over her chest, as Deck turned her way again. “Good,” he said. “You’re still here.”

Where to even start with him? “You’ve got to leave me alone, Deck.”

He came toward her, so big and solid, all lazy male grace, in jeans that hugged his hard legs and an olive-green shirt that made his hazel eyes gleam so damn bright—chameleon eyes, she used to call them. They seemed different colors depending on his mood and the light. He’d rolled his sleeves to his elbows, showing off strong forearms all muscled and veiny, dusted with sandy-colored hair.

It just wasn’t fair. No man should be allowed to look that amazing. She wrapped her arms tighter around herself to keep her grabby hands from reaching out and squeezing those rock-hard muscles of his.

Because, she bleakly reminded herself, squeezing Deck’s muscles—or any other part of him, for that matter—was a big, fat never-again.

He kept on coming. She had to put up a hand. “That’s close enough.”

“I love that red dress. You should wear red all the time.”

“I know, I know. Goes with my hair, blah, blah, blah. Did you tell Ron we’re married?”

He smirked. “Worked, didn’t it?”

“Except, well, doesn’t that make me the kind of woman who takes off her wedding ring and goes trolling for a hot date with a stranger?”

Deck snorted. “Ron? Hot?”

“Well, theoretically speaking—and Ron’s hotness or lack thereof? Totally not the issue here.”

“Sparky,” he chided. “You would never cheat, I know that. The thing with Ron was only to make me jealous.”

Two elevators opened at the same time. People got off and others got on.

She waited till the doors slid shut to say, “There was no thing with Ron. And what do you mean, make you jealous? I had no idea you were in Vegas and even if I’d known you’d followed me here, I would have zero desire to make you jealous.”

“But you did make me jealous. And I forgive you. You’re a high-spirited woman, always have been. You’ve got to have your fun.”

Where was this going? Somehow, once again with him, she was failing to make the point that he should give up chasing after her because she was never getting caught—not by him. No way. “I think it’s just possible that you’ve finally completely lost your mind.”

He slapped both big hands against his chest. “Go ahead. Hurt me. Call me names. I can take it.”

More elevator doors opened. If she ducked into one, he would probably just follow her. Dropping her key card into her clutch, she drew away from the wall and started walking backward. Deck came after her. They ended up facing off by a potted ficus plant around the corner from the constant flow of people going up and down floors.

“What now, Nellie?” he asked, his voice so gentle suddenly, the intimate sound tugging on a tender place inside her, a place she used to be so certain he had killed stone dead all those years ago.

Why wouldn’t it die? This…feeling she had for him, this stupid, impossible yearning for a man who had turned his back on her twice after promising she would always be the only one for him?

He just stood there now, close enough to reach out and touch, waiting for her to make her next move. Oh, she just ached to open her mouth and yell at him to leave her alone, get the hell away from her. But yelling would not only bring security running, it would be admitting that he was actually getting to her.

Which he was. And which he knew already. She could see that in his gleaming, watchful eyes.

It was bad enough that he knew. Losing her temper over it would only prove how powerfully he affected her. “Who told you I would be here?”

“Have dinner with me and we can talk about that.” He took a step closer.

“Forget dinner.” She stepped back. The ficus tree was right behind her. A trailing branch brushed her shoulder. “And I already know the answer to my question. Garrett told you I was here, am I right?” Her brother and partner in Bravo Construction liked Deck, damn it. Plus, there was the big, high-end house Deck had hired BC to build. Generally speaking, it was good business for Garrett to help an important client get what he wanted—but not when what he wanted was another chance with Nell. Garrett had no right to take a customer’s side against his business partner, who also happened to be his own flesh and blood. “I’m going to kill Garrett.”

Deck stuck his hands in his pockets. She read the move as an attempt to look easygoing and harmless. As if. “It wasn’t Garrett,” he said.

“Then who?”

“Your mother told me.”

Now Nell really wanted to start yelling. Willow Bravo had turned into a matchmaking nightmare over the past couple of years. She’d become obsessed with seeing her children married and settled down. At least until now Willow had shown the good sense to leave Nell out of all that crap.

But, one by one, Willow’s other four grown children had found marital bliss. That meant only Nell remained single and Willow just couldn’t let well enough alone.

“You pumped my mother for information about me?” Nell kept her voice low, but barely.

“Whoa. Settle down.”

“That’s just plain wrong.”

“True,” he said with zero remorse. “When it comes to you, I’ll do whatever I have to do. But I didn’t go to your mother. She called me. She said she hasn’t forgotten how much you loved me once.”

Nell pressed her lips together and expelled an outraged breath through her nose. “Admit it. She called you after you let her know that you’ve been trying to get something going with me.”

“Think about it, Nellie.” He looked way too pleased with himself. “How could she not know that I’ve been chasing you?”

He had a point.

