Monday, November 22, 2021

Read an Excerpt from Fool Me Once by Jessica McBrayer



What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas.

Chemistry has never been a problem between Reese Stone, the owner of the New Orleans Cajuns, and Sophie Taggart, the big sister of the Cajuns' starting goalie. The two have danced around each other for four long years until one bachelor-bachelorette party in Vegas changes everything.

After a wild night, where shots of tequila may or may not have been involved, Sophie and Reese wake up with matching wedding rings, an official marriage certificate, and hazy memories of the night before. The newlyweds decide to get an annulment so they can take a step back and get to know each other better before making such a big commitment. That is until they find out that someone sold pictures of them leaving the chapel. The news of their marriage goes viral.

With sponsors watching Reese's every move, waiting for him to mess up so they can pull out, and with the NHL waiting for him to mismanage his team, Reese must make sure his reputation stays above reproach. He's a famous billionaire and the youngest team owner there has ever been. His management style is unorthodox and it's made a lot of people nervous. What looks like a one-night stand turned quickie marriage, has the potential to damage Reese's tenuous standing. A hasty divorce would make it even worse.

As if Reese's life isn't crazy enough, a stalker turned cult leader, who has been harassing him since his software development years. It's only a matter of time before Father Isaiah, the cult leader of an anti-tech 'church', figures out Sophie is Reese's weak spot and targets her.

To keep her safe and to let his critics have a chance to quiet down, they agree to stay married for six months and then quietly get divorced.

But Reese doesn't want to let Sophie go. And he's going to work damn hard to make all his troubles go away and find a way to convince her to stay with him after the six months end.

Even with help, it's proving difficult to eliminate all the threats against them. The danger is mounting and Reese's only concern is for his wife. He could care less if his whole damn world burns to the ground as long as he and Sophie are left standing at the end.

But it might already be too late for that.

Fool Me Once is the third book in the New Orleans Cajuns hockey romance series. It incorporates familiar characters from the Savannah Heat and Force Security world.

Chapter 1. Sophie

“Gah! You know it isn’t easy planning a joint bachelor and bachelorette party with people from two hockey teams. I’m trying to coordinate travel between two cities to Vegas, reserve enough rooms, activities, shows. The list is endless. The least you can do is make sure I have a steady supply of licorice, little brother,” I said. I couldn’t believe I was out of licorice and not one peanut M&M in the entire house.

My little brother Ty, the New Orleans Cajuns' starting goalie and soon to be married to my best friend, rubbed his temples. Honestly, I don’t know what he had to be stressed about, I was doing all the work.

“Sophie—” I held my hand up to shut him up, but he batted it away. “Sophie! You need to relax. You’re driving poor Lis crazy. Haven’t you noticed all the extra shifts she’s been taking lately? It’s to get away from all your crazy. You know, we could’ve done all this here, or not had one at all,” he said. My mouth dropped open and I blinked a couple times before poking him in the chest.

“I can’t believe you said that.” It hurt. I just wanted him and Lis to have everything and show them how much I loved them. “It’s my duty to my brother and my best friend to organize this. I want you to have one big blowout before you tie the knot. Vegas is the only place for something that spectacular,” I said.

Ty pulled me into his arms and kissed my forehead. We were only ten months apart, having more of a twin dynamic than an older sister younger brother relationship. Ty sighed and let me go.

“I know, Soph, and Lis, and I appreciate it. But you’re making yourself insane and us too. Is it worth all this? We’re pretty easy going. We don’t need the big sendoff,” he said.

“Yes, but won’t it be great to see all the Heat guys and their wives and spend some time with them? I know you miss them and haven’t been able to see them as much as you want to. Plus, it’s a grown-up only, kind of trip, so you can all get a little crazy. When they come back for the wedding, the next week, many of them will bring their kids, and there won’t be any time at the wedding to talk. You and Lis will be too busy with all your guests,” I said.

“You’re right. I miss those guys. Their wives, too. I can’t wait to see them. I just wanted you to know that if this is too much, we wouldn’t mind something simpler,” he said.

“Nope. No. Not happening. I’m in full planning mode now. I’ve got a group text started with everyone’s wives and girlfriends. I have the single people on another one. I’ll get everything put together. But you have to keep me supplied with licorice. Oh, and more M&Ms and I wouldn’t be opposed to Cheetos. Please,” I asked while batting my eyelashes at him. He finally grinned.

“We can’t have you going without the basics. I’ll run out and get you stocked up now. Take a break until I get back.” He pulled me into another hug. “I love you, Soph. Thank you.” My heart melted. That right there is why I would walk across hot coals for my brother. I already loved Lis as a sister and would do the same for her.

I waved bye to Ty and let out a long breath. We’d been the three amigos as kids. Then after being separated for fifteen years after Lis’ parents’ death, we’d reconnected. Fate, pure and simple. Cosmic intervention, planets aligning, whatever you wanted to call it. It happened and I couldn’t be happier. Really, I was. But there was that nagging voice buried deep down that kept telling me that the world was moving on and I was stuck. Part of me mourned that the three of us weren’t still kids with no worries. Now we were all grown up. I’d just turned thirty-three. Time was slipping by fast. We had real-life responsibilities, and it weighed a free spirit like me down.

I wanted to be loved like Lis, and Ty loved each other. I tried to keep my jealousy to myself, because it wasn’t their fault, and we didn’t have that kind of relationship. We all supported each other in everything. But my envy would rear its ugly head sometimes. When that happened, I’d bury myself in work until I could remind myself that it was okay to be alone right now. I had my business, and I had my brother and best friend. Living with them was a gift, and we had seamlessly fallen into an easy groove within days of moving into Ty’s big house.

