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Authors: Nicola Marsh

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

Romance for Cynics

BOOK: Romance for Cynics
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Must. Not. Fall. For. Fake. Boyfriend.

Cashel Burgess’s PR team has come up with a plan to salvage his reputation and show his “softer” side by entering him in a Valentine’s Day competition to find Australia’s Most Romantic Couple. It’s so ridiculous it might actually work. The hitch? He doesn’t even have a girlfriend. But that’s not about to stop him….

Thanks to a good-for-nothing ex, gardener Lucy Grant hates Valentine’s Day. But when Cash makes her an offer too good to refuse, Lucy finds herself half of the most cynical couple in Australia! The only problem is, when a man fakes it this well, a girl might be tempted to turn fiction into fact….

SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT FROM

ROMANCE FOR CYNICS

Cash wrenched his mouth from hers and they stared at each other in stunned silence, their chests heaving, breathing ragged.

Lucy couldn’t tear her gaze away from Cash’s.

He didn’t look like a guy who was acting.

He looked as smitten as she was.

“You’d do anything for the cameras,” she said, eager to break the unbearable tension between them.

He ducked his head to whisper in her ear. “If that was you playacting, sweetheart, I’ll double your fee.”

She tossed her head. “Okay. So we kissed. Big deal.”

“We’re attracted to each other.” He ran a fingertip down her cheek. “It’s not a crime to admit it.”

Lucy gritted her teeth. No way could she admit to wanting Cash.

The last thing she needed was to get involved in some weird half-assed relationship that had started out fake and yet involved very real sex.

Sex?
Yikes. She really was in trouble.

Dear Reader,

Valentine’s Day can inspire mixed feelings in people.

If you’re part of a romantic couple, the pressure’s on for your better half to impress with grand gestures.

If you’re single, you harbor hopes that a secret admirer will finally declare his undying love while trying not to turn a pale shade of green as your BFF’s partner lavishes her with gifts and flowers.

For confirmed romance cynics like Lucy and Cash, Valentine’s Day can be summed up in a few words: overcommercialized claptrap for gullible fools!

So what happens when these two cynics must fake a relationship for a week in the lead-up to the big day?

Will true love win over the most hardened hearts?

I had so much fun having Lucy and Cash deal with a variety of romantic situations designed to taunt and challenge.

The outcome?

This confirmed romantic is not telling.

You’ll need to read the book to find out!

Happy reading!

Nicola

www.NicolaMarsh.com

ROMANCE
FOR CYNICS

Nicola Marsh

ABOUT NICOLA MARSH

Nicola Marsh has always had a passion for writing and reading. As a young girl she devoured books when she should have been sleeping, and later kept a diary, whose contents could be an epic themselves!

These days, when she’s not enjoying life with her husband and sons in her home city of Melbourne, she’s at her computer, creating the romances she loves in her dream job.

Visit Nicola’s website, at
www.nicolamarsh.com
, for the latest news of her books.

Other Harlequin® KISS™ titles by Nicola Marsh:

What the Paparazzi Didn’t See
Her Deal with the Devil

This and other titles by Nicola Marsh are available in ebook format from
www.Harlequin.com
.

This one is for my dedicated readers and fellow romantics who believe true love will always triumph.

May all your happily-ever-afters be a heartbeat away.

ONE

‘This is a
screw-up of monumental proportions.’ Cashel Burgess flung the daily newspaper on his desk and glared at the offending print.

Maybe if he stared at it hard enough this whole damn mess would disappear.

As if.

‘That’ll teach you for dating beautiful bimbos.’ Barton Clegg, an old college buddy who had the power to get him out of this godforsaken mess, pointed at the picture in the paper. ‘She’s a stunner all right, but Cash?’ Barton made a gesture resembling grabbing him by the balls and twisting. ‘She’s got you by these, mate.’

‘Tell me something I don’t know.’ Cash pushed away from his desk, stood and resumed pacing, something he’d been doing way too much of since he’d learned the starlet he’d given financial advice to over a long lunch was concocting some twisted version of what had happened between the veal scaloppini and tiramisu.

‘Why did you call me over?’

‘Damage control.’ Cash stopped pacing and stabbed a finger at the paper. ‘You know I lost a packet when that overseas bank went under. And now this. If I lose clients over some slighted woman’s concocted BS...’ Cash shook his head. ‘The PR firm you work for is the best in the business. I need you to boost my profile to overshadow this crap.’

He turned the newspaper over before he did something crazy. Like stab a letter opener through the woman’s heart.

Bart shook his head. ‘We’re not taking on new clients at the moment, you know that.’

Cash frowned and stared down his soon-to-be former best friend. ‘You owe me after I got your ass out of trouble the night the dean bailed you up following that butt-out-the-back-window-of-the-uni-bus prank.’

Bart grinned like a goofball. ‘Those were the days.’

