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Is there an equation for the perfect hookup? Turns out it’s a lot more complicated than one plus one. . . .
Sophie: Numbers are my comfort zone, which explains why my sex life is a big fat zero. Then again, if I’m smart enough to earn a PhD, why can’t I calculate a way to get a guy into bed, just to see what all the fuss is about? With my prima donna sister, Bella, getting married in Maine, I figure her wedding is the perfect opportunity for my little experiment. And Cain Jