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What do you do when you’re tired of being the loser?

You make up the perfect fiancé, of course.

I know it sounds desperate, but hear me out.

In my family, everyone is someone.

But me? I’m just a small-town librarian with no prospects and no future.

At every family reunion, my older sister reminds me of that fact.

So when she announced her own upcoming nuptials, I knew I had to act fast. I needed a fake fiancé to bring to the wedding and prove that I was happy and successful too.

Enter River Kershaw, the town playboy.

My bestie Wren suggested him, and I was hesitant at first.

He’s the complete opposite of me: a charming extrovert.

But I can’t deny that he’s tall, strong, and hot.

I know it’s a risk, but I’m determined to show my family that I’m just as happy and in love as they are. Even if that means pretending to be with someone who’s totally not my type.

I’m ready to give the performance of a lifetime.


EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Dirty Secret Love

Claudia Burgoa

Expected Release Date: 8 January 2024

Claudia Burgoa is taking us back to Heartwood Lake, Colorado this week—a friendly town at the top of the Rocky Mountains where Secret Billionaires fall for strong-willed heroines—and I have the whole first chapter for you from this all-new fake fiancé, opposites attract, secret billionaire romance.

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Chapter One

Sutton

“That fourth shot of tequila was a mistake,” I mumble, blinking at Jez and Wren’s blurry faces. “Hey Wren, when did you get a twin?”

My friends laugh at me, like this is just a funny episode in the Life of Sutton Asher. I squeeze my eyes shut, praying this is all a bad dream and not the reality of my parents moving back to Heartwood Lake.

“I’m not saying she has a drinking problem, but should we be concerned?” Drake cuts in.

I peel one eye open to find Wren’s fiancé watching me, his brow creased. “Want me to drive her home, babe?”

Wren shakes her head, her auburn waves bouncing. “I think it’s best she stays here tonight. I’ll get the guest room ready.”

I wave a clumsy hand. “No, no. I can go home,” I slur. “I don’t have a drinking problem. It’s more like a family problem—I’m related to them. Their existence pushes me to drink . . . heavily, hoping to forget them—or that I’m an Asher.”

Jez arches one perfectly shaped eyebrow. “I’m guessing you’ve got enough booze in your system to give us the 4-1-1 about your mom’s call.”

Nope. I don’t think there’s enough alcohol for it. Still, I take a long, deep breath before doing so. “Remember last month . . .” I pause, resting my spinning head against the cushions. “When my sister got engaged to Mr. Douche? Well, my parents lectured me for being the black sheep loser of the family . . . dead-end job, small town, blah, blah, blah.”

“Blah?” Drake asks.

“Their usual lecture,” I add.

Jez chuckles knowingly. “Ah right, I remember that you made up some sexy gazillionaire fiancé to get them off your case. Smart move, I endorsed it—Regina was totally against it.”

She was, and I’m glad she’s out of town, or she’d be telling me I should lie more responsibly.

I groan, throwing an arm over my eyes. “No one should tell her that she was right. Everything was working well until my mother called to say, and I quote, ‘We have an issue with the house, and we need to move back to Heartwood temporarily.’”

“Wait, why are they coming back?” Wren’s voice is now worried. I think she’s getting the idea.

“They didn’t explain, but that’s not the main issue. Let’s remember that I don’t have a fiancé.” I glare at her, hoping it will sink in. A few minutes later I say, “Can you see the problem now?”

“No biggie whatsoever, we’ll just get you a fake fiancé,” Jez says, as if she can just grab a catalog, choose the right model, and ship it from anywhere in the world.

“Why didn’t I think about that? Mail-order fiancé, voilà,” I say, but I don’t think I’m able to deliver a good sarcastic punch. It’s probably the alcohol.

“I’m just trying to come up with something helpful,” Jez says. “You can always try someone in town.”

I let out a sardonic laugh. “Ha, yeah, right. Who’d want to date me?” I glance around the room blearily. “And it’s not like there are any available guys in this town anyway.”

“Drake’s brothers could help,” Jez offers brightly.

I smirk, maybe she’s onto something. “Ooh, right, he has what, like six to choose from?” I say, almost animated at the prospect. 

“We could choose it Bachelorette style,” Jez offers. “I’ll give them roses after the dates.”

“Stop.” Drake shakes his head vehemently. “That’s a terrible idea.”

“No, it might work,” Wren muses. “It’s not like your brothers have anything to do. This could be like a good deed your brother does for someone from this town.”

“We might be here for years. What’s going to happen if it takes that long?” Drake argues.

“My parents might only be here a few weeks,” I say, thinking about the logistics. “I bet they’re just renovating the house or doing something frivolous like that.” I wave a hand flippantly.

“Why don’t you just tell them the guy left you?” Drake suggests.

I roll my eyes. Clearly, he hasn’t learned how this town survives on coffee and gossip. “Because everyone here will confirm I totally fabricated the whole thing.”

“One of your brothers could do it,” Wren insists, looking hopeful at Drake. “What about Magnus? He’s old, seems like a reliable person, and could look the part.”

Drake exhales heavily, shaking his head. “You can’t ask Magnus, Callahan, or Bach. If you do, their mother will have to get involved. You don’t want Donna to be a part of the façade.”

