Authors: Melissa Foster
Romancing My Love
ove in Bloom Series
This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher. The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal right to publish all the materials in this book.
ROMANCING MY LOVE
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2014 Melissa Foster
This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Cover Design: Natasha Brown
WORLD LITERARY PRESS
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
A Note to Readers
If this is your first Braden book, then you have a whole family of loyal, sexy, and wickedly naughty Bradens to catch up on. Hal and Adriana Braden have six children (featured in the first six Braden books). This book features one of Hal Braden’s nephews, Pierce Braden. Pierce has five siblings as well, and he is the son of Hal’s sister, Catherine. When I finished writing the first six Braden books, the demand for more lovable Bradens was overwhelming. I hope you enjoy the Braden cousins as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about them. But don’t expect Catherine’s children to be the same as Hal’s. They’re a little edgier, but just as warm and wonderful. In
Romancing My Love
, you will meet Pierce Braden and Rebecca Rivera. Rebecca’s trying to pull her life back together after the devastating loss of her mother. She’s fierce, protective of reputation, and has an enormous heart, but she’s nothing like the women Pierce is used to. Hang on to your seat, because they’re about to take you on a wild ride.
Romancing My Love
is the ninth book in The Bradens and the seventeenth book in the Love in Bloom series. While it may be read as a stand-alone novel, for even more enjoyment you may want to read the rest of the Love in Bloom novels (Snow Sisters, The Bradens, The Remingtons & Seaside Summers).
For anyone who feels like it’s you against the world
All it takes is a single moment for your life to change
You just have to be open to it
PRAISE FOR MELISSA FOSTER
“Contemporary romance at its hottest. Each Braden sibling left me craving the next. Sensual, sexy, and satisfying, the Braden series is a captivating blend of the dance between lust, love, and life.”
—Bestselling author Keri Nola, LMHC
(on The Bradens)
“[LOVERS AT HEART] Foster’s tale of stubborn yet persistent love takes us on a heartbreaking and soul-searing journey.”
“Smart, uplifting, and beautifully layered.
I couldn’t put it down!”
—National bestselling author Jane Porter
SISTERS IN LOVE
“Steamy love scenes, emotionally charged drama, and a family-driven story make this the perfect story for any romance reader.”
—Midwest Book Review (on
SISTERS IN BLOOM
“HAVE NO SHAME is a powerful testimony to love and the progressive, logical evolution of social consciousness, with an outcome that readers will find engrossing, unexpected, and ultimately eye-opening.”
—Midwest Book Review
“TRACES OF KARA is psychological suspense at its best, weaving a tight-knit plot, unrelenting action, and tense moments that don’t let up and ending in a fiery, unpredictable revelation.”
—Midwest Book Review
“[MEGAN’S WAY] A wonderful, warm, and thought-provoking story…a deep and moving book that speaks to men as well as women, and I urge you all to put it on your reading list.”
“[CHASING AMANDA] Secrets make this tale outstanding.”
“COME BACK TO ME is a hauntingly beautiful love story set against the backdrop of betrayal in a broken world.”
—Bestselling author Sue Harrison
PIERCE BRADEN NEEDED to relax. He’d had a damn hard day. He’d sat through too many meetings, strategizing over the potential acquisition of the Grand Casino, a local property that he’d been eyeing for three years. Not to mention that he’d forgotten to turn on his phone that morning and missed calls from both his mother and one of his brothers, and when he’d called them back, they’d given him crap about it. The last thing he needed was to be fawned over by his employees, but when you owned most of the happening digs around Reno, and several more around the world, there weren’t many places he could go unnoticed. King’s Bar was a dive on the outskirts of town, and he hoped, a place he could just fucking relax.
He was crossing the dance floor to the bar when the scent of Curious—a perfume he hadn’t smelled in a decade—wafted past, trailing a hot, curvy ass, which was attached to a woman blazing a path toward the door. He didn’t blame her. The place reeked of alcohol and testosterone.
