When it comes to her sisters and their family’s event hotel, London Spark is willing to sacrifice almost everything, including her love for all things creative in exchange for the role of business administrator at the Spark House. So when a multi-million-dollar company asks for a meeting to discuss a potential partnership, London is determined to prove to herself and her sisters that she can win them over. She thinks she has the partnership in the bag until the company’s arrogant CEO hijacks her presentation.
Jackson Holt has lived his adult life avoiding relationships and focusing instead on his company and charity work. But when he met London months ago, he decided to take a chance, only for the timing to be wrong. So imagine his surprise when he walks past a conference room to see London again. Determined not to waste a second chance to get to know her, he inadvertently inserts himself into planning an event at the Spark House. While he may get to spend time with London, he realizes he needs to keep it within professional boundaries. But as soon as their event is over, all bets are off.
After spending months dating, but not really dating, and with their work entanglements over, London and Jackson are finally ready to take the next step in their relationship. But between Jackson’s secretive past and London’s struggle with her sisters, London must question where she really stands—not just with Jackson, but with the Spark House, too.
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The Great Date Debate
“One more round?” I tap my empty margarita glass.
“Ohhh, London’s cutting loose tonight!” Harley, my younger sister, elbows me playfully in the side, her dimpled grin wide and toothy.
Avery, our older sister, looks up from her phone, which she’s been on for most of the evening and points a finger at me. “I’m not piggybacking you home.”
“Ha ha. I’ll be fine. We had all those apps.” I motion to the nearly empty plate of spinach dip and the remains of our nachos.
Truth be told, I’m already feeling the first two margaritas, but I’m having too good a time to put a pin in it now. I’ll take a couple of Tylenol before bed, drink a gallon of water, and be fine tomorrow morning. Mostly fine, anyway.
When our server comes around again, I order another margarita, Harley picks a sex on the beach, and Avery asks for a half-pint of light beer. While we wait for our drinks to arrive, I arrange the paper stars I’ve amassed over the past couple of hours into a small pile. I’m a compulsive fidgeter, and I used to pick my nails. It’s a nervous habit, and one I’ve had to learn to curb. Now instead, I make origami stars. I’ve made about two dozen since we’ve been here, which has helped slow my margarita consumption.
“I gotta say, I’m really happy to have fun London back.” Harley rests her head on my shoulder and hugs my arm. Her blond bob tickles my skin.
She looks like a little pixie, especially when she’s sitting beside me, since I’m a good head taller than she is.
“I’m always fun,” I say indignantly.
Even as her phone buzzes with another message, Avery sets it facedown on the table.
She and Harley exchange a look before Avery turns her gaze on me. “Every time you get into a relationship you turn into ‘serious London.’” She makes air quotes around the unpleasant nickname.
“That’s ridiculous. I do not.”
Harley nods her agreement. “Sorry to break it to you, but you totally do.”
I glance from one to the other, and have to wonder if they’re both drunk. “Have you two been talking about this? I mean, you must have if you’ve picked nicknames like fun London and serious London.” At least they’re not calling me something worse.
“We don’t mean it in a bad way,” Harley assures me.
“I don’t know that saying I become an ‘unfun’ person when I’m in a relationship can be taken in any other way but bad.” I have no idea where they’re coming up with this.
Harley hugs my arm again. “We literally just noticed it before we came out for dinner. You’ve been on the fence about Daniel for weeks now, and the second you broke things off, it was like a switch flipped. All of a sudden serious London went on holiday and fun London came out to play.” She taps my empty margarita glass. “Over the past eight months, I can count on one hand how many times you’ve come out with us for drinks and had more than one margarita. Daniel was a wet blanket, and he was weighing you down with his ‘poor me, it’s so hard to be a professional photographer blah blah blah’ complaining.” She hiccups loudly.
I was already aware that neither of my sisters had warm feelings for Daniel.
“I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did, to be honest,” Avery says from behind the rim of her pint glass.