In recent months, Deck had made himself famous in their hometown of Justice Creek with his relentless pursuit of her. He’d started his campaign to get her attention by going to the places she went—her brother Quinn’s fitness center, her half sister Elise’s bakery for coffee early in the morning—and her friend Rye McKellan’s pub. His constant presence at McKellan’s had really annoyed her. She not only liked to hang out there—she lived above the pub in the loft next door to Rye’s.

After a month or so of turning up just about everywhere she went, he’d called her and asked her straight out for a date.

She’d said, “Absolutely not and do not call me again.”

He hadn’t called again. But he had shown up at Bravo Construction to ask her to build his new house. She’d handed him over to Garrett.

Then he’d begun showering her with flowers and gifts. She’d refused to accept them. He’d hired a skywriter to blaze their names in a heart across the Colorado sky. She’d pretended not to notice.

Every time he would come up with a new way to get her attention, she would shut him right down. She’d never imagined he’d follow her all the way to Sin City.

Yet, here he was again.

“I’ll be having a serious talk with my mother,” she said. “And you should be ashamed of yourself, pumping her for information about my whereabouts when I have told you repeatedly that once was more than enough when it comes to you—I mean, twice when you count how you came back to me after breaking up with me, only to break up with me all over again.”

“I’ll say it once more. I didn’t pump your mother for information. She called me and volunteered it—and as for me dumping you, that was more than a decade ago. It was high school. We were only kids. I was messed up and not ready. We’re different people now.”

“No, we’re not. I’m still the girl who would have taken a bullet for your sorry ass. And you’re the guy who fooled me twice. That’s two times too many.” And yet, here she was, backed up against a ficus tree, arguing with him when there was supposed to be nothing she had to say to him.

And he still wouldn’t give it up. “If you won’t have dinner with me, how about a drink? We can discuss how much you despise me in comfort—and in depth.”

“I never said I despise you,” she muttered grudgingly. Was she weakening? Oh, all right. Maybe a little. She added more firmly, “You just need to catch a flight back to Justice Creek and leave me the hell alone.”

“One drink, Nell.” The man had some kind of radar. He knew he was getting to her. “One drink won’t kill you. And I get it. You don’t want to be seen out with me. You don’t want anyone to imagine you might be thinking of giving me another chance.”

“Because I’m not.”

“But look at it this way.” He lowered his already velvety tone even more, down to an intimate, just-you-and-me growl. “This is Vegas and you’ve heard what they say about Vegas. No one ever has to know…”

It was a really bad idea and she needed to walk away.

But she just couldn’t help comparing him to Ron the tile man—to every man she met, as a matter of fact. He wasn’t the guy for her, but he was kind of her gold standard of what a man should be—well, aside from the way he’d smashed her heart to bits two times running.

No, she couldn’t trust him. But he was hot and funny and smart. He was that perfect combination, the one she couldn’t resist: a big, down-to-earth blue-collar guy with a really sharp brain. And he’d been after her for months now.

Okay, it made her feel like a fool to admit it, but lately she’d been having these crazy urges to go ahead and let him catch her.

She wouldn’t, of course. He would never catch her again.

But it was Friday night in Vegas, and going back to her room seemed beyond depressing. Friday night in the second week of November and she was alone when all of her siblings were happily married—half siblings, too, and there were four of those.

She was the only single Bravo left in Justice Creek. Too soon, it would be Thanksgiving and then it would be Christmas, with all those family get-togethers where everyone would be coupled up but her. Even her aggravating widowed mother was getting remarried.

And, one of these days, Nell wanted to be married, too.

Unfortunately, only once in her life had she found a guy who really made it happen for her. That guy was standing in front of her now. And he just wouldn’t let it go. He kept coming after her. With him constantly popping up every time she turned around, how was she supposed to stop comparing every guy she met to him?

It just wasn’t right. It needed to stop.

But running away from him had gotten her nowhere.

“One drink, Nellie,” he said again, his voice a rough-tender temptation, his eyes eating her up and, at the same time, daring her to look away.

What could it hurt, really? Maybe she would actually get through to him at last.

Maybe tonight he would finally get the message. They could speak reasonably to each other and she could convince him to give up the chase. Come to think of it, she hadn’t tried talking to him civilly, woman to man, yet. And walking away time after time just wasn’t cutting it.

She sucked in a slow breath. “One drink.”

For about half a second, he looked totally stunned, the way he had all those years and years ago, when she’d taken the desk in front of him the first day of sophomore English and then turned around and grinned at him. He’d gaped at her, his expression one of complete shock. But only for a moment. Then he’d looked away. She remembered staring at the side view of his Adam’s apple, thinking he was hot, even though one of his battered sneakers had a hole in the toe, his shirt screamed hand-me-down and his hair looked like he’d cut it himself.

He was lean and rangy then, his shoulders broad but not thick, more hungry looking, like some wild animal, always ready to run. It had taken her weeks to get him to talk to her. And by then, she was a goner. She’d just known he was the guy for her.

Wrong.

The grown-up Deck had lost the stunned look. Once again, he was supremely confident, totally at ease. He said, “Well, all right then, Nellie. I know just the place.”