“The very fact that you worry about being a good mom means that you already are one.” —Jodi Picoult
Of all the things Molly Princeton understood for certain, there was one thing in particular she had no doubts about—a woman was only as confident as her underwear.
For real, she’d ask anyone to hear her out on this point. A girl could always spit shine the outside, but it was what lay underneath that told the true story.
This was the reason she generally wore lace.
Lace, unfortunately, that no one but herself ever saw. She sighed, a disappointed sigh that came from deep within the soul.
Today, however, her life theory was thrown into a bit of a pickle, seeing as she wore no underwear at all.
The no undies thing? Not her fault.
Well, maybe a little her fault. She was the one who had forgotten to pack undies that wouldn’t show through the silk sheath dress her bestie Rachel had picked out for her as the maid of honor at her wedding.
A wedding in the total boonies where there was no Nordstrom’s or even a Walmart to grab something that wouldn’t leave a panty line. Thus…she might as well join the Army because she was commando.
“Let’s ask Kaiya. I bet she has a whole new package,” Rachel said, looking up to the vaulted ceiling of the bedroom they were using to prepare for her fast-approaching wedding. Her makeup artist applied a touch of jawline shadow before moving on to the powder foundation. “Or you could just take me up on my offer.”
Nope. Nuh-uh. Molly had a firm don’t share underwear rule.
“I’m not asking Kaiya. I’m not asking anyone.” Molly said. Her issue was hers alone. Unfortunately.
And, really, it wasn’t a big deal. The dress Rachel had picked for her, in a gorgeous blue silk, kissed the carpet, so no one was going to see up her skirt, anyway. Even with a gust of wind.
Molly’s bestie and the bride-of-the-day did not need to concern herself with Molly’s undergarment situation. She really shouldn’t have said anything.
Except they usually shared everything with each other, and she’d vented to her friend about her ability to forget something so important.
But perhaps this might even be the change she needed to get out of the rut her dating life had been in for the past nine years. Of course, no one knew how deep the rut had become. No one except Rachel, who wouldn’t ever say a word about it. Best friend code, and all that.
No one could know.
Molly gave dating advice on a popular MyTube channel as her profession. Good dating advice, given the number of wedding invitations she’d collected from those who had used her tips in the past. Enough viewers tuned in regularly that she was able to pay her bills with sponsorships, and a few years ago had given up the nine-to-five office gig she had always loathed.
“Kaiya always brings spares of everything.” Rachel turned as the makeup artist adjusted her angle. “Brand new spares for just this kind of emergency.”
This was true. Kaiya brought extra of everything. For everyone.
She was their prepared friend.
Also, their multi-level marketing friend. Kaiya discovered this skin care system when she was traveling through Eastern Asia, visiting her family there, and, honest to God, it was better than lace underwear that didn’t show through silk. Kaiya brought the system to the States and sold the heck out of facial creams and serums. Rumor had it, they’d be branching into color cosmetics soon, too.
“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Molly said. “You’ve got other things to worry about other than my inability to remember important clothing items.”
“I,” Rachel said with a huge grin, “am not worried about anything. I have Evelyn for that.”
Evelyn was Rachel’s soon-to-be, and also former, mother-in-law. It was complicated.
“I love Evelyn,” Molly said. This was true. What she’d give to have someone with the persistence of Evelyn on Team Molly. They could move mountains together.
Rachel already knew what that felt like.
The Evelyn thing.
“You only love her because you’ve never had her as a mother-in-law.” Rachel raised her eyebrows. “I happen to know all her quirks. Fake cat included.”
“And you don’t love her?” Molly asked. The fake cat Evelyn always talked about in lieu of her emotions was brilliant as far as Molly was concerned.
“Oh, I love her,” Rachel assured. “She wouldn’t have it any other way. But I still can’t believe I’m signing up for this again.”
Mmm hmm, Rachel was marrying the brother of her ex. Some might think that was unconventional. Molly held a different opinion. She’d seen the spark from the beginning. Thus, this wedding was not a surprise, not to her.
Besides, Gavin—Rachel’s ex—was very…unappealing.
Yes, that was a good word for him. The perfect word.
Molly absolutely understood why Rachel had ditched him. Though ditched might be an extreme assessment. There was no ditching. Their relationship had been like a wet sparkler: the fizzle at the end was spot on, but they’d never really had that initial blaze to push them through for any length of time.
Oh, for sure, Gavin was very attractive—in the carnal sense. Broad shoulders, black hair he kept just long enough to touch his ears, and a face that would make even Calvin Klein want to pan up from the boxer briefs, just to glimpse perfection.
But he was a nonstarter. The kind of guy who was perfectly pretty, but that was about it.
