For all the girls next door—and the boys who love them.
I’ve always enjoyed fairy tales. Their timeless magic, their innocent simplicity, the soul-stirring idea that love can overcome any obstacle—vanquish the villain, save the princess, break all the evil spells.
The idea for Appealed began, for me, as a fairy tale. A simple story about a handsome prince, a good-hearted princess, and their sweet love. From there it evolved—and the evolution was really fun. Now it’s hilarious and passionate, a battle of wills—a story of how young love grows into something stronger, something unbreakable.
I love this story. I love these characters—their resilience, their wit, and most of all their laughter. I hope you come to love them too, that their story will leave you with that warm, satisfied feeling and the knowledge that true love really can conquer all, and the dream of happy ever after is within reach for all of us.
I’m so grateful to have been able to work with the best, most talented people on the Legal Briefs series. My editor, Micki Nuding—thank you for helping me see how to make the impossible totally doable. Brainstorming with you is the best! My agent, Amy Tannenbaum of the Jane Rotrosen Agency—thank you for always being in my corner. I’ve said it before, but I really would be lost without you!
My publicists, Kristin Dwyer and Nina Bocci—I adore you both forever—thank you for making work fun and for being so awesome at all you do. My assistant, Juliet Fowler—thank you for staying on top of everything, for your innovative ideas, and amazing energy. So much gratitude to Sullivan & Partners for their impeccable Sustained campaign. So much gratitude to Molly O’Brien for your tireless work and support.
My thanks to everyone at Gallery Books, including Sarah Leiberman, Liz Psaltis, Paul O’Halloran, my publishers Jennifer Bergstrom and Louise Burke—it’s a joy and honor to work with all of you.
I have so much admiration and love for Katy Evans, Jennifer Probst, Kyra Davis, Alice Clayton and Christina Lauren—thank you for your smiles and amazing support!
I’m so very grateful to all the blogs who read and review my work and who make the romance community vibrant and wonderful.
Again, to my lovely readers—thank you for staying on this journey with me, for loving, laughing, and enjoying these characters and their antics just as much as I do! I adore every one of you!
And to my family, thank you for your patience, your ridiculousness, your love—you are my own love story come to life. xoxo
“You rotten bastard!”
Kennedy sits up and stares at me like she doesn’t even recognize me. Which is pretty weird, considering we’re bare-ass naked in my bed. Every inch of us is intimately acquainted.
But it’s the tone of her voice that bothers me most—flat with tightly controlled anger and breathy with pain. Like I stole the air from her lungs—like I punched her in the stomach.
The words don’t worry me. Insults are our flirting. Arguing is our foreplay. One time, she was so worked up she hauled off and took a swing at me—and my reaction was a boner that wouldn’t be denied.
It’s not as twisted as it sounds. It works for us.
At least it did up until ten seconds ago.
“Wait. What?” I ask, genuinely surprised.
I thought she’d be grateful. Happy. Maybe offer me a blow job to demonstrate her supreme appreciation.
Her eyes glitter dangerously, and thoughts of letting her anywhere near my dick flee like tiny fish in a big aquarium. Because she’s not a woman to be taken lightly; she’s a force to be reckoned with. A breaker of hearts and a buster of balls.
“You planned this all along, didn’t you? Screwing me silly, lulling me into a false sense of security so I’ll drop my guard and you can win the case,” she hisses.
She moves to hop off the bed but I grab her arm. “You think my cock is powerful enough to turn you stupid? Aw, precious, that’s really flattering, but I don’t need to whore myself out to win my cases. You’re freaking out over nothing.”
I used to have a way with women.
If the word fuck came out to play, it was always followed by me and then words like harder, please, and my friend, more.
Those were the days . . .
She jerks out of my grasp and scrambles off the bed, furiously gathering clothes that are strewn across the hardwood floor. And because she’s doing it naked, bending down, jiggling in all the best places, I have to watch. There are teeth marks on her ass—my teeth marks. No broken skin, just dark pink indentations. It’s possible I got a little carried away last night, but her ass is just so damn sweet and round and bitable.