It's not like I haven’t dated since moving to New Orleans. I could always get a date for one of Ty’s team’s special events and charities or the occasional dinner. But my interest in them fizzled out after going on a few dates. Even I knew I was a lot to handle. It’s not like I was high maintenance. I liked a spa day like any girl, but it wasn’t a necessity. I didn’t spend a fortune on my wardrobe or hours getting ready. I did have what others have described as a quirky disposition. I loved life and tried to live it to its fullest. I was a creative person and thrived in a bit of chaos. I was social and sometimes would drive my brother and Lisette crazy with my extroverted behavior. They were perfectly happy hanging out at night, cooking, and binging Netflix. Me? I liked the energy of being around people. In a lot of ways, New Orleans really suited me. The city was alive.

I left the main house and went back to the little carriage house where the office I shared with Lis was. My phone had been blowing up and I’m sure it was one of the group texts. I was loving talking to all the Cajuns ladies and the wives from Savannah. I was slowly getting to know the others from Savannah through texting. It was obvious how close-knit a group the families were. It honored me to be accepted so quickly into their ranks. I think that kind of family was developing with the Cajuns too. I know Reese, the hunk that shall not be drooled over, was trying to encourage that.

Reese Stone. I noticed him right after Ty and I moved here. Ty introduced us and was mortified by how I talked to him the first time we met. Reese laughed long and hard at what I had said, though. Somehow, I knew he could handle my personality. Now I shamelessly flirted with him whenever we met at some function or a game. I’d noticed him checking me out from the corner of my eye quite a few times. He had this sexy, nerdish vibe going on. I had stalked him online, trying to learn everything about who he was. Bottom line, he was brilliant. I could never find a mention of a social life besides a name for one woman he took to one of the official Cajuns’ functions. I shouldn’t have been happy about how unsocial he was, or even cared, but I did. Ty said he was unconventional, and that made the NHL nervous. Reese had to walk a tight line to keep from irritating sponsors and pleasing the NHL, even with the team doing so well. That kind of scrutiny had to eat at you.

He’d brought a date to all the events the Cajuns hosted, but I could tell they were only place holders. He never paid much attention to them. He wasn’t mean, just didn’t appear interested. They were typical eye candy that I’m sure were a dime a dozen for a man like him, but like I said, he didn’t seem into that kind of thing. I expected that he’d bring someone, so he did. What I wouldn’t give for one night with him. No sex, just talking and doing something fun. I could tell a lot about a person by what they thought a good time entailed.

I answered texts, finalized the booking for shows at the Luxor and Excalibur. Yes! So much fun! The Luxor had Vegas’ number one female revue, Fantasy, for the guys. They touted it as the best bachelor party in Vegas. We ladies were going to the Excalibur to the Thunder from Down Under male revue. Number one in the world and let me tell you from the pictures, whew, swoon-worthy. I had to pull a lot of strings to get enough tickets for both shows because they are booked out for months. Lis is going to die from embarrassment. It will be my job to liquor her up, so she lets loose. I’d let the ladies know what I was planning, and it wasn’t long before I started getting texts. I smiled to myself as I opened up our group text.

Megan: I can’t believe we’re going to see the Thunder from Down Under! I just looked them up and holy shit! Jude would kill me if he knew. Then I looked up Fantasy and knew he wouldn’t be able to say a thing after seeing their show. Do you think one of those Aussie boys would take a picture with me? Do they even do something like that?

Rachel: If they don’t, we’ll crash their dressing room. I bet we’d get some memorable pictures there.

Me: You guys are trouble! I see a bail bondsman in our future!

Julie: Nah, we’ll have the Judge get us out of any stalking charges we might incur. I vote for crashing backstage.

Me: *Rolls Eyes* Isn’t the Judge Ivan Alexeev, Akiko’s husband?

Megan: Yep. That’s him. Fantastic guy. Don’t you dare tell me, Sophie, that you wouldn’t be the first one through the door to that dressing room.

Me: maybe…

Rachel: Maybe my ass!

Julie: Time to feed the kiddo, talk later.

Megan: Yeah, me too

Rachel: Me three. Bye Soph!

I sat back in my chair, grinning. This trip was going to be fun. If someone didn’t need bailing out before the end of the weekend, then I didn’t do my job! We’d probably need the Judge before it was all over, and Ty would lose his shit. The Judge, a former Heat player, had retired and put his law degree to good use.

I had finally settled on the Bellagio for our hotel, and they had been very accommodating once I dropped enough names. They set me up with a suite for everyone, including a penthouse suite for Lis and Ty. Each of the groups was going to pay for their own rooms. I had to use Ty’s credit card to reserve everything, but then the guys were going to pay when they checked in. Just another one of the many things I’d had to sort out. Ryan, Ty’s best man, was the Heat’s starting goalie and the guy who mentored my brother when he was just starting out in the NHL. He was also married to the daughter of one of the Heat’s owners. Her dad was going to let the Savannah tribe use his jet. Reese, he who must not be drooled on, was flying everyone from New Orleans on the team jet. He told Ty that his jet wasn’t big enough to fit everyone, so he would reimburse the team for the use of their jet, even though technically it was his. Whatever. I just knew we had a ride.

Now I had to find that link for the penis necklaces I’d heard about. I want the girls to wear them to the stripper show. I hope they ship overnight…


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