“You look like you’re thinking about Gavin,” Rachel said with a laugh. “Or you accidentally ate a bug.”
“Well, I was. The Gavin part, not the bug, ew.” Thinking of Gavin always made Molly’s mouth pucker like she’d indulged in one of her eight-year-old son Oliver’s Sour Patch Kids gummies.
“While I appreciate your commitment to me”—Rachel closed her eyes as the artist applied eyeshadow—“I have to remind you that Gavin’s not a bad guy. Be nice to him today. Please.”
The bad guy thing? That was debatable as far as Molly was concerned. She dropped her shoulders, shook them out.
“Best behavior.” She made a cross over her heart.
Rachel rolled her eyes.
Fine, Molly hadn’t liked how he relied on Rachel for everything regarding the care of the two kids they had together. Their boys were best friends with Molly’s son, Oliver.
Yes, recently, Gavin had stepped up. Molly was required as a human being with eyeballs to notice. She was not, however, required to forgive him for the years he had slacked.
Molly didn’t appreciate slacker baby-daddies—seeing as she had one of her own and understood first-hand how hard life could be on a single mom. Exhaustingly hard. Frustratingly hard.
A small child-support check every month didn’t take that hard away.
“He’s been amazing about the wedding,” Rachel continued. “And he didn’t have to be.”
No, he didn’t. He could’ve made the fact that Rachel had fallen in love with his brother a whole thing, and he hadn’t. Point in his favor. That made it, what? Like, two points? Out of a billion?
“I’m glad that the wedding thing hasn’t caused a rift,” Molly said, because she was relieved that Rachel was well on her way to forever future happiness and a wedding that would be worthy of every magazine spread.
She wanted that for herself—forever future happiness, not the princess wedding. Though she wouldn’t object, it’d never been part of her happily ever after dream package. Truly, most of her life wasn’t part of that dream package. She rolled with it.
Even the fancy maid of honor treatment she’d received from the makeup team and the designer gown had been princess worthy. The hair stylist had gone above and beyond with Molly’s unruly black curls. She’d wrangled the beast of a mane into submission, and it actually looked…good. Half pinned up, half falling over her shoulders. She’d really wished she’d made time to go to one of those spray-on tan places so the difference between her dark hair and oh-so-pale skin wouldn’t have been so in-your-face.
There hadn’t been time. And the good places charged a lot. And Ollie had needed new cleats for baseball.
“I want to hear all about you and Dan the Man.” Rachel drew out the name of Molly’s wedding date.
Sort of date. They hadn’t travelled to the location together—he was good friends with the groom, so he was attending anyway. Given that the wedding was a small affair, and he knew Molly from Little League practice where he was one of the coaches, it made sense that they agreed to attend together. Sit together at dinner. Avoid awkward small talk with other people. All that.
She’d agreed to his suggestion without hesitation, even though her track record with first dates was more than a bit of an issue.
“I haven’t even seen him yet.” Molly willed a spark to flash when she saw him today. The sparkler kind with lots of fizzy firework attraction.
Up to this point there had been no voltage between them. But he was a handsome guy, and he liked kids, and she was getting a touch desperate. Who trusted a dating advice guru who never went on more than a first date because she always found a better match for her guy than…well…herself?
“I like him.” Rachel waggled her blonde, perfectly threaded brows. “I think there’s something special about the way he looks at you.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? Molly scraped away the hope bubbling up and pushed it aside.
“Maybe.” Molly could really go for something special in her life.
Perhaps the no panties thing might just be her ticket out of her rut. Change things up underneath and it would shine through to the surface.
She should mention that in her video series next week. Maybe Dan would give her lots of ideas to work with.
Uh-huh. Today would be different. Dear God, please let it be different.
“Do you need anything?” Molly asked.
Rachel’s makeup was nearly done. They’d accented all her best features, but they’d made her blue eyes the center of attention. And it worked. Rachel’s blonde hair had been teased and then pulled into a loose chignon at her neck. She could be a model for a bridal magazine.
She even had some pretty kick-ass lingerie under it all. Molly had helped her pick it out.
And Rachel hadn’t forgotten it. Because she was the organized friend.
Molly was more the hot mess friend.
But today was about Rachel. Everyone was heading down to the dock in about fifteen minutes to watch her best friend marry the man she was meant to be with.
“Is there a Coke in the fridge?” Rachel asked, stretching her neck to the side. “I’d kill for a soda right now.”
Molly moved to the mini-fridge and knelt to open the door. Several bottles of white wine lined the shelves, a few bottles of water, but no soda.
“No.” She stood. “I’ll go grab one from the catering staff.”
“You’re my favorite friend right now,” Rachel said, standing so the makeup artist could check her work in the light near the window.
