{Excerpt} His Southern Sweetheart by:Carolyn Hector

his-southern-sweetheart-by-carolyn-hectorChapter 1

With the four-hundred-thread-count eggshell-colored Egyptian cotton sheets tangled around her feet, Amelia Marlow kicked the material off the edge of the bed and wrapped her legs around the muscular calves of her partner. Their chests rose and fell in unison in the afterglow of their phenomenal evening of marathon love making.

“So,” they both breathed at the same time.

A sly grin spread across her face at the way the two of them had hit off, from the time they met at the bar to the last wave of their orgasms. If she didn’t know any better, she would have expected their first meeting to have been scripted. Six-foot-two with golden-bronze skin poured over steel muscles that no T-shirt could hide. His eyes were emerald green and had been focused on her the moment he filled the bar doorway. Hot didn’t even begin to describe this man. Like every woman there, he’d caught her attention the minute he walked in. Who knew a couple of hours ago, when he’d walked directly over to her and offered to buy her a drink, that they’d end up with a night cap in her hotel room? The first few moments, their conversation had been a string of flirty awkwardness and now here they were, speaking at the same time.

“You first,” he said.

“Didn’t I already?” Amelia replied with a purr.

He turned his head and pressed his lips against her bare shoulder. “I thought we might want to exchange names.”

The point of a one-night stand meant no need to exchange names. She raised her brows. “You first.”

“Nate,” he said, squaring his jaw. “Nate Reyes.”

The roll of his R across his tongue set a ripple of a reminder of his talents a few moments ago. “Amelia, Amelia Marlow.”

Nate Reyes rolled to his right side, rested his head against his propped-up elbow and began to trace a pattern down from her chin to the center between her breasts with his forefinger. Subconsciously Amelia rested her hands against her stomach in attempt to make her breast, perky. The point of her elbow brushed against the hard contours of his ripped abs.

“And may I further say,” she began, despite the heat rising up from her chest across her cheekbones, “this honestly isn’t the type of thing I go around doing.”

His response came in a casual shrug. “Whatever the reason, I’m glad you did. I enjoyed myself this evening.”

“Me too.”

The last time Amelia took a break from her job was probably never. Ever since the world had become enamored with reality shows, being on top of her game had become a necessity. As a field producer for MET, she’d found that personal relationships dwindled. Right now she was on the fast track for a seat on the throne as one of Multi-Ethnic Television’s future showrunners. Amelia busted her ass as a runner, becoming a field producer, following around the station’s biggest reality celebrities as they tweeted across the globe. Some days her current job seemed more like a glorified baby sitter. Reality TV celebrity Natalia Ruiz was becoming bored with being followed twenty-four-seven for her hit show, Azúcar. When a star was bored, so were the viewers. Amelia shook her head to get her job out of her mind. Why think about work when a smoking hot man lay naked beside her?

“I want to see you again.”

“I am only in Atlanta for the weekend. I’m checking out tomorrow.” Amelia shook her head left to right. Strands of hair brushed against her dewy skin. The cute flip hairstyle she’d gotten done today now flopped. He was worth it.

“So am I.” Nate rolled onto his back. “We need to do this again, soon.”

Amelia shifted to her side and faced him. She wished she hadn’t kicked the sheets to the floor. Instead of hiding her not-so-toned frame with covers, she curled her knees up to her chest as much as her non-yoga-perfected body would allow. Why hadn’t she taken some lessons during the Azúcar episode with Natalia?

“My schedule is demanding,” Amelia began. She had no time for relationships with her jet-setting schedule. The red light of the digital clock on the nightstand on the other side of the bed read sometime after midnight. She was surprised she hadn’t heard from her executive producer or the cameramen. Did she seriously get a few hours to herself? Well, she countered herself, not all by herself.