“Well, his travel schedule was partly responsible for that.” I tried to make it work about four months longer than I should have, and struggled to convince myself that I was more into him than I was. I really did want him to be “the one.” On paper, he seemed like the perfect boyfriend. But as with all of my failed relationship attempts, we fizzled out. Like a fire made with wet wood, I could never find that spark people talked about. Ironic, given my last name is literally Spark.
I finally found the lady balls to break it off three days ago. And managed not to chew my nails to stubs before I had the dreaded conversation with Daniel, which is a feat on its own. My relief at it coming to an end was a pretty decent indicator that I had done the right thing. Of course, I felt bad about it since Daniel believed everything was going great. I’d had to give him the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” spiel. It was mostly true, and a lot better than telling him that kissing him was about as stimulating as an empty room with white walls. So I embellished a bit, saying I wasn’t looking for something serious at the moment.
Post-breakup, I did what I always do—I shifted my focus back into work, both at Spark House and my online Etsy store. Except tonight, Harley suggested we celebrate my freedom, and apparently the return of “fun London” with drinks, so here we are.
“He was too needy,” Avery says.
“And kind of pretentious.” Harley wrinkles her nose.
I shrug. They’re not wrong. He was both of those things. “And also fairly uninspiring in bed.”
The server returns with our drinks, and we toast to cutting free pretentious, needy men.
Avery’s phone pings for the seven millionth time this evening.
“Speaking of needy, is that Declan?” My lips are a little loose, thanks to the drinks. And I think my jealousy is probably showing. Not that I want to be in a relationship where I’m attached at the hip. It’s more that Avery and Declan are ridiculously in love with each other. When they’re together, you can practically cut the sexual tension with a knife.
Avery gives me her unimpressed face. “He’s trying on suits and asking about the difference between periwinkle and sky blue.”
“Why doesn’t he just google it?” Harley pops the cherry from her drink into her mouth.
“I have no idea. Honestly, I don’t even know the difference between periwinkle and sky blue. Or if they’re the same color. I just said, let’s go with our college colors. All he has to do is show them our old jerseys, and they can go from there.”
“I love you, but I will not be wearing a bridesmaid dress in team colors, especially when those colors are blue and maroon,” I tell my sister. “Lines need to be drawn somewhere.”
“I thought it would be way cool if we had a whole soccer-themed wedding. It could be super casual.”
This doesn’t surprise me. Avery is an athlete and an adventurer through and through, so I couldn’t imagine her wedding not incorporating what she loves. She and Declan met in college and became best friends as they bonded over sports. It was an interesting turn of events last year when they got together after she was in a serious car accident. Declan became her caregiver while she was healing, and they realized what everyone else already knew—they’d been in love with each other for years but hadn’t been willing to face it. And now they’re getting married. I’m happy that they’re so in love, but at the same time, it shines a light on how not in love I was with Daniel. I want to find my person, but I don’t have a male best friend to fall for.
“You just don’t want to wear heels.” I take another sip of my margarita, licking the salt from my lips.
A glint of light grabs my attention, and I glance at the table kitty-corner to us. A man wearing a watch lifts his beer to his lips. My gaze meets his briefly before I turn back to my sisters.
Harley leans in closer. Even though her drink is light on alcohol and high on sugar, she’s tipsy. She has an even lower tolerance than I do. “That guy over there is totally checking you out.” She tips her chin in his direction.
I slap her thigh under the table. “He is not. He’s probably checking you out. Or the game that’s on the TV behind us.”
“The TV’s are on the other side of the bar. And he’s definitely not looking at me. He’s looking at you. His buddy keeps snapping his fingers at him like he’s trying to get his attention and failing.”
Avery starts to turn around, so I kick her under the table. “Don’t you dare look over there.”
“Ow! That was totally unnecessary. I just wanted to take a peek. Geez. Chill out.” She slides along the bench seat.