Some drunk guy stopped her, and Pierce watched as she turned on the guy. Holy shit. She was a hell of a lot more than a great ass. She was scorching hot, with dark—and at the moment, angry—eyes, heavy breasts, and a sweet little waist.
Another greasy-haired, sweaty guy grabbed her, and Pierce circled back, fire rushing through his veins. He couldn’t watch drunken assholes manhandle a woman. He took a step toward helping her as the guy leaned in close, his lips about to assail hers.
Through gritted teeth, she said in a low growl, “Let go of me.”
Before Pierce could push through the gathering crowd, the woman kneed the asshole in the groin, and when he doubled over with a loud groan, she grabbed his massive shoulders and slammed his face into her knee. His friend stepped in behind him, and the woman clocked the guy who was doubled over with a right cross to his chin, sending him sprawling backward against his friend. They both stumbled into a group of people. Pierce set a threatening, narrow-eyed stare on the asshole, then grabbed the woman’s arm and dragged her toward the door before the guy decided to retaliate or the manager kicked her out. She flailed and fought against his grip. Her body was trembling, and when the cool night air hit her, she blinked several times, as if she were trying to regain control. After what he’d just witnessed, he knew she could protect herself, but it was the momentary flash of vulnerability in her eyes that kept his hand on her arm.
“Let me go,” she demanded. “God, what is it about men grabbing me tonight?”
“I’m sorry. I was just trying to help by getting you out of there before the manager called the cops.” Pierce released her arm.
“Oh, he would have loved that. The jerk.” She shook her head.
“You’re shivering. Here, take my shirt.” He took off his Armani dress shirt and draped it over her bare shoulders, covering her tank top and leaving him in his undershirt.
She shrugged off the shirt and stepped back. “I’m fine.”
Pierce caught the shirt in one hand as it sailed toward the ground. “Okay. I just thought you might be cold. Can I get you a cab?”
She looked up and down the street, giving Pierce a moment to assess the feisty brunette. Her hair had been pinned up when he first noticed her inside the bar, and during the fight the messy bun had slipped to the nape of her neck. She had sharp features—a pointy chin, high cheekbones, thin lips, and a nose that perked up at the end. They might have looked harsh, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, perhaps elfin, on any other woman, but her dark eyes were big and round, softening all those sharp edges into a mask of angry seduction.
“Cab? No, thanks.” She drew in a deep breath and put her hands on her hips.
He wanted to put his hands on her hips.
Pierce was thirty-six years old and had more money than he could ever spend and more women than nights to pleasure them. He was the supreme bachelor. He’d give his own life to protect his family, but when it came to women outside of his family, they had always been expendable.
Ever since two of his younger brothers, Wes and Luke, had fallen in love, and he’d watched their lives transform into blissful coupledom with women they adored, he’d begun to wonder if he was missing out. Now, this delicious, angry, slightly vulnerable woman was sparking a familiar spike in adrenaline, tugging at the protective urges that were reserved for his family, and he couldn’t let her just walk away. She seemed anything but expendable.
She walked away while he stood there in a fog of confusion over the instant desire to protect her when she obviously didn’t need him. He caught up to her a few steps later.
“Okay, no cabs. My car’s in the garage around the corner. I could drive you home.”
She continued walking at a fast pace. “Thanks. I really appreciate it, but I can walk.” Her tone was still incensed. She shoved her hands in the pockets of her jeans, and her slim shoulders rounded forward against the chilly night air. It was just after eleven, still early by Reno standards.
Why on earth he couldn’t walk away when she clearly wanted him to was a mystery to him. She was gorgeous, but hot women were a dime a dozen in Pierce’s circles. He wasn’t used to being turned down, even for just a drink or a ride, and could barely believe she had done so. Pierce was a man who was used to getting what he wanted, and she was too fine to give up that easily. He could think of no reason for her to turn him down, except…He wondered if she thought he frequented that dive of a bar and was judging him by those surroundings.