Nate lifted his almond-shaped eyes to hers. The faint smell of coconut rum lingered on his full lips. He had a low Caesar-style haircut and the most delectable caramel skin. A half sleeve of petroglyphs or a tribal tattoo decorated the length of his muscular biceps. Thanks to interning as a part of the camera crew for MET’s show featuring tattoo artists, she understood the sun design to be part of a Taíno Indian culture. Amelia’s heart fluttered with excitement for remembering the detail.

“So this seriously going to be a one-night stand?”

“I believe we need to think of tonight as one special moment,” Amelia sighed. “I need to get back to work.”

“It’s after midnight.” Nate propped himself up on his elbow and raised his brows.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, contorting the upper half of her body over the side of the bed. Her hands searched around on the floor for the slacks she’d kicked out of and came across her navy, polka-dot bra and panties. As she tucked the undergarments in her hand her fingertips brushed across the soft beige carpet, reading it like Braille for the pants until she found the hem strewn halfway across her hotel floor. The material of her pants was rolled over a shoe or a heel. She was glad the lamp lights were off. She’d have hated to see clearly what the room looked like. As it was, the full moon’s light spilled from the balcony’s open drapes and offered a view of the wreckage they’d created from tearing off each other’s clothes. She was sure they’d knocked everything off the dresser in their state of passion.

“What kind of work forces you out after midnight?” asked Nate before choking on a stifled laugh. “Wait, do I want to know?”

From her awkward angle, Amelia playfully tapped her foot against his broad chest. He captured her by the heel and kissed her big toe. Amelia jumped forward, found her cell phone and sat upright in the bed. She swore as the blue light indicating a message flashed furiously. The mattress behind her dipped and the heat from Nate’s body warmed her backside when he pulled her into his arms. As she tried to read her messages on her phone, his arms caressed the swell of her breasts. Amelia sunk into the warmth of him. Perhaps she had a few more minutes to respond to the swelling erection pressed against her backside. A rueful smile crept across her face, knowing she probably needed to stock up on sex. Lord only knew when she’d meet a man like this again.

The trail of kisses he left on her collarbone sizzled against her skin. Desire throbbed through every inch of her body. The shrill of her phone filled the silent room, shocking her system much like a bucket of ice dumped on her.

“Do you need to answer your phone?” he asked, kissing the tip of her earlobe and moving toward the side of her mouth. His large hands moved from down her ribcage to the V of her thighs.

“No,” she gasped. The phone stopped ringing. A half second later someone banged on her hotel door. Amelia turned the lights on by the switch beside her bed. “But I must answer that.”

“Should I hide?” he asked, making no move to do so or effort to cover his naked and ready body.

The pounding on the door rattled the frame, the extra lock jingling against the bolt. Amelia jumped into her slacks, sans undergarments, turning her back to him as she zipped and buttoned herself. She cast a glance over her shoulder and raised a brow. “Are you in the habit of finding women who make you hide afterwards?”

“Touché.”

Her phone began to ring again and this time when she glanced Natalia’s face appeared on the caller ID. From the other side of the door, her current boss banged and began to yell her name. Amelia’s eyes cringed with embarrassment as William Vickers cursed.

“Oh, hell no.” Nate moved from the bed. Naked, he stormed toward the door with his hand stretched outward for the doorknob. “Boyfriend or not, no man should speak to you this way.”

“Wait!” Partly panicked and partly impressed with Nate’s chivalry, Amelia rolled her eyes and sighed. She missed the gallantry of men these days. In the production world, manners were seriously lacking. “He’s kind of my boss, not my boyfriend, and if you don’t mind, I need you to step into the bathroom.”

“Why?”

Amelia’s eyes drifted to his naked, hard frame. It’d be a shame to have to cover or hide a beautiful body such as his. “Whatever’s going on with my job, I don’t want him thinking it was because of a romp in the hay.”

For a half a minute, while William continued to knock, Nate stood in front of her, staring her down. Reluctantly he turned to head toward the bathroom. The view from behind was just as beautiful. “And it’s a bed, not hay,” he mumbled before closing the door.

Once the other door clicked closed, Amelia crossed the room and opened the door just a crack. “Are you crazy?”