“What are you doing?” As if I need my sisters drawing attention to us, especially with Harley being halfway to drunk. She gets loud when she has more than one drink. Sometimes it’s embarrassing for more than just her.
“Going to the bathroom. I’m two beers in, and I need to break the seal.” Avery wags her brows and points at Harley. “Don’t worry, I’ll be super discrete about checking him out, unlike this one.”
“I wasn’t obvious!” Harley defends herself. Loudly.
I elbow her in the side, causing her drink to slosh and a small puddle of liquid to spread under my pile of stars. “Can you use your inside voice?”
“It’s not like I’m shouting through a megaphone. Besides, there’s music, and sports, and conversations going on all around us. It’s not as if that guy can hear us talking about him.” Harley chases her straw around her drink until she finally manages to snag it with her lips.
Avery does a terrible job of being sneaky while taking a peek at the guy, who happens to be looking our way when she passes his table.
“He’s doing it again. I bet you a million dollars he’s working up the nerve to come talk to you,” Harley murmurs. “And he’s kinda hot.”
I snort indelicately. “I sincerely doubt that. No one actually comes up to someone in bars anymore. Besides, I’m with my girl gang, which is doubly off-putting. Also, if you had a million dollars to throw around on bets, I guarantee you would not be running social media for Spark House.”
She shrugs. “It’s not a bad gig.”
“It would be great if Avery would let us hire someone to help out this year.” I swipe at the rim of my drink and suck the salt off my finger.
“You know how she feels about hiring nonfamily members.” She swirls her straw in her glass.
“Maybe we can adopt an extra sister,” I suggest, and Harley giggles.
I glance over at the guy, unable to stop myself from looking, and meet his gaze. He lifts his beer and his eyes crinkle with his smile. I give him a quick smile back, which I’m sure looks more like a constipated grimace, and pick up my own drink, trying to hide behind it.
He’s not just kinda hot, he’s Bunsen-burner-blue-flame hot. He has a beard, which usually I’m not a huge fan of. But it’s not one of those “alpha male, I’m using facial hair as a reason not to engage in personal grooming” beards. Even with the facial hair, I can tell that he has high cheekbones and a square jaw. His hair is chestnut brown and a little unruly at the sides, as though he’s overdue for a haircut.
He’s dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with the word RECYCLE on the front in faded capital letters. Despite his casual attire, there’s something about the way he carries himself. When he raises his hand to stop the server passing by, she grows visibly flustered. As though having his attention on her is too much for her to handle.
The watch is another thing that draws my attention, especially since it seems a bit of a contradiction to his jeans and T-shirt ensemble. It’s not a sports watch, but an older one, maybe an antique. He looks to be in his thirties, and not many people in this generation choose to wear anything but a Smartwatch, favoring the ease of a cell phone when they need to know what time it is.
Avery returns, and we finish out drinks, flagging down the server for the bill, to which she gives us an awkward smile.
“So, um, your bill has already been paid.” She inclines her head marginally in the direction of the table with the hot guy. “He picked up the tab.”
“Oh, wow. Okay. Well, that was nice.” Especially since we racked up quite the bill with our drinks.
“What about the tip?” Harley asks, digging into her purse.
Our server holds up her hand. “Oh no, he was more than generous.”
“Absolutely.” She nods.
Avery and Harley exchange another one of those knowing looks. My stomach does a flip-flop as our server moves on to another table and the hot guy slides across the bench seat and rises. He’s tall, must be over six feet, and lean. Broad shoulders that taper down to a narrow waist. I glance at his feet and notice his scuffed running shoes.
He rolls his shoulders back and crosses over to our table. He nods to my sisters, but doesn’t really look at them, his eyes on me. Now that he’s right in front of me, I notice they’re a deep mossy-green color, reminding me of a Colorado forest. “Hi.” A slow smile forms as his gaze moves over my face.