Do I really want to get into this? The Kershaws are a very complicated family. I’m not supposed to know they’re part of a private witness protection program. The story is that they’re just here to help Regina and her dad with their ranch. We all pretend to believe the nine siblings and their mothers moved here out of the goodness of their hearts. Let’s just say no one in town buys that story, but we play along anyway.

“That rules out Gael and Genevieve,” Jez says. “Flora, their mother, is a bitch. You don’t want to deal with her.”

“Not to mention, I’m supposed to be dating a guy,” I remind her. “Your sisters are out of the running. Can you imagine how my very Catholic parents would react if I were to marry a woman?”

Jez smirks. “What if we pretend it’s me? I’m your fiancée.”

Jez seems to forget that my parents are homophobic, misogynistic, and … well, not good people. I believe they lost their kindness while smelling the rubber of the shoes they invented and never got it back.

“Though it’d be fun to see how you make my mother squirm and cringe, I’m trying to keep them off my case.”

Wren’s eyes light up. “So that leaves River and Slade in the running.” She taps her chin. “Slade will remain in the clinic for another week or so, and he has a long way to recover—he’s definitely not your guy. River . . . Your only hope is River Kershaw. I think it’ll work. He’s handsome, seems charming, and looks the part of the brooding rich guy who wants to be left alone.”

Drake shakes his head adamantly. “This is still a terrible idea.”

“But if it works, it could solve all my problems,” I plead.

“When exactly are your parents getting here?” Drake asks.

I grimace, racking my foggy brain. “I . . . don’t know. I hung up on my mom mid-call and came straight here.”

Wren pats my shoulder. “Get some rest. We’ll figure this out in the morning.”

* * *

The big problem about drinking to forget that my parents exist is the morning after. Today is no exception. I wake up with a raging hangover in Wren’s guest room with Jez already bathed and looking fresh. 

“Rise and shine, sweetheart,” she says all chirpy. “Today is the day we get you a fake fiancé. The hottest in town, of course.”

“Shh,” I mumble, covering my head with the pillow. “You’re angering the little elves tap dancing in my head.”

“That’ll teach you to not drink that much when your parents upset you.”

“I love you, but sometimes you’re so annoying,” I groan. “Did you stay too?”

“Nope. I came to check on you. Wren and Drake have gone to work. I’m here to ensure that you take ibuprofen, and drink water. I might even prepare you breakfast so you have enough to energy to get to work.” 

“Even though sometimes I hate you, you’re a good friend,” I mumble, not wanting to get out of bed.

“Of course I am. I’m so good that I even went to your place to feed poor Ms. Daisy,” she mentions my cat and I groan. 

One of these days I’ll remember that drinking isn’t the answer to avoid my overbearing parents. If I move to Tanzania or some other place thousands of miles away from here, I might be able to fix my issue. 

Knowing I have to face the reality and all my responsibilities, I leave the bed, grab my phone, and almost cry when I see there are several urgent texts from dear old Mom. She’s arriving in one week and expects me to have the house ready. I read them all out loud, and Jez just rolls her eyes.

“Why would she think I’m going to get her house ready?” I scrunch my nose. 

Jez snatches my phone out of my hand, rapidly typing. “Sorry, I’ll be out of town with my fiancé. I’ll see you once you’re back. Kisses to Dad, Sutton.”

“Jez, stop playing,” I growl.

She waves the phone happily.

“Don’t send that message,” I insist.

“Oops, I wasn’t supposed to?” She smirks triumphantly.

Bitch, I mouth.

I read Mom’s answer saying that’s unacceptable. I groan, collapsing back against the pillows. “You’re dead to me.”

Jez just laughs. “Relax, we’ll get you out of this mess.”

Right on cue, my phone rings flashing ‘Mom.’ Jez answers brightly, “Sutton’s phone. How can I help you? She’s with a patron. May I take a message?”

I snatch the phone away from her, take a deep breath, and face the nightmare head on. “Hey, Mom, what’s up?”

“Who was that?” Mom asks.

“My assistant,” I say hesitantly.

“I thought you said you were out of town.” Her voice is filled with suspicion.

“No. I’m heading out of town,” I try to sound offended at the insinuation that I was lying. “Which is why I can’t be paying attention to you. But please, tell me what’s so important you need to speak to me, now?”

Mom huffs. “You hung up last night, and we need to talk about the move.”

I wince. “I don’t see what we have to discuss. Why are you coming back so suddenly anyway?”

“Does it matter?” she snaps.

“How long are you staying?” I ask, praying for a miracle that it’s only a few days.

“As soon as the misunderstanding with the bank gets resolved,” she states, leaving no room for more questions.

“There’s no misunderstanding, Ruth,” Dad states. “We don’t have money to pay the mortgage, and they’re foreclosing on the house.”

“How did that happen?” I ask, almost terrified. Not because I care about their finances, but because they’re threatening to come back to Heartwood Lake—forever.

We don’t need the Ashers in this town.

“Your father is wrong. We’ll fix this soon,” she assures me. “Just make sure that the old house is in good condition for us to move in.”

“As I said, I won’t be in town, so you’ll have to deal with that yourself. See you when I’m back.” I hang up the phone.

Fuck, I’m screwed. I glance at Jez. “Are you sure we can convince someone to play my fake fiancé?”

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Heartwood Lake Secret Billionaires - Recommended Reading Order

(standalone stories with interconnected characters)

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