William, mobile showrunner of MET, stood stock-still, hand raised in the air. Still dressed in a pin-striped business suit from the editing dinner, he narrowed his dark eyes at Amelia. He craned his neck to try and peer in through the crack she kept open. “What the hell are you up to?” His bulbous nostrils flared with his question.

“Sleeping?”

“You’re a field producer of a reality show where it is your job to follow your star around.”

“And she’s asleep,” Amelia gritted out between her teeth.

Of all the people to come and tell her how to do her job, William standing here irritated her the most. They’d both started out at MET as runners for cable television reality shows, doing errands for the directors, showrunners and field producers. They’d both vied the same executive producer opening. And while William might have been the mobile showrunner with all the power to make creative and directive decisions, everyone on set listened to Amelia. She and her group of cameramen had their jobs down pat. William wanted this assignment for the chance to work with the Caribbean royal family, the Ruizes. Everyone at MET wanted the chance to head over to the Ruiz compound in San Juan, Puerto Rico to film footage for Azúcar. Thanks to the quick friendship she and Natalia had forged, Amelia had earned the honors to work with the icon for the commercial.

“You sure?” William bared his teeth while his upper lip curled. His puffy hand thrust forward, shoving his cell phone toward her face. Amelia’s already blown-out back ached from the base of her spine as she leaned backwards to focus on the picture of Natalia having an intimate dinner with a bearded stranger. The corners of William’s mouth turned upward and his eyes roamed the part of the body visible through the door. Amelia reached for the phone but William pulled it away. “You dropped the ball in order to get your beauty rest.”

“She said she was going to bed and I am allowed some personal time.”

“For as long as you’ve been babysitting her,” William gritted, “when did say she wanted a quiet evening?”

Jesus, no wonder Natalia had been so sweet this evening. How long had she been planning this rendezvous? And who was this mystery man? Amelia documented Natalia’s life practically twenty-four hours out of the day. She’d never seen the man on the screen. Only the side of his face showed from William’s phone, but Amelia knew if she waited long enough, more pictures would be plastered over the internet. “Where is she now?”

“Hell if I know. Whoever is blogging said the two of them parted and went their separate ways after dinner. Damn shame we didn’t get any of this on film. Do you understand what our ratings would be like? If Natalia’s ready to start dating, we could have a bachelorette spinoff.”

Ratings were not an issue for Amelia as long as Natalia stayed interested in being in the public eye. Lately, however, she hadn’t enjoyed it too much—neither of them. The closer she grew to Natalia, the more Amelia liked her. They were friends. Unlike Natalia, Amelia was a far cry from an heiress.

“Are you even listening to me?” William’s bark snapped Amelia out of her pity party.

She straightened her spine and shook her head while closing her door. “Give me a minute and I’ll go find her.” The door clicked closed, locking William out of her life for a brief moment.

“She’s not in her room,” William shouted from the other side of the door.

Dressed, Nate stepped out from the bathroom. Amelia’s heart sunk with disappointment. She gave him a half smile and inhaled deeply as he crossed the room toward her.

“I take it you’ve got to go?”

“Sorry,” she mumbled, her eyes focused on the center of his defined chest. The maroon V-neck T-shirt he wore hugged his pecs and arms. The first thing about him she’d spotted was his bicep when he reached across the bar downstairs to pay for a round of drinks. She’d always adored a man with nice arms.

“Did you at least enjoy yourself?” Nate asked, stopping inches from her. His gaze focused on her lips.

“Hell yeah.” Amelia anticipated his hug and opened her arms. Somehow being in his embrace she felt safe, warm, as if everything was going to be okay—but it wasn’t. Her tryst this evening might come with a cost—her job. Was he worth it? Nate’s arms closed tighter around her waist and he effortlessly lifted her into the air while planting a stream of kisses along her collarbone. Goose bumps began to swarm her forearms. A wicked wave of passion fluttered between her legs. Dear Lord Jesus, yes, this man was worth it.