Cash rolled his eyes. ‘You’re a putz.’

‘A putz that’s going to get you out of a fix, apparently.’ Bart swivelled on the ergonomic chair. ‘I can put in a good word for you but it won’t do any good...’

A frown momentarily creased Bart’s brow before he snapped his fingers and leaped from the chair. ‘There is a way the firm can take you on. Guaranteed.’

Relieved he’d found a way out of this mess, Cash nodded. ‘Whatever it is, I’ll do it.’

A knowing grin spread across his friend’s face. ‘Sure?’

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Cash perched on the edge of his desk. ‘As you so delicately implied, that woman has my balls in a vice, so yeah, I’ll do anything.’

‘Fine. Then all you need to do is find yourself a girlfriend for a week.’

‘What the—?’

‘The firm’s running a massive fundraiser in the lead up to Valentine’s Day. A week-long love-in, where couples do a bunch of mushy stuff together, get filmed, soundbites get posted on the firm’s website and people vote for the most romantic couple.’ Bart’s smug grin widened. ‘You wanted positive PR. What could be better than raising a stack of cash for a good cause while being viewed by millions? Oh, and make sure your
girlfriend
is clean and wholesome, the opposite of your usual arm candy.’

Speechless, Cash gaped at his friend. ‘Are you freaking crazy? Where the hell do I find a girlfriend for a week?’

Bart waved away his concern. ‘Minor details.’ He strolled towards the massive French windows overlooking the sprawling lawn of Cash’s Williamstown mansion. ‘I’m sure you’ll figure something out.’

Cash’s fingers curled into fists. This couldn’t be happening. Bad enough he’d lost a bundle after following a bad investment tip from one of the best in the business, an old college mentor.

But having some scorned woman spreading gossip and innuendo about him because he’d knocked her back? That was something else. She was damaging his reputation in an industry where reputation was everything.

He gave financial advice to the stars. Australia’s elite actors and musicians came to him when they wanted to invest their money. And he’d built a considerable fortune from it.

He liked money. Liked the comfort derived from seeing cold, hard cash accumulate in the bank, providing security and reliability. Two things he’d never had growing up.

With the threat of his cash source drying up, Cash had turned to Bart. His mate’s solution sounded easy enough but he couldn’t exactly pull a girlfriend out of thin air.

Bart wolf-whistled. ‘Hey, what about her?’

‘Who?’

‘The hottie in the obscenely tight shorts.’

Cash crossed to the window, where Bart had his nosed pressed against the glass like a hormonal teenager.

‘Lucy? You’re kidding, right?’

Lucy Grant, his gardener, would be the last woman he’d ask to be his fake girlfriend for a week.

The woman despised him.

Not that she’d ever said or done anything overt, but she gave off an air of untouchability that made him want to ruffle her.

So he’d tried. Several times. Whenever they crossed paths, he’d flirt with her. Deliberately taunting, trying to get a rise out of her.

Nada.

Her hands-off aura intrigued him a little, but he hadn’t given her aloofness much thought. Except those odd times he’d been taking a business call and found himself at this very window, copping a very nice eyeful of firm ass, long legs and B-cups in a tight tank top.

Watching Lucy stride as she mowed his lawn or bend over as she clipped hedges made working from home that much more pleasurable.

In fact, he timed his rare workdays from home with her fortnightly gardening visits. Maybe she’d crack one of these days and give him a smile? Doubtful, considering the death glare she’d shot him this morning when they’d crossed paths on the back patio.

‘Why not?’ Bart peeled his nose away from the window with reluctance. ‘The firm only has room for one more couple and they’re closing applications today.’ He tapped the side of his nose. ‘I put in a good word for you and you’re in. Guaranteed.’

‘You’re nuts,’ Cash said, his gaze unwittingly drifting to where Lucy stood near the front gate, pruning with her usual efficiency.

For all he knew, Lucy had a hubby and a string of dirt-smudged rug-rats at home. Though she didn’t wear a ring...not that it meant anything. Probably took it off for safety reasons while working.

Cash shook his head. ‘I don’t know the woman.’

‘No time like the present to get to know her.’ Bart glanced at his watch. ‘I need to head back to the office and I need your answer now. You in?’

Tension knotted the muscles in Cash’s neck. The last thing he felt like doing was parade around for seven days acting like a lovestruck fool.

But his business was everything. He’d worked too long and too hard to let it suffer because of circumstances beyond his control.

He’d approached Bart because he needed positive PR. But Valentine’s Day? Seriously?

‘Three...two...one...’ Bart made a buzzing sound and Cash nodded.

‘Fine. I’ll do it.’

Bart smirked as he shrugged into his suit jacket. ‘So who’s the lucky lady going to be?’

‘Leave that to me,’ Cash said, mentally scrolling through his list of female friends and coming up empty.

Half of them he’d dated and would never go there again. The other half wanted more and would see this week of lovey-dovey crap as a full-blown declaration.

