He met her first, but she ended up marrying his best friend. Now, years later, she’s newly divorced and when she finds herself in a dangerous situation, the man she’s tried so hard to forget about comes to her rescue. A brand new fake-dating, sports romance is out this week from author Maggie Rawdon, and I have the whole first chapter for you.
When I see him across the room, towering over the crowd with his usual smug look, I duck behind a group of women. I’m half listening to the chatter about the food and the champagne, how fantastic it all is, and what an excellent host Violet makes while I keep an eye on him. I’ll have to let Violet know later that everyone loved it because I’ve been too busy running around prepping and socializing to get a bite yet. We’d spent hours going over menus and caterers, and Violet is a genius when it comes to this stuff. So I’m thankful it’s all coming together and people are enjoying it.
This event was part of our last-ditch attempt to try and get enough signatures, votes, donations, and public interest to save the museum building and our jobs. Doing that requires passing a levy, one which is buried in legalese and not exactly sexy in its marketing. It’s going to require effort just to have people understand what’s on the ballot, so we’re doing our best to make it count.
Lucky for me, one of my closest friends is well connected, understands the politics, and loves me and the cause enough to lead the charge on getting this done. She also has a gorgeous, enormous house and a very patient husband. Violet Lawton is a lifesaver. I smile at her across the room, until I see him move again, and am distracted from my silent admiration.
He, on the other hand, is definitely not a lifesaver—more like a menace to society and my sanity. I shift to my left as he starts to move around the room, greeting people as he makes his way through the gathered crowd. The women in front of me are far too animated to even realize I’m using them as a shield, and it gives me the ability to watch him for another moment without being seen—before I make myself scarce. I won’t be able to avoid him all night, but I can at least buy myself some time.
He looks more refined than usual, dressed all in black with a button-down shirt that hugs his traps and upper arms. Not that it matters what he wears. On him, they always look like they just barely wrap around his frame. Like the tailor measured to within a centimeter of his life when he fit them. It’s honestly infuriating that he always looks that perfect, especially given how messy his reputation is in comparison.
I snatch a small glass of the much-discussed champagne from a tray as it floats by, taking a sip as I watch him talking to some of his teammates. He laughs again at whatever Tobias Westfield, his friend and frequent partner in crime, is saying while flashing a smile that’s too pretty to belong to someone like him. Because despite, or rather because of, the massive frame and the tattoos that wind their way up his neck and down his arm he is gorgeous, in large part because he looks like he was resurrected from the mud of some ancient battlefield. The kind you can’t look away from. The kind you can’t stop thinking about even if you wish you could.
When his dark gaze starts to shift this way though, I move with it. Looking at him is one thing, but he’s the last person on earth I feel like talking to tonight. Especially since everywhere he goes, he attracts far more attention than I ever want. And while I definitely need to make sure I’m engaging with all the guests I can, giving them the kind of desperate “save our museum, please” grovel that only one of the curators can, I don’t need or want more eyes on me than necessary. Tonight or any night.
Especially not his, because he’s Alexander “Xander” Xavier, or XXL as his fans have nicknamed him on and off the field. He’s a defensive end for the Seattle Phantom football team and one of the most infamous playboys the league has ever known.
He’s also my newly minted ex-husband’s best friend.
Alex and I had started off friendly, better than friendly, really, if we counted the first night we ever met. Then over time, particularly when I ended up dating his friend without knowing it, and then marrying him—it had turned less-than-friendly. Barbs and banter had become our thing whenever we were forced to see each other at events. Now that the papers are signed and the rings are off, I can assume that nothing at all is going to stop him from being a complete and utter ass to me. Tonight of all nights, I don’t need it.
So I let myself have one last look before I swallow the rest of my champagne and disappear into one of the side rooms as his meandering gaze starts to shift in my direction. The maneuver only buys me about five minutes of peace before I realize I’ve cornered myself and lost the high ground while chatting with one of my favorite museum members whom we’d invited to talk the place up. When I glance up, I see that he’s just walked through the only doorway in the room. His eyes land hard on me, a smirk curling at the edge of his mouth before he starts weaving his way through the small crowd toward me. I can guess he’s dying to gloat.
I’m nodding and mhm-ing my way through the conversation with Mrs. Edelmann while I try to do mental geometry about how I can get out of this room without seeming like I’m running from him.
“Mrs. Edelmann, I think I just saw someone flag me down across the way and I need to go check on what they need. But I want to hear more about this. I’ll come find you later, okay?”
“Of course, dear. Go on.” She gives me a soft smile.