“I plan on seeing you again,” Nate declared, setting her on her feet.

“I wouldn’t bet the farm.” Amelia half smiled. “I am a pretty busy woman.”

“I like farms.” Nate perked up. His dark chocolate eyes lit up with curiosity. “What do you know about farms?”

“Boy, please,” she said, pushing at his chest playfully. “We may have just met, but don’t be fooled by the manicure. Trust me, I spent my summers on my grandmamma’s farm in rural Georgia eating peaches straight from the tree.”

“How rural?” Her body moved forward when Nate tugged at the button of her slacks. “I love me a country girl.”

“We’re talking one street light downtown, you blink and you miss it.”

“Keep talking.” He stroked his long index finger against her earlobe and down the curve of her jaw. “You’re turning me on.”

“I wish I had the time.”

“We have to do this again,” he said, leaving a trail of kisses where his fingers had touched moments ago.

Flames of desire flickered in the pit of her stomach. A television pitch popped into her head.

Dear MET executives,

              Instead of airing a highlight segment on the best fights of our reality shows, how about the best hookups of                   seasons past? Better yet, best one-night-stands, complete with a where-is-he-now segment.

              Sincerely,
              Amelia

The phone in her hand began to ring. This time instead of Natalia’s face, Amelia’s mother’s face appeared. Amelia’s heart thumped against her ribcage. Cynthia Marlow never called after nine. “Maybe. I’ll leave my info at the desk, but right now I’ve got to take this call.”

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” he teased, leaning forward to brush a kiss against her cheek. Any other given time, Amelia would have extracted her business card, her real one, and encouraged him to definitely use the number. But right now, for her mama to call after midnight, something was up.

“I’ll let you take your call,” he said as he reached behind her to open the door, “and get some coffee for us.”

Amelia half smiled while watching him walk away, appreciating the view. She closed the door behind her and exhaled a deep breath. What on earth had she been thinking tonight?

“Amelia? Amelia, darling, are you there?”

For a moment Amelia had forgotten her mother until she heard her father, Howard Marlow, question whether or not she was on the line. She tapped the speaker button and fanned her face with her free hand. “Hi, Mama, it’s late, what’s going on?”

“Amelia, honey, it’s your grandmamma.”

*

Nate Reyes stood by his motto, No complications. Yet, since his encounter with the reality show producer a week ago, his life seemed anything but. He wasn’t supposed to daydream about what she was doing. He wasn’t supposed to stop being interested in other women. Yet she consumed him.

“Can we stop this now, Uncle Nate?”

The words registered in Nate’s brain, but he did not acknowledge them until his niece Kimber exhaled a droll sigh. As he tried not to laugh at Kimber’s irritation, the pink feathers of the boa he wore around his neck flittered and stuck to the pink lip gloss he’d worn at the insistence of his other niece, five-year-old Philly. Nate glanced up from the tiny pink porcelain cup of air-tea in time for the dramatic eye roll. For the last forty minutes, Kimber had refused to partake in the semi-formal tea party her sister had set up for them.

“Sorry, Tío Nate,” Kimber corrected herself with a heavy Spanish accent and clearer sarcasm.

In the span of eight months, Nate had uprooted his life to move from Atlanta to settle down in Southwood, Georgia, to raise his two nieces in their childhood home after his brother Ken and sister-in-law, Betty, had passed away. Named legal guardians, Nate and his older brother, Stephen, didn’t have a fight on their hands for custody of their nieces. Betty’s parents were too old to take care of the girls and Nate’s parents lived on Villa San Juan, a small island off the northwest coast of Florida.

Between him and Stephen, they’d seamlessly transitioned themselves into a daily part of the girls’ lives by bringing their real estate business down south. With the help of Stephen’s soon-to-be fiancée, Lexi Pendergrass, the clan now had a stable touch of femininity. They’d even managed to take Kimber and Philly on an overdue visit to the paternal grandmother, when, Nate’s mother had noticed the lack of Puerto Rican cultural influence in the way the girls were growing up. And somehow the blame was placed on Nate and Stephen.