What the hell was she doing there, anyway?
“I don’t usually hang out there,” he explained.
She stopped walking and finally turned to face him. He didn’t even know her name, but when he saw that the anger in her eyes had been replaced by a well of sadness, he wanted to fold her into his arms until the sadness that turned the edges of her lips down disappeared. He thought of his younger sister, Emily. If Emily looked as sad as this woman, he hoped someone would be there to make her feel safe without any ulterior motive.
“Look, you seem like a nice enough guy, but I’m not a damsel in distress, okay? Some jerks took the brunt of a really bad night.” She shrugged as if it were commonplace for her to deck a guy in a bar. “I’m fine. They didn’t even call the cops, so he must be fine. Go do your thing and I’ll go do mine, okay?” Her words were strong, but her voice wasn’t quite as determined, and her eyes—those big, beautiful, sad eyes—gave her heartache away.
“How about I make sure you get home okay?” Pierce offered.
“You don’t have to.” She began walking again.
“I know. But if you go around decking every guy who bugs you, your arms are bound to get tired.” They turned down another street. “You’ll need backup.”
She smiled, and the tension around her eyes and her sweet lips eased. He felt her resolve softening. She rubbed the goose bumps that pebbled her arms. “I have pretty strong arms.”
“No doubt, but it’s chilly out. How about if I buy you a cup of coffee?”
She stopped walking again and tilted her head. In the fluorescent lights of the main drag, her eyes changed again. Pierce had never met such a chameleon. She no longer looked angry or devastatingly sad; she looked feminine and a little fragile. But he already knew better than to say that to her.
“Pierce,” he said.
“Pierce? Is that your real name or some kind of casino or stage name?” She crossed her arms and jutted one curvy hip out to the side.
He ran his hand through his thick dark hair. “Apparently, my mother thought I needed a casino name.”
Most women dig my name
She smiled again, and it shot a strange sensation to the center of his chest. “Well,
, I really appreciate your efforts to help me. I’m sorry if I seem ungrateful. It’s just been an
night. But really, I’m not looking for a guy to buy me a drink, or to hook up, or any of that.” She dragged her eyes down his body. At six three and two hundred and ten pounds of solid muscle, Pierce knew he was irresistible to women, and now that she’d finally looked at him, he readied himself for her acceptance of his offer.
“Besides, my mother warned me about men who look like you.” She drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “So, I thank you, and I bid you a good night.”
Are you fucking kidding me? Your mother warned you?
He forced his ego aside for a second before he said something he shouldn’t and focused on her choice of words, which were equally as surprising.
“Bid me? Now who belongs in a casino?”
“Good one.” She walked backward, lengthening the distance between them.
“Just tell me your name,” he called.
She narrowed her eyes, and her mouth quirked up at the edge, taking her from sexy to goddamn cute and making her even more intriguing.
“Ronda Rousy,” she answered, then spun on her heels and disappeared around the corner.
Ronda Rousy, my ass.
Ronda Rousy was one of the best mixed martial arts fighters, and attractive as hell.
You’re one hundred times as pretty and one hundred times as clever.
He headed back toward his car, wondering how in the hell he’d concentrate on anything else with “Ronda’s” sassy personality and her red-hot image seared into his mind.
REBECCA WALKED BACK toward the parking garage where she’d left her car, thinking about Pierce and forcing the memories of the terrible night away before she collapsed to her knees in a puddle of tears—or boiled in fury and punched someone else.
God, I punched a guy—and Pierce saw it all
. When he’d dragged her from the bar, she couldn’t hear past the blood rushing through her ears, but she’d sensed people moving away, and she’d seen fear and surprise on their faces; then everything blurred together as Pierce dragged her quaking and shivering self out of the bar and into the night.