I dodge my way through the small crowd in the room, ducking and weaving, hiding behind various patrons and around furniture, almost home-free when I feel a hand reach for mine. I’d forgotten the biggest problem with Alexander was that he was six foot five and there was no such thing as hiding or running from him.
“Saint.” His nickname for me comes out in a deep timbre, one that would sound warm and maybe even a little bit sexy to the untrained ear.
“Alexander.” I turn to look at him, pretending to be surprised to see him.
He pulls my hand up to his lips and presses a kiss across my knuckles while I clutch the empty champagne glass in my other one so hard it might shatter if I was a touch stronger. This is his little routine he breaks out at events like these. Ones where he has to come out and play the charismatic public face and the hometown boy everyone loves. People eat up every second of the act because he is charming—when he wants to be. He turns it on and off like a switch. Making everyone forget the reality of who he is at his core—the three things he’s famous for: fucking, fighting, and football. In my opinion, it’s more like infamous, incorrigible, and infuriating, but no one asks me my opinion.
“You remember this doesn’t work on me. I know you too well to think you’re charming.” I give a false smile in case anyone’s watching.
He grins in return but as his thumb swipes over my knuckles where he just kissed me, his eyes flicker and land hard on my ring finger.
“I remember you wearing a ring on this hand.” His eyes flash back up to mine as though he’s genuinely surprised. “Not trouble in paradise, I hope?”
The divorce was relatively new. I’ve only had a few months of freedom. But given that Drew is Alexander’s agent and therefore sees his best friend with some regularity, you’d think it would be the kind of thing that would come up. At least in passing. Like Oh hey, by the way. Ditched the old hag, finally! I would’ve thought Alexander would have been Drew’s first call when the ink was dry so they could chat about how much they couldn’t stand me and then go and have drinks and find women.
“No trouble at all. At least not anymore.”
“Are you separated?” His brow furrows like he’s trying to make sense of what I’m saying.
“Are you serious?” I echo his tone.
“You’re not wearing your ring, so I feel like it’s a fair question.” He’s studying me closely, and I don’t love it.
“I thought the two of you were old pals. Don’t you grab a drink or go to an event together at least one night a week? Or is that just what he told me?”
“I saw him earlier this week. But he didn’t say anything. Did he fuck up?”
“We’re divorced, Alexander. We’ve been divorced.”
His normally serene and smug face contorts for a few seconds while he processes the information, glancing down at my finger again before I pull my hand out of his. His eyes bounce back up to mine, searching my face—for what I don’t know. But he doesn’t say anything and for some reason, it gets under my skin.
“Are you telling me he seriously didn’t mention that he got divorced?”
“He did not.”
“Wow,” I whisper, laughing a little to myself. Our marriage had been over long before we sat down and had the let’s maybe call it quits discussion, but it seemed a little odd to not mention a life event like that to your best friend. Especially one you see regularly. One who used to come to our family events and had been the best man at our wedding.
A strange smile flits across his face, and it irritates me. Probably joy at our demise. I’m sure he tried to talk Drew into leaving me before. Which makes it doubly strange he doesn’t know.
“You don’t think it’s strange that your best friend wouldn’t tell you that?”
“Not really, no.”
“Well, I’m guessing it didn’t change his behavior any.”
“Not that I noticed. But in retrospect, I can think of a few things that were a little off.”
“Oh well, I’m glad to hear it, I guess.” I roll my eyes.
“Was it his choice?”
I don’t like the close way he’s watching me. Like he’s scrutinizing my reaction. I don’t need him running back to Drew and telling him how crushed I am in the wake of his absence. Because while I miss him a bit, mostly the comfortable bits of having a partner around, I’m more than happy to put our marriage in the past.
“No. I asked for it. He didn’t seem thrilled at first, but then I assume he saw the benefits of being single again and adjusted to the idea. I’m happy to move on with my life. Are you satisfied or do you want more gossip?”
He smiles again, and I wait for the inevitable snark. Some sort of dig I’m sure he’s saved up for this occasion. I’m positive my divorce was a holiday he was dying to celebrate. When he could have his boy back and they could return to their bachelor ways of drinking and fucking their way across town together.
“Harper? I need you!” my director calls from across the hall, and I nod my understanding.
“It was nice catching up. Have a lovely time.” I plaster a fake smile on my face as I look at him one more time, wanting to make sure my director sees me being charming even when I feel anything but. My eyes drift over him for a second. One last good look for the road before I, hopefully, avoid him for the rest of the night. But I could still keep a little mental note of him looking like this. Especially now I could do it without feeling guilty that I was ogling my husband’s best friend. After all, I was only doing what half the women in Seattle would do in my shoes.
“You too, Saint.” A ghost of a smile drifts across his lips as I walk away.