“My bad,” Nate said, setting the dainty cup on its matching saucer with a clatter. He shifted in the small pink seat. Truth be told, he wanted to end this activity but he’d promised Philly a tea party if she could spend one full day without wearing her well-earned tiara from her beauty pageant last weekend. People in Southwood thought Philly waltzing around town with her pageant crown was cute, but if she scratched the back windows of his SUV any more he was going to have to replace them. Thanks to the heaviness of the twelve-inch Swarovski tiara, the walls in the house leading up the stairs were scraped. Everyone in the family had scratches on their arms from Philly standing too close and turning her head. Even the wooden headboard of Philly’s twin bed suffered from deep grooves because she slept with the crown.

“May I be excused now?” asked Kimber.

“Are you finished with your tea?” Nate asked with a lopsided grin. He leaned forward to peer into his oldest niece’s cup, which she angled toward him with another eye roll.

“You didn’t finish your cookies.” Philly pointed out the stack of burnt premade desserts the woman in the grocery store had promised would be easy to make.

Nate cleared his throat and nodded his head toward the cookies. Kimber’s mouth widened with disbelief.

“This is beyond punishment,” Kimber mumbled. “This is cruel and unusual.”

Burning the cookies had totally been his fault. His mind had been elsewhere—in Atlanta and on the sexy producer who’d fled the minute she had the chance. Of course, finding her wouldn’t be hard. He knew Natalia Ruiz personally and if he didn’t his media connections at MET would have come in handy.

Nate’s mind breezed over Amelia once again. Tomorrow would make a week since being with her and she still hadn’t gotten out of his system. The original plan in Atlanta had been to distract her at the bar, buy her a drink or something in order for Stephen to speak with a potential client. Taking her to bed the same night—well, those were the perks of being a great wingman.

A set of keys jingled at the front door and automatically Philly’s face lit up with excitement. A deep “aha” came from Stephen Reyes at the bar separating the dining room and kitchen. He entered; the front door slammed shut and moments later in walked the future Mrs. Stephen Reyes. Lexi Pendergrass, who shook her head in preparation at the banter.

“I expected you to teach them how to gamble,” said Stephen, standing at the bar and staring into the breakfast nook in a two-piece gray suit with a gray-and-blue paisley tie loosened at the throat, “but a tea party?”

“C’mon, bruh, you know when a five-year-old asks you to play tea party, you damn well better play tea party.”

“Oooh,” Kimber and Philly chorused.

“Go ahead and put your cash in the swear jar,” ordered Lexi.

For a split second Nate scowled in Lexi’s direction as she pulled Philly’s chair away from the table. Thanks to the rule Lexi had installed in her pageant dress shop, the swear jar had now made its way to the marble kitchen counter. Nate stood and stepped over his mini chair. Stephen followed him into the kitchen as if to make sure Nate extracted a dollar for the jar. So far they had enough money to take a trip down to Puerto Rico.

“I expected more from you.” Stephen pretended to scold.

“Really?” Nate raised a brow. “You expected more even after asking me for a favor last week?” Albeit, Stephen never asked Nate to go such the distance.

Screwing the top back on the jar he replaced it back on the counter before reaching into the fridge for a cold beer. Lexi appeared in the doorway with Philly on her hip and let out a low whistle. “Do I even want to know?”

“No,” Stephen and Nate chorused.

“Sounds like my cue to leave.” Kimber pushed away from the small table. “Tío Stephen?”

Stephen made an elaborate show of ignoring his niece and keeping his focus straight ahead on Nate, who bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Kimber had Stephen wrapped around her finger.

Sucking her teeth, Kimber remembered. “Tío Stephen?”

“Yes, darling?”