“I’m your favorite friend all the time,” Molly countered, because it was true. She and Rachel knew more about the other than they did themselves.
She didn’t even try to fight the grin smeared across her face as she headed for the kitchen. This was her first time at the infamous lake house where the Frank family summered and concocted new plans for their Puffle Yum Toaster Tart empire. Seriously, that’s how the family had made its fortune.
Deep in thought about how they got their blueberry tarts to be the same funky shade of teal as her current dress, she turned the corner to the kitchen and stalled mid-step.
Gavin stood near the sink with his twin boys and Ollie. He leaned in, whispering something that left the boys in stitches.
He glanced up, and his gaze snagged uncomfortably with hers—like she’d run her hand the wrong way on a piece of textured fabric. Then he smiled like he meant it. Which was bananas. He didn’t get to smile at her like that.
A curt nod was what he got in reply as she did her best saunter toward the refrigerator.
She glanced back at him with her kiddo, who was intently eating a toaster pastry and laughing with his buddies. Gavin leaned in again, saying something to Ollie that she couldn’t catch from across the room.
Ollie pulled a face.
Gavin nudged his arm.
Her kiddo pulled his lips to the side and said, “You look pretty, Mom.”
Her heart dipped. That was…sweet.
“Bud.” Gavin shook his head. “We’ve got to work on your game. Be specific when you’re complimenting someone.”
“His compliment is fine. You don’t need to micromanage my kid’s compliments.” Molly said the last part under her breath.
“I do when he needs to up his game,” Gavin said, also under his breath.
Reluctant, she glanced over her shoulder to toss some glare daggers his way. Hey, it was sort of their thing.
Ollie stared at her, thoughtful, his tongue flicking to a crumb of toaster pastry at the corner of his lips. Finally, he seemed to settle on something—
“I like what you did to your face,” Ollie said cheerfully.
She smirked. “Thanks, kiddo.”
“The dress is a pretty color,” the oldest twin, Kellan, added.
“Thank you, Kellan. That’s very specific. Your mom picked it out.” She gave him a smile for his effort while ignoring his dad.
“That dress makes your butt look small,” Brady—the younger—added.
“Brady.” Gavin shook his head. “No. Don’t mention her bum.”
“For the first time ever, I agree with your dad. No one mention my tush.” Molly shook her head. “But thanks for the complimentary effort.”
“What?” Brady said, apparently ready to defend himself. “It’s true. Mom says clothes are best when they make her butt look smaller.”
“Okay.” Molly closed the door to the fridge for a moment. “You shouldn’t compliment anything about a person that has to do with things in their swimsuit area.”
“Why are girls so weird, dad?” Brady asked with what seemed to be genuine curiosity.
“That is an excellent question.” Gavin shrugged. “We may never know the answer.”
That’s it, she was going to kick him in the nuts—right in his swimsuit area.
“He’s right. You do look pretty.” Gavin smiled again.
“Too little, too late,” she said, mentally tossing a few more daggers his direction. “You’ll need to up your game.”
“Be specific.” Ollie raised his little eyebrows at Gavin.
“I’m good.” Molly smoothed her dress. “I don’t need specifics.”
She pulled open the door to the refrigerator and scanned the shelves. Every soda lining the shelves was of the Pepsi product variety. Damn. Rachel wanted a Coke. This was her big day. If that’s what she wanted, then Molly would figure it out.
“That color blue makes you look like a real-life princess,” Gavin said from behind her, his deep voice rumbling over her nerve endings and stirring up butterflies she’d expressly reserved for Dan. “It suits you.”
What was his game?
She cleared her throat and threw up the wall she was so excellent at erecting. “You look handsome yourself.” Well, he did.
“I had a haircut,” he said, like this was a big deal and he deserved a gold star.
Before Ollie could tell her to be specific, she said, “Your ears are looking very symmetrical today, and I like the way the tuxedo helps you keep track of Ollie so I can fulfill my wedding duties.” The wink she tossed at the end was added to mess with him. This was her way.
He chuckled. “Yes, ma’am. We all clean up nice.”
She turned back to the fridge. Still no Coke.
She pinched her lips together.
“Everything okay?” Gavin asked, and dammit all, he was right there beside her staring into the Coke-less void with her. Didn’t he have a swamp to go lounge in or something?
“Rachel wants a Coke.” Molly forced herself not to bite at her bottom lip. The makeup artist who had troweled on Molly’s look had done a brilliant job. Now it was Molly’s job not to do anything to muck it up—like nibble at her lips.
“I don’t think staring at the shelf is going to make one appear.” He inched just a tad closer to her. “But I’m willing to try if you are.”
“Har.” She willed her feet to step away from him and lifted her hand to rub at the space between her eyebrows, but stopped herself. No. Messing. With. The. Makeup.