I grab the prosthesis sleeve from the bedside table and slide it onto the stump on my left leg. Yes, part of my leg was amputated when I was a kid—a transtibial amputation if you want the technical term. I’ll get into that later, because she isn’t waiting. I actually like that about her—she doesn’t give an inch. Doesn’t even think about making special concessions or treating me any differently than the fully capable man I am.
Or the prick she apparently thinks I am at the moment.
I snap the pin of the sleeve into my prosthetic leg and stand up, just as she finds her shoe in the corner, adding it to the pile in her arms.
“Calm down, kitten,” I try, my voice level.
“Don’t call me that!” she snaps. “We said we wouldn’t discuss the case—that was our agreement.”
I move in closer, palms out, the universal sign of I come in peace. “We agreed to a lot of things that no longer apply, sweet-cheeks.”
Her nostrils flare at the trial nickname. Guess I can add “sweet-cheeks” to the no column, which is a damn shame. It suits her.
“I only brought it up because I’m trying to help you.”
It’s official: I’m a fucking idiot. Of all the wrong things I could’ve said, that’s the wrongest of them all.
“You think I need your help? Condescending cocksucker!”
She turns for the door, but I grab her arm again.
“Let go. I’m leaving.”
I want to respond with a good old Like hell you are or the more direct You’re not going anywhere. But they both have a psychotic, it-puts-the-lotion-in-the-basket-or-it-gets-the-hose kind of vibe. And that’s not what I’m going for.
Instead, I snatch the clothes from her arms and head to the window.
“What are you—? Don’t!”
Her designer skirt, sleeveless silk blouse, and red lacy underthings float on the air for a fraction of a second, then fall to the sidewalk and street below us. Her bra gets snagged on the antenna of a passing car and waves majestically down the street like the flag on a diplomat’s vehicle from some awesome country named Titsland.
Feels like I should salute it.
I close the window, cross my arms, and smile. “If you try to leave now, poor Harrison may be scarred for life.” Harrison is my butler. Again—later.
“You son of a bitch!”
And her fists come flying at my face. All those years of ballet classes have made her quick, gracefully agile. But as fast as she is, and as mighty as her disposition is, she’s only five foot one at best. So before she can land a punch, or thinks to knee me in the balls, I easily toss her onto the bed. Then I straddle her waist, leaning over to press her wrists into the mattress above her head. My cock brushes hot and hard against the smooth skin just below her breasts, which gives him some fabulous ideas—but that’s gonna have to wait until later too.
I gaze down at her. “Now, peaches, we’ll continue our conversation.”
That nickname fits too. Her silken skin is all peaches and cream. And the way she smells, Jesus, the way she tastes on my tongue—sweeter and softer than a ripe peach on a summer day.
Strands of blond hair dance across her collarbone as she bucks beneath me, giving my dick even more fabulous ideas. “Fuck you! I’m done talking.”
“Good. Then how about you shut that beautiful mouth and listen? Or I could always gag you.”
I may gag her anyway, just for the fun of it. Probably should’ve held on to her panties.
“I hate you!”
I chuckle. “No, you don’t.”
Her brown eyes burn into me, the same way they branded me decades ago. “I never should have trusted you again.”
Keeping her wrists pinned above her, I lean back a little to enjoy the view. “Bullshit. Best decision you ever made. Now listen up, buttercup . . .”
And I start to tell her all the things I should’ve said weeks ago. No—years ago . . .
• • •
4 weeks earlier
“I had a weird dream last night.”
I pace behind the couch with a racquetball ball in my hand. When I get to the end, I bounce the ball against the wall, catch it with one hand, then turn around and head the other way. I talk easier, think better when I’m moving.
“I was on a beach . . . at least I think it was a beach, I don’t remember any water. But there was sand, I was digging in the sand.”
Bounce, catch, turn.