Uh-uh. He needed someone without any romantic illusions.

Someone without any view to the future.

Someone without cunning, ulterior motives or the urge to shackle him to a ball and chain.

As he walked Bart out and Lucy acknowledged him with a curt nod, he knew.

He needed someone like Lucy.

* * *

‘Damn it.’ Lucy’s pruning shears slipped and she hacked off a chunk of ivy leaf violet when Cash appeared at the front door.

The guy had that effect on her. The ability to raise her hackles and make her want to chop something off—not of the flora variety.

Not his fault entirely, that she had a healthy disregard for millionaires in slick suits. It was a personal aversion, one she’d honed to a fine art nine years ago.

And Cash seemed more charming than most, with his ready smile and quick wit. But that was what put her on guard: his ability to flirt without trying, his easy-going approach when she knew it would be a practiced façade presented to the world.

Go-getters like him wouldn’t get anywhere if they were that laid-back all the time. And she knew enough about her number one client Cashel Burgess, courtesy of Google, to assume he would be a tiger in the boardroom.

Self-made millionaire by the time he was twenty-eight. High IQ, skipped a year at high school. Economics degree. MBA. Impressive jobs at elite actuary firms before opening his own financial advisory business to the stars.

He moved in A-list circles, often gracing the social pages and gossip columns in Melbourne media. Par for the course, considering he always had a busty blonde actress on his arm. She half expected to see the entire female cast of Melbourne’s top-rating soap opera stroll out of his house the mornings she worked here, but surprisingly she’d never seen a woman do the walk of shame out of his enviable mansion. Perhaps he spirited them away out the back.

No, she didn’t trust guys who behaved one way in public and another in private. Which was why she preferred ignoring him when they crossed paths every two weeks.

She knew her aloofness was why he deliberately went out of his way to seek her out. He saw her coolness as a challenge. She didn’t let it bother her. If anything, she notched her haughtiness up further. No way in hell would she ever let down her guard, because then she might have to face reality: that a small part of her was super attracted to the whole casually mussed brown hair, piercing blue eyes, chiselled jaw, dimpled smile thing he had going on.

Unfathomable. And wrong on so many levels, considering she’d vowed to never go for a suit again.

Must be her dating drought making her secretly lust after her boss. Maybe she should say yes the next time the guy at the hardware shop asked her out?

Cash’s visitor slid into a Porsche and backed out of the drive with a jaunty wave in her direction. She managed a terse nod in response and gripped the pruning shears, ready to resume work.

However, rather than heading back into the house, Cash started down the path towards her.

Crap.

They’d already done their usual him-flirt-her-avoid dance this morning so what did he want now? An encore?

She opened the shears then snapped them shut with a loud metallic clink that carried clear across the garden and she could’ve sworn she saw Cash falter, wince or both. Probably wishful thinking but she did it again for good measure.

‘Is that a warning?’ he said, eyeing the shears with a mix of wariness and amusement.

The corners of her mouth twitched against her better judgement. ‘No, but it could be if you keep hassling me while I’m trying to work.’

He smiled and the impact of those lips curving hit her somewhere in the vicinity of her solar plexus. ‘Why don’t you put the DIY castrating tool down so we can talk?’

This time, she couldn’t stop the laughter spilling from her lips. ‘About?’

‘Wow.’ He clutched his heart and staggered a little. ‘You’re gorgeous when you smile.’

‘And you’re full of it.’ She waved the shears in his direction. ‘What do you want?’

He flinched. ‘Not that.’

Damn, she loved sparring with a quick-witted guy. And if she were completely honest with herself, she missed it. Missed the fun of swapping banter with a guy who could fire back.

‘I’m busy—’

‘I really need to talk to you.’ His sincerity scared her as much as his overt flirting. ‘Would you like to come inside for a drink?’

‘No thanks.’ She shook her head. Bad enough bumping into him outside. No way would she set foot inside his place and risk pining for what she’d once had.

She’d put her past behind her a long time ago but she’d be lying if she didn’t admit there were times when she missed the luxury, the wealth, the glamour. ‘What’s up? Is it my work—?’

‘No, nothing like that.’ He huffed out a breath and for the first time since she’d started working for the tycoon six months ago via referral, he appeared uncertain and unsure. And damn, if that hint of vulnerability didn’t make him all the more appealing.

‘I have a problem I need your help with.’ A frown appeared between his brows. ‘Actually, it’s more than a problem. More like an impending catastrophe.’

Her curiosity was piqued. ‘Unless it has something to do with your jasmine wilting or your compost needing mulching, not sure what I can do to help.’

His frown eased as his mouth lost its pinched quirk. ‘This isn’t a gardening matter.’

‘Then I’m not sure what I can do—’

‘I need a fake girlfriend for a week and you’d be perfect.’

BOOK: Romance for Cynics
7.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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