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Grand Prize (MFM)

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: SCORCHING
Word Count: 72,658
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Two hot men. Twice the danger.

Melanie Cranberry joined the dating service to meet a nice man, fall in love, and spend her nights cuddling in bed. Who knew that one five-dollar ticket for a raffle would win her two men instead of one? Now, per signed contract with Match Making For Happiness's Sake, she's required to go out on a date with each man to discover which will win her heart.

Prize number one, attorney Cage Niching, joined the dating service to find a woman to settle down with, or at least, to settle him down—after he finds out who murdered his friend. All he has to do is get admitted to the secret, invitation-only level of a certain sex club, and all he must do to get the invite is bring his Match Making date, Melanie Cranberry, prove they're in love, and have sex with her in front of as many witnesses as possible. Which doesn't look promising as long as her second date keeps hovering around her...

Prize number two, narcotics detective Victor Wine, wasn't looking for a date. Desperate to get the drug that killed his girlfriend off the streets, he's joined the dating service to get close to the woman who lives near the hangout of a major distributor. Only thing is, he actually likes the Cranberry woman, more than he wanted to. And now his investigation has put her right in the drug cartel's sights. Keeping her out of harm's way and playing the perfect date won't be easy. And there's something about her other date that raises his hackles...

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE



“And the winner is—delectable Melanie Cranberry!”

Melanie palmed her forehead. She’d won. She’d dropped a five-dollar ticket in the raffle basket and actually won. Not one prize, but two.

Sure. She’d lucked out winning a dollar here and there on scratch-off lottery tickets. She’d even won a plush teddy bear and red rose during a Valentine’s Day giveaway at the local grocery store. But this?—this was the Best. Prize. Ever.

The few “woos” during the crowd’s applause brought her to her feet. With the sporadic fist pumps above heads and shouts for her to “go,” she might as well be the ball runner at a football game instead of Night on the Red Carpet.

That’s what the coordinator named this event. Night on the Red Carpet was an accurate name, because darkness had indeed settled on Seattle. Melanie had kicked her shoes off during the teriyaki chicken dinner. The crimson carpet’s soft fibers had tickled her bare feet as several glasses of Merlot slid down her throat.

Melanie had secretly come up with a more appropriate name for this night. Prom Night for the Dating Impaired. Each woman wore high heels with sexy, bosom-popping dresses that didn’t quite stretch down to their knees. Expensive jewelry dazzled on wrists. Necks. Fingers. Black eyeliner and mascara covered every batting eyelash in the room. Mega-hair product kept blond curls, red spikes, and midnight strands in place.

All the thick red lipstick reminded her of her senior prom. Her best friend had caked makeup on Melanie’s face. She’d dressed her in a tight, pink dress that barely stayed up over her breasts. When the guy she’d gone out with had kept his eyes low the entire night, she’d sworn to never wear anything like that again.

Melanie glanced down at her plain-Jane black dress. The white flower print around the skirt hung slightly below her knees. The square neckline covered the curves of her breasts well enough that she could be sitting at a church function instead of finding a man.

At least her hair stayed in place. She’d curled her long brunette hair with a flat iron this afternoon, and the curls held without an entire can of hairspray.

The one-inch heels on her feet were comfortable. She would’ve been just as happy in flats or flip-flops. If she could’ve gotten away with being barefoot, she’d have left her shoes at home.

She may not be red-carpet-ready like the rest of these ladies, but at least she was comfortable. Until they’d called her name to accept the grand prize, her clothes hadn’t mattered. Now she wished she’d dressed in something tighter and shorter. A dress that showed more cleavage.

All eyes were on her as she smoothed the wrinkles from her skirt. She shoved her curls behind her shoulders. After a quick puff of air through her parted lips, she headed toward the stage.

“I knew you’d win,” Samone announced as Melanie walked by.

Samone Hatchet. Best friend. Co-worker. Redheaded vixen. This was her doing. She’d convinced Melanie to join this venue. If anything, she owed her a huge thanks.

Melanie’s cheeks burned. “Thanks, Samone.”

“I’m jealous, Mel.” Gail, a lady she’d met at the beginning of this escapade, leaned forward. Her bright red lipstick matched her short, spiked hair and powdered eyelids. “If you need help deciding which one’s better, call me. I’ll test them for you. I’ll even test them at the same time.”

Melanie laughed. “Oh, I know you would, Gail.”

Gail’s mascara-caked left eye winked. “Go get ’em honey.”

Watching the pointed toes of her heels, Melanie stepped up on stage. As she walked across the platform, her gaze slinked to Barbara Condrell, Seattle’s Match-Making-For-Happiness’s-Sake’s coordinator.

Barbara stood between Cage and Victor, the two handsome men who had become Melanie’s prospects. They’d joined the group of single people the same time Melanie had and braved the entire program to become Barbara’s guinea pigs for this raffle.

Twenty people had met at Mistletoe Café, a small coffee shop on the corner of 4th and Spring. The huge front window of the building offered plenty of natural light for the ten men and ten women hoping to find true love.

Each couple sat through thirty-minute sessions, drinking coffee while talking about their lives. After one session, the women moved on to the next table until they’d chatted with all men. Next day the men moved through the tables.

This went on for four days.

Best four days of Melanie’s life.

Each man chose his woman. Each woman chose her man. Since Victor and Cage were the most popular items on the menu, they’d become Barbara’s raffle prizes.

Twenty-eight year old Cage Niching, lawyer at Niching and Company and heir to the Niching family wealth, came from generations of lawyers. The blue-eyed charmer knew how to talk, especially to the ladies.

She’d laughed throughout their chat sessions. He cracked little jokes and could practically carry on a conversation by himself. The man loved to talk about sex. Not that she minded. Sex was part of being in love. By Cage’s very outspoken word, he really wanted to be in love.

Cage was rich. Good-looking. His love for lifting weights and exercise gave him the body of a hulking god. Like Thor, his lovely blond locks stretched down his neck and rested on his broad shoulders.

Cage liked dancing at nightclubs. That was a plus in her book. Grooving at Tattle’s Bar was one of her favorite pastimes. When he told her he loved walks on the beach and Sunday drives near his home in Normandy Park, she’d become smitten.

Now Cage stood on stage looking as comfortable as could be in front of a crowd. He screamed sexy in relaxed Levi jeans and a purple button-up shirt that fit snugly on his huge, muscle-y body. Tonight he’d slicked his hair back behind his ears to show off his perfectly chiseled jawline. Thor held nothing on this man.

He was hers for two nights. If she wanted him after this was over, all she had to do was say the word, and he’d be her man forever.

But…

Melanie’s eyes shifted to prize number two.

There was strikingly handsome Victor Wine.

Victor stood, dressed to kill in a black, long-sleeve shirt and slacks. His fabulous six-foot three body towered above everyone else. Short, jet-black hair. Bangs stuck up in tufts. Hazel eyes shimmered under the hanging lights over the stage. Fair skin and a shadowed jaw gave him a sophisticated look—a “don’t mess with me, I’m a badass” look no woman in her right mind could resist. A sense of safety and danger was all wrapped up into one gorgeous package.

Victor spoke in a deep, soft tone. Gooseflesh had spread over her body during their chat sessions. Parts of her ached for his touch. Rather than meet his striking, stern eyes, she’d kept her attention on the dark-brown panels of the walls in the room. Or she’d watch his long fingers tap against the top of the bistro table. When she found the courage to meet his gaze, she’d calmed the urge to wrestle him to the floor as if he were one of the bad guys he chased down on his job.

Their second session was worse. Thoughts of Victor ripping her dress from her body had invaded her mind. Fantasizing about his mouth over hers, and those strong, warm hands fondling her flesh had made their conversation about his career as a detective non-existent. Handcuffs had worked into her daydream before his remarkable voice brought her back to the bistro table—back to her senses. That’s when she’d realized drool had pooled at the corners of her mouth.

His dark brows had furrowed. An incredible grin had spread across his face as he cupped her burning cheek with his soft, cool hand. He’d dabbed her wet lips with the white cloth napkin from their table, setting her entire body ablaze.

Victor was toned, not overly muscled like Cage’s colossal physique. Victor had no flaws. None she could see anyway. He was perfect. Sweet. Intelligent. Courteous. Drop-dead gorgeous.

Each man had their pros. Both were beautiful. Both had remarkable careers. But Melanie’s desires swayed toward Victor. It seemed too good to be true that she’d met someone like him at a dating service. He didn’t belong here like the others.

As Melanie neared the men, Cage ran his palm over his shiny hair. His large muscles flexed as he placed a bouquet of red roses in her arms.

“Congratulations, Melanie,” he said in her ear. “I’m glad you won me. You’re conservative, but easily the best-looking gal in the room.”

She sighed when Cage pressed his warm lips against her cheek. Great. Plain Jane played in her mind again. Maybe she should’ve taken Samone’s advice and worn the short, blue V-neck dress that showed the inner curves of her breasts.


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