Nate refused to be putty in Kimber’s hand and wasn’t remotely fooled by the sugary tone in her voice. He gave her the props for having the nerve to sweet-talk Stephen after all the scheming she’d done this summer. Recently, Kimber thought she could get away with the bait-and-switch boyfriend trick, saying she was dating an overly studious classmate instead of a football player jock, for fear they wouldn’t approve. They didn’t at first, but Nate and Stephen were growing fond of Philip. On top of the boyfriend issue, Kimber stole a racy dress from Lexi’s Grits and Glam Gowns Boutique in order to impress the jock. He already knew what Kimber was going to ask. Stephen may have laid down the law, but Nate made sure she followed it.

“Am I still grounded?”

“Yes.”

Kimber grunted and balled up her fists as she spun around to stomp up the kitchen steps. The glass patio door leading out to the pool shook. Only when Kimber’s door slammed shut did Nate and Stephen start to laugh.

“That’s your niece,” said Stephen as he shook his head.

“Oh, sure.” Nate sighed. “When they’re good, they’re your nieces, but when they’re bad they’re mine. This is the thanks I get for staying home with them all day long cooking and cleaning?”

Stephen turned and faced Lexi. “Here we go.”

“Look, I am the one getting the kids ready for school, making sure they have their breakfast—”

“Is your cooking really a selling point?” asked Stephen.

Nate restrained the urge to flip his brother the middle finger. “Let’s not forget all the back-to-school forms I’ve been filling out all day long. I swear I provided this same information back in January. We have two kids in the school system. Why can’t there be one form online for them? My damn hand hurts.”

“Well.” Lexi chuckled. “Good luck trying to reform Southwood. In the meantime, I’m going to put our beauty queen to bed. Tomorrow, Nate, you and I can get a mani-pedi. Sound good?”

“Funny,” Nate said, realizing being a third wheel was becoming a nuisance.

“You may want to take her up on her offer, Nate,” said Stephen. “Do something together tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow is Thursday. I’ve got to take the girls school-shopping so I’m not fighting the crowds who also waited until the last minute.”

“I can do it,” offered Lexi. She gave Stephen a wink and Nate rolled his eyes. The main reason the two of them had first met was because Stephen had jumped the gun over the racy dress Kimber wore. He assumed when Kimber said she got the dress from Lexi’s boutique that Lexi sold it to her. “You guys discuss it. The queen and I are going upstairs.”

As Lexi passed by Stephen, he reached out and swatted her behind. “Later, I get to put my beauty queen to bed.”

Nate pretended to gag. Stephen did not show as much constraint with flipping him off. “Domestic life looks good on you, bruh,” Nate teased, passing through the kitchen to the open French doors to the dining room. He sat down at the large maple table.

“Thanks. You ought to try it someday.”

The image of a pair of copper-hued legs wrapping around his waist entered his mind. “One day.”

“So for now you’re still on the market?”

Nate did not like the tone in his brother’s voice. They might not be twins, but Nate understood how Stephen’s mind worked. First he’d try to talk about how something was a great idea and the next thing Nate knew, he’d be volunteering to do his bidding. Nate already knew the stakes.

Earlier today at the grocery store, a few of the ladies he lunched with after church had asked if he planned on doing the fall bachelor auction Saturday night. Proceeds from the benefit went toward supplies for the local schools in four counties, affectionately referred to as Four Points. This fall marked the first time his nieces started school without their parents. The kids had adjusted to their new life and Nate liked to take the credit for their stability.

He also saw himself as the charitable type in most cases, but something about being on stage and having women bid on him frightened him. Since being here the last few months, he’d been the shiny new toy all the single ladies—and not all single—wanted to play with. The last thing he wanted was for any of these southern belles to have to expose themselves by making a spectacle while bidding on him. Lord knew these ladies were not quite proper behind closed doors.

“Slow your roll,” Nate half grinned. “I know where you’re going with this.”

“Then you’ll understand the money you’ll bring in will go toward the school.”

“And time,” Nate added. “This auction offers up services of forty hours of my time. God only knows what will be expected of me if certain people bid on me.”