He’d been as determined to change her mind about the drive home as she was to stand firm. She’d almost caved under the weight of his beguiling dark eyes. That tight undershirt left every drool-worthy muscle on display. Not to mention that all six feet something of pure male sexuality beckoned to her private parts, which she thought she’d turned off years ago.
. What type of name was that, anyway?
. She rolled it over in her mind, imagined saying it in a dark bedroom atop satin sheets, with his thighs pressed to hers.
Don’t even go there, Rebecca
She hadn’t had a social life of any sort in three years. It was kind of hard to focus on anything other than the business classes she took and caring for her ailing mother, especially toward the end of her mother’s life. Not for the first time in the last six weeks, her eyes teared up. It wasn’t because of the fight she’d had with her boss, or the fact that she told him he could shove the damn job up his scrawny ass. No. That was nothing new in Rebecca’s life, either. She was thinking of the last moments with her mother, before she closed her eyes for the final time and the last puff of air left her lungs. Before Rebecca was left alone in this crazy world.
Magda Rivera had always been the picture of health, at least from the outside. But that had been an illusion. Cancer was an unfair assailant that snuck in when they weren’t looking and stole pieces of her mother, consuming her until her very last breath. Now her mother’s ashes lay in an urn in the safe of her previous landlord’s office. Mr. Fralin had been nice enough to hold the urn for her until she found a permanent place to live.
She took the elevator in the Astral resort parking garage to the fifth floor, where she’d left her car. She loathed this part of the evening. The parking garage was at least ten degrees colder than the street, and even though Rebecca had been coming
to it for three days now, she knew it would never lose the icy chill of concrete. She surveyed her surroundings as she crossed the dimly lit parking garage and noticed a man getting out of his car at the far end of the lot. She slipped into the driver’s seat of her 1999 Toyota Corolla and waited for him to enter the elevator before putting up the sunshades on the windows and reclining her seat. She’d only been staying in her car for three days, since she’d had to give up her apartment for lack of rent money, but three days of worrying about being caught in her car felt like three years. She had excuses at the ready, just in case security banged on her window in the middle of the night.
I didn’t want to drive after drinking too much
was her favorite excuse. Who could argue with that in the garage of a casino?
As soon as she had enough money saved, she’d find a room to rent. She missed the privacy of her tiny efficiency. Before her mother’s illness, when Rebecca had rented her own apartment and had a normal life for a twentysomething woman, she’d made it a practice never to take men back to her apartment. Her home was her private oasis, and she liked to keep it that way. She thought about how nice it would be to go home at the end of the day and kick her feet up on her own couch, in her own living room. Now that she’d quit her job, finding a room to rent would be pushed back for God only knew how long. She could have kicked herself for quitting. Why hadn’t she just shut her mouth and let Martin the asshole yell at her for the millionth time? Her mother’s voice floated through her mind.
mi dulce niña,
She closed her eyes and rested her head back, wondering what her mother would think of her
living in her car
Rebecca didn’t rue her circumstances. Mr. Fralin had been kind enough to allow her and her mother to stay in their apartment rent free during the final two months of her mother’s life. Rebecca had been at her side every minute until the end, making it impossible for her to hold a job, and her mother had earned so little money when she was healthy that even her disability didn’t cover their bills. Not to mention that her mother hadn’t realized she was responsible for paying taxes on the disability income because her employer had paid for the insurance premiums. Rebecca was still working to pay off the debt her mother had accrued during her illness—it was the least she could do for the woman who gave up so much of her own life for her. Luckily, Mr. Fralin was a generous man, and he’d allowed Rebecca to remain in the apartment for almost six weeks after her mother had died, while Rebecca tried to pull herself together. Mr. Fralin did all he could, but he needed the rent money, and once again, Rebecca did what she had to in order to survive. Not wanting to be any more of a burden on Mr. Fralin, she found the pride she’d set aside to ensure her mother’s comfort, and she’d moved out of the apartment and into her car.