I feel it like a gentle caress and heat travels through my veins. It’s an unexpected reaction, so my own “hi” comes out rather breathily. “Thank you for the drinks and the food. You really didn’t need to do that.”
His grin widens, showing off perfectly straight, white teeth. “Well, I wanted to make a good impression, and have an excuse to come over and talk to you.”
Harley squeezes my leg under the table. I don’t risk looking at her because I’m sure she’s smiling like a loon.
“You certainly did that. Make a good impression, I mean.” Why am I so awkward right now? And why does it feel like this man is sucking all the oxygen out of the room and turning my brain cells into mush?
That gets me another smile. “I wanted to apologize if it seemed like I was staring. I hope I haven’t made you uncomfortable.”
I touch my fingers to my lips and resist the urge to play with my hair, but just barely. Why does this man make me feel like a starry-eyed high school girl? “You haven’t made me uncomfortable.”
“Good. That’s very good.” His tongue drags across his bottom lip. “I just needed to tell you that from across the room, you were beyond stunning, but up close.” He lets out a low whistle. “You are an absolute work of art.”
I fight with my eyebrows not to rise. This guy has all the lines. “Oh, really?” I lace my fingers together and set my chin on them. “The kind of art you might hang in your living room?”
I laugh. I can’t decide if this guy is too smooth for his own good. Or mine. I have to wonder how many times he’s dropped these lines on other women and they’ve ended up in his bed as a result.
“That sound is music to my ears,” he says, his white-toothed smile still in place. “I knew I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t come over here and at least say hello.” He slides a small piece of paper across the table, roughly the size of a business card. “I’m going to leave my number, and maybe if you’re interested, I can take you out for a drink, or dinner, or a hot air balloon ride.”
I can see exactly where this will go if I take that card from him. And while getting into bed with a random, attractive man might be fun, I know it’s not the right thing for me. Before I can really consider what I’m doing, or fully absorb the last part, I put a hand out to stop him. “I’m very flattered, but I have to be honest with you. I won’t call you. I have a boyfriend.” The lie tastes sour on my tongue. Although, had it been three days earlier, it would have been the truth.
Avery does some kind of cough-choke thing, and I kick her under the table and get Harley on the back swing.
His smile falters for a moment, but he doesn’t break eye contact. “That’s disappointing, but unsurprising. I didn’t see a ring, so I’d hoped maybe luck was on my side.” He tips his head to the side. “Is it serious?”
“You and this boyfriend, are you two serious?”
This guy is unbelievable. “And if we are?”
“Hmm.” He withdraws his hand and slips the paper in his pocket. “I’d hate for karma to pass judgment on me and get in the way of our future together, so I’m just going to hope I run into you again when you’re single. Have a lovely night, ladies.” He nods to my sisters and gives me one final lingering glance before he winks. “Thank you for existing.”
And then he walks away.
Our table sits in silence, and Avery cranes her neck to watch him leave.
“Oh my God. Did that just happen?” Harley whisper-yells.
Avery smacks my arm. “Why did you tell him you had a boyfriend?”
I deflate. “Because I just got out of a relationship and the last thing I’m looking for is a rebound. Plus those lines were unreal. I’m sure he does this on a weekly basis, and some poor unsuspecting woman ends up in his bed and then never sees him again.”
“You could have at least taken his number, though!” Avery says. “What would have been the harm in that?”
“What if he was the one?” Harley glances out the window, maybe checking to see if he’s still in the parking lot. Harley is a real believer in fate and karma and everything happening for a reason.
“If he was the one, there would have been a sign, don’t you think?” Like a meteor shower. Or the zing. Or a shooting star.
Avery shrugs it off, as is her way. “Well, I guess now we’ll never know, will we?”
When we leave the bar, I tip my head up. The sky is clear, stars sparkling above our heads. And of course, one shoots across the night sky. I roll my eyes. It’s just a coincidence. Not a sign. Taking that guy’s number would have been a mistake. One I saved myself from making with a little white lie.