“So you’ll fix things here and there,” said Stephen. “Business is slow and it’s only forty hours. I am sure I can handle things.”

Nate didn’t have much to do besides refurnishing Lexi’s shop, which she was in no rush to open. He took a seat. “I’ve been in town a lot longer than you. All of a sudden you care?”

“If I plan on staying here and raising my family,” Stephen said with a sly smile.

“Are you trying to tell me Lexi’s pregnant?” Nate asked, leaning forward and widening his eyes. He lowered his voice in case Lexi could hear from upstairs in Philly’s room. “You sly old dog.”

“No,” Stephen frowned, then shook his bald head back and forth, “I am talking about the future. Our future.”

Prior to Ken and Betty passing away, Nate had worked alongside his brothers in a lucrative real estate business in California. They scouted provided the perfect homes and locations for Hollywood directors to film movie scenes. When Ken met his wife and started their family, he moved to Betty’s hometown in Southwood, Georgia. Nate and Stephen, wanting to be near their brother then moved Reyes Realty closer to their brother without being in Southwood. Atlanta, a rising home for television and film, was a perfect location. When Ken passed away they realized in order to better care for their nieces, the brothers committed moving to Southwood.

“Whatever you’re planning, stop.”

“Don’t you want to be a part of the community?” asked Stephen.

“I am, more so than you.” Nate shuffled the cards one good time, then stacked them in the center of the table. The back of the chair supported his weight when he leaned backwards to reach in his pocket for his cell phone. Four missed texts in the last hour from three different women, one a bit antsier than the others. Brittany Foley, his after-school special. Nate grinned. The pre-K teacher had worked with Philly during the transition after Ken died. She also worked on Nate in a more intimate way. He scratched his chin and the hairs where the beard he hadn’t bothered to shave away all week tickled his fingers.

Stephen sighed. “Hooking up with all the ladies in town is not considered being part of the community.”

“Whatever,” he mused. None of the women seemed to compare to Amelia. He dodged them at after school pickup, went different directions down the aisle in the grocery store and hadn’t paid attention to any of his text messages. Prior to Amelia, his messages never went unread. Now, eh. What was wrong with him?

“Speaking of your service…” Stephen cleared his throat before folding his arms across his chest. “You’ve been staying in all week. Something you need to tell me?”

“Like what?” Leave it to Stephen to pay attention to this part of his personal life. When they were kids, Nate had been the nosy one.

“Like something about the woman you distracted for Natalia.”

“Yeah, so much for the private conversation. You two were blasted all over the internet.” The corners of Nate’s mouth turned upside down. The checkout lines were filled with photographs of Stephen and their childhood friend-turned-reality star. They guys knew Natalia way before she and her family became a household name.

Stephen waved off the Nate’s guilt. “Lexi’s fine and we’ve never been better. I have you to thank. Natalia’s looking to leave show business and we’re in charge of finding a remote place for her.”

“You’re welcome, I guess.”

“Want to talk about the woman on your mind?”

“Hell no,” Nate snapped and pushed away from the table.

Stephen threw his hands in the air in surrender. “Sorry, don’t bite my head off.”

Nate waved his cell phone in the air and offered a cocky grin. “I am going to get back into the swing of things.”

“Attaboy.” Stephen began to give a slow clap. “I’m proud of you.”

Lexi bounced down the stairs. Her eyes looked between the two brothers. “Great. You agreed to do it.”

“Do what?” asked Nate. His eyes cut between his brother and Lexi.

Stephen pushed away from the wall and cleared his throat. “We hadn’t gotten around that part yet.”

“What haven’t we gotten around to, big brother?” Nate leaned into the back of the chair, resting his long legs on the seat of the chair across from him.

Lexi stepped forward and flashed her tiara-winning smile. “We signed you up for the bachelor auction Saturday.”
Excerpted from His Southern Sweetheart by Carolyn Hector Copyright © 2016 by Carolyn Hector. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Kimani. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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