“Did you check the pantry?” Kellan asked, pointing toward a door near the back of the kitchen. “Maybe they’re in that refrigerator.”
“Were you going to mention the other fridge?” Molly asked, tossing more eye daggers at Gavin.
He nodded. Pulled his lips to the side. “I was getting to it.”
Molly gritted her teeth—another few minutes with Gavin and she’d need some serious dental work. “I’m not wearing enough underwear to deal with you right now.”
“I have no idea what that means.”
“Yep.” Molly popped her lips and said quietly so only Gavin could hear, “Probably best you don’t know that I’m not wearing underwear right now.”
His lips parted. His cheeks flushed. “I’ll check the butler’s pantry.”
Gavin turned and strode away.
Molly’s face heated. Gavin did not need to know about her underwear situation. Ever.
He returned with two familiar red mini-cans with a white swish on them. “Apparently, Mama hides the Coke in the back of that one.”
“Oh, thank hell.” Molly scooted forward to him as he passed over the soda.
“You’re welcome,” he said, like he was the one who recommended that refrigerator.
“Thank you, Kellan.” She held up the cans to him. “For these.”
Kellan kicked his feet against the cabinets. “You’re welcome.”
Despite what anyone who saw her in that moment might think, she did not bolt away from the kitchen. No, she didn’t saunter like she wished she had. But she didn’t run. No. She didn’t.
That was her story. She was sticking to it.
What she should have done was look up before plowing into her date for the night.
“Oh my gosh.” She held up the cans, careful they didn’t get shaken up in the head-on collision.
Dan reached out to steady her.
“Hey, you,” he said.
“Hey…you.” Nothing. She felt nothing. The butterflies she had been dreaming of dancing all around her belly were totally, traitorously silent.
Reaching for his arm, she gave it a not-at-all-awkward squeeze, willing a spark to flare.
“I’m—” She held up the sodas. “On a mission to give the bride something to drink.”
Dan gave her a lopsided smile and his eyes freaking twinkled. Her nerve endings were dormant. Dead. Not interested in him at all.
This was ridiculous.
He eyed the drinks in her palms. “Well, I happen to think there’s something special about a woman who is prepared.”
Well, then, crap, he was gonna have to keep looking. Because that was not her.
She forced a smile as Kaiya rounded the corner behind Dan. She waved to Molly, hurrying toward her, her glossy black hair swishing as she moved with purpose. The subtle bow shape of her red-glossed lips pursed, and the beige skin of her cheeks pinked, apparently from hustling on her search to solve the undies situation.
Two brand new packages of Fruit of the Loom undies were in her grip. Seeing Dan, she tucked them at her side so it wasn’t so obvious what she had. “Rachel said you have an issue. I have a solution.”
Dan turned to Kaiya and drank her in like she was one of the Cokes in Molly’s grip.
And the Molly first-date-curse struck again.
“Dan, I’d like you to meet my friend Kaiya,” Molly said, already preparing herself for their upcoming wedding announcement.
© 2021 Christina Hovland. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the author and Entangled Publishing.
Molly Princeton hasn’t met the right guy. Yes, she’s a dating coach. But she’s also a single mom with a rocky relationship history. She may be able to help others find love, but she doesn’t really need it in her life. Happiness doesn’t require falling in love. Winning a matchmaker competition however requires being part of a couple. And darn it, she needs to win this one. That’s when she sets her sights on Gavin Frank—the one man she would absolutely never fall in love with.
Gavin is her nemesis, her best friend’s ex, and yeah, okay, he’s sexy as sin. He’s also off limits. But she’s out of other options. Plus Gavin could use a fake relationship to keep his meddling mother from setting up blind dates with every available woman in the Mile High City. There’s no way he’d fall for Molly. None. Nada.
The two quickly learn there’s a thin line between hate and love, and she finds herself tipping onto the wrong side. For the first time, she doesn’t have all the answers. What the heck is she supposed to do next? Lucky for her, Gavin realizes there’s something about Molly he can’t resist…
Romance Contemporary | Romance Comedy [Entangled: Amara, On Sale: September 20, 2021, e-Book, ISBN: 9781649372369 / eISBN: 9781649372369]
Christina Hovland lives her own version of a fairy tale—an artisan chocolatier by day and romance writer by night. Born in Colorado, Christina received a degree in journalism from Colorado State University. Before opening her chocolate company, Christina’s career spanned from the television newsroom to managing an award-winning public relations firm. She’s a recovering overachiever and perfectionist with a love of cupcakes and dinner she doesn’t have to cook herself. A 2017 Golden Heart® finalist, she lives in Colorado with her first-boyfriend-turned-husband, four children, and the sweetest dog around.
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