Some people think it’s weak to see a therapist—but they couldn’t be more full of shit. It takes some big brass balls to bare your thoughts to another person. Your fears, faults, down-and-dirty desires. It’s like a workout for the soul. It forces you to see yourself—the real you.
And I think that’s the problem—most people don’t want to see themselves. They prefer to believe they’re actually the person everyone on the outside thinks they are—not the selfish, deviant asshole who’s really calling the shots.
“The grains were rough—white, beige, and black, and I kept digging deeper. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew it when I found it.”
Bounce, catch, turn.
“It was a ruby. A ruby in the sand. But here’s the weird part—when I tried to pick it up, it kept slipping from my hands. No matter how hard I tried, how much I tightened my grip, I couldn’t hold on to it. Fucking creepy, right, Waldo?”
My therapist’s name is Waldo Bingingham. He’s a soft-spoken, contemplative kind of guy a few years shy of retirement. All his other clients call him Dr. Bingingham, or Dr. Bing for short. But I like Waldo—it’s pretty much the most awesome name someone could be named. If your kid’s name is Waldo, at some point in his life, you’re gonna have to say, Where’s Waldo? And that’s hilarious.
He gazes at me patiently. He removes his dark, thick-rimmed, 1960s Walter Cronkite–era glasses and cleans them slowly with a tissue. It’s a strategy he’s used often in the years I’ve been coming to him. He’s waiting me out—giving me time to answer my own question.
Bounce, catch, turn.
But this time, I’m genuinely determined to hear his professional opinion. What the fuck does it all mean, Waldo?
He finally blinks first. “I thought this week we had decided to discuss how you use sexual intercourse to avoid intimacy.”
I roll my eyes. “Sex, sex, sex—that’s all you Freudians want to talk about. Is that all I am to you—a piece of meat? A cock with legs? Well”—I chuckle, tapping my prosthetic limb—“leg, anyway. Is the wife holding out on you again?”
He writes a note on the pad in his lap. “We can also add how you use inappropriate humor to deflect conversations that make you uncomfortable to our list of topics for future discussions.”
Bounce, catch, turn.
“No, I’m just a funny guy. Life’s too serious—it’s not gonna weigh me down. Besides, I think you’re way off base on the intimacy theory. Screwing is by its very nature intimate.”
“Not the way you do it.”
“Are you judging me, Waldo?”
Yeah—I just get a kick out of saying his name.
“Do you want me to judge you, Brent?”
“Do you think I should want you to judge me?”
I’ve been in therapy since I was ten years old—I can go around and around like this all day.
“I think you’re using this dream to avoid discussing how you use sex to avoid intimacy.”
“No—it’s just messing with my head. I want to know what it means.”
Bounce, catch, turn
Waldo sighs. Giving up and giving in. “Dreams are a reflection of our own subconscious. The expression of feelings and desires our conscious mind doesn’t want to acknowledge. It doesn’t matter what the dream means—only what it means to you. What’s your interpretation?”
My first thought is my subconscious is telling me I need a vacation. Somewhere warm and tropical, with umbrella drinks and hot women in small bikinis.
Or even better—no bikinis.
But that’s too simple. The dream was different. It seemed . . . important.
“I think it means I’m looking for something.”
Waldo puts his glasses back on. “And?”
“And when I find it, I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep it.”
He nods. Like a proud papa. “I think you’re right.”
Bounce, catch, turn.
This is why therapy rocks. With those four approving words, I feel a sense of empowerment—solid self-awareness and competency. I may not know what’s coming around the bend—but I sure as shit will be able to handle it when it gets here.
“Now . . . back to your intimacy issues.”
I make a complaining sound in the back of my throat—grumbling like a kid who’s been made to sit at the table to do his homework. I settle on the couch, resting one arm across the back. “Fine. Hit me, sempai.”
He suppresses a smile and glances at his notes. “You mentioned Tatianna was coming to town last week. Did you see her?”
