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Stranded in Paradise (MF)

The Blake Boys

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 38,906
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Will love bloom when stranded in paradise?

Jared Reed, a handsome, divorced architect, has been busier than ever since he started doing business with his in-laws, the Blakes. He won't need a social life if he consumes himself with work. Everyone seems determined to set him up with software executive Autumn Waverly, but who has the time for romance? Besides, his ex-wife has resurfaced with an outlandish request that will change his life forever if he agrees. In dire need of some alone time to clear his head, Jared decides to vacation at the Executive Desires resort...where he runs into none other than Autumn.

As Autumn’s twin sister prepares to take a walk down the aisle with her soul mate, Autumn can't help but feel a little separation anxiety about the different paths they are taking. When her sister surprises her with a vacation to the Executive Desires resort, Autumn gets the shock of her life when she arrives to find that Jared Reed is there. They agree they've been tricked, but they don't have to fall for the matchmaking trap thrust upon them. Besides, Jared has baggage, and she isn't ready to give her heart away just for a fling in paradise...

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Jared Reed gave the heirloom tomato a sniff and a good squeeze, making sure it was ripe enough to purchase. He thought a tomato salad would be a great first course to the seared duck breast recipe he’d gotten from his friend Michelle. She thought cooking would be therapeutic for him, and with his architecture firm booming with business, he did have a lot on his mind. An evening puttering around the kitchen trying his hand at a new dish was a good way to wind down from the hectic week. There were more things on his shopping list, so he continued navigating his cart through the produce section in search of the next items—the baby spinach that would be sautéed in garlic, and Bosc pears to be simmered in a balsamic reduction.

The evening trips to the gourmet supermarket a few blocks from his office had revealed a smorgasbord of enticing dishes…and he wasn’t talking about the food. The women who shopped there always looked like they were headed out for a night on the town. He’d flirted with a few women who shopped there, but nothing ever went farther than lustful glances and seductive quips about the many uses for a zucchini. But when it came time to seal the deal and ask her out, he’d change his mind. There were a lot of things to be done these days, and dating wasn’t one of them. It wouldn’t be fair to string someone along and waste time having things not work out when he was looking for a long-term commitment with the right person.

A young couple shopping for a romantic dinner caught his eye. She wore a pretty dress that stopped just above her knees and had her hair up in a bun, while he must have come straight from work because he still had on his business attire. They walked close together, holding hands and talking in whispered tones and giggling as she fed him strawberries. The guy happily agreed to everything she put in their cart even though he winced a few times when she wasn’t looking. He was definitely into her and was probably more interested in what was for dessert rather than the rabbit food she was assembling for the main course. He remembered the honeymoon phase well. It was that magical time in a relationship when you were inseparable, basking in the possibilities of love and what the future held.

Their canoodling reminded him of his life with his ex-wife Taylor in the early days. He’d been smitten with Taylor Hastings the second he’d met her. She was beautiful, intelligent, and had a zest for life unlike anyone he’d ever seen. Sure she was a little snobby, bourgeois, and obviously out of his league, and he loved it. One smile from her and he was putty in her hands. Even if it meant taking her to those ostentatious restaurants and hanging out with her elitist friends. But they’d made it work for long as they could until reality crept up on them. Her relentless need for the approval of her equally brilliant doctor father fueled her ambition but left little time for nurturing their marriage. It became clear after some time that her career came first and any plans to start a family had been put on the back burner.

It was a truly lovely time until it ended. Once the rose-colored glasses came off, two relative strangers had to deal with the reality before them. Leaving the cap off the toothpaste or not hanging up a jacket could lead to World War Three. He and Taylor started as a fairytale but ended up a cautionary tale of what happened when two driven people weren’t on the same page about the important things. When he would mention starting a family, she’d tell him it wasn’t the right time. After a few of those discussions yielding the same results, he’d known it would be best if they parted ways before they started hating each other.

Jared shook his head, trying to shake the memories that came flooding back. There were days when he missed having someone special, but he’d run through the marriage gauntlet and barely made it out alive. He’d decided to focus on other things like his booming architecture firm. Now he was working on projects bigger than he’d ever dreamed through Blake Enterprises. That left little time to lament about not having kids of his own. He might not be a dad, but he was a pretty damn good uncle and loved spending time with his ever-growing family.

The crowd at the meat counter was heavy, so he headed down the aisle with all the gourmet spices instead. He forced his thoughts away from his failed marriage and back to the things he still had to do while he cooked dinner—like talking to his sister Morgan about his Charisma dilemma.

When his Aunt Debra had called and asked if he’d filled the office manager position in his growing firm, he’d had no idea she was asking for his cousin Charisma. His cousin had been through a lot the past year and now she’d found herself unemployed. He was all for helping family, but it wasn’t that simple. Morgan and Charisma had recently called a truce, and he didn’t want to rock the boat. Part of Morgan’s gripe with their cousin was that she’d tried to insinuate herself into Morgan’s life countless times. Jared worked with the Blakes, Morgan’s in-laws, and that would mean whoever worked for him would have to interact with them too. He’d talk things over with his little sister before he made any decisions. He knew the Blakes were all attending a party to celebrate the engagement of his friend Bo to his girlfriend Summer Waverly. The official engagement party was weeks away, but the Blakes never really needed a reason to get together and have a good time. He’d had a meeting he couldn’t get out of today, so he couldn’t fly down, but he’d promised he’d make it to the official celebration.

He couldn’t help a resigned smile as he selected fresh spices and his favorite seasonings and tossed them in his cart. The Blake family was so preoccupied with his lack of a social life that they’d even conspired for months to set him up with Summer’s identical twin sister Autumn. The sisters owned NuWave Gaming, a thriving electronics company that was taking the tech world by storm. However, fate was never in their favor, for each time they were supposed to meet, something would come up. She’d have to go out of town for work. He’d thrown his back out playing football the week of the double wedding at the ranch and had to attend via video chat. He took it as a sign it wasn’t meant to be, no matter how beautiful, intelligent, accomplished, and how much his perfect match she might be according to the women in his family. From what he knew about her, she didn’t seem all that interested in dating either. According to Bo, she’d date a guy for a month or so, then dump him. He heard she’d been dating some baseball player, but the second the guy mentioned her name in an interview, she’d cut him loose. Obviously the woman didn’t like to be tied down.

He got the remaining items on his grocery list and headed for the checkout line. The happy couple was now in front of him paying for their items. He hoped everything would turn out the way each of them wanted. But he was happy he didn’t have the weight of someone else’s happiness on his shoulders. He was content navigating his future on his own.