Tatianna is an old friend. In the biblical sense. She’s also a real live princess. If Disney ever decides to go naughty, Tatianna could be their muse. She’s a couple of dozen relatives away from the throne but her blood is as blue as it gets. And if there’s one thing royals know how to do, it’s party.
“We got together, yes.”
“And how did that go?”
I stretch my arms over my head, cracking my neck. “She came. She left.”
We both came actually. In the bed, the kitchen, the hot tub in the backyard. It was a nice visit.
Waldo nods. “You said Tatianna is engaged now?”
“That’s right. The next time she comes to the States she’ll have Duchess in front of her name.”
The last real duty of today’s nobility is to make sure the fortune stays in the family—by producing little heirs and heiresses who can inherit it. Which, sadly, means no more fun times for me and Tatianna.
“Your business partner, Mr. Becker, he’s engaged also?”
“Yep, three months out and counting. He hasn’t officially lost his mind, but he’s damn close.”
Few things in this world are funnier than watching Jake Becker—a big mountain of a guy—being forced to contemplate flower arrangements for the table centerpieces in his upcoming nuptials.
“And your other partners, Mr. Shaw and Ms. Santos, they’re expecting their first child soon?”
I nod again. “Yes, a boy. Little Becker Mason Santos Shaw.”
That’s the name of our law firm—where we’re all partners, criminal defense attorneys. I think it’s only fitting the first child born to our firm be named after it. Haven’t convinced Stanton and Sofia yet, but I’m working on it.
Though now that I think about it—I wonder if they’d be more open to Waldo?
“How do you feel about that, Brent? That so many in your inner circle are getting married, having children, moving forward in their lives.”
“I think it’s great. I’m thrilled for them. I mean, up until last year, Jake was a hard-core bachelor—a Dark Knight in a lonely Batcave without a Vicki Vale. But now he’s got a gorgeous woman and a house full of kids. He’s happier than I’ve ever seen him.”
Waldo scribbles on his notepad. “And is that something you want in your life? Marriage, children?”
I narrow my eyes. “Has my mother been calling you again?”
“Every month.” Waldo sighs, rubbing his forehead. “But you know I don’t discuss our sessions with her.”
My dear mother should probably schedule some sessions of her own—considering last month she asked their butler, Henderson, to make inquiries into her adopting a grandchild. Since I—her only son—have been so very derelict in my duty to give her one. Cue the guilt trip.
I lean forward, bracing my elbows on my knees. “All right, here’s the thing—I’m happy for them, of course. But there’s a part of me that thinks now they’re trapped. Tied down with all that responsibility. I, on the other hand, have my work to keep me busy—but I can still jet off to Switzerland to go bungee jumping, or fly-fishing in New Zealand. With one phone call I can fuck two hotel heiresses six ways to Sunday, then watch them go to town on each other while I recoup for round two.”
FYI: there is no TMI in a therapist’s office.
“If I’m jonesing for a family fix, I can swing by my friends’ houses for dinner and be the favorite uncle to their kids.” I open my arms to emphasize the brilliance of my theory. “All the perks, none of the obligation. Life is short—I want to live it. And I really like living it free.”
He regards me for a moment and says, “Mmmm.”
“Mmmm, what?” I ask. “I think we’re past ‘mmmm,’ don’t you, Waldo?”
He taps his lips with the end of his pen. “Well, it’s apparent that you believe what you say. That you think you want this self-focused, low-responsibility lifestyle. The way Pinocchio wanted to cut his strings so he could be a real boy.”
There’s always a but.
“But I wonder, deep down, if you’ve outgrown that philosophy. If you actually crave something more profound in your life. Commitment isn’t always a burden, Brent. It can also be the source of unimaginable joy and satisfaction.”
I clear my thoughts and search my mind—the way Luke Skywalker did when Obi-Wan was teaching him the ways of the Force.
Nope—I got nothing.
“You’re barking up the wrong tree on this one.”
He shrugs. “Then ask yourself this: As “tied down” as your friends may be, do you think any of them are dreaming of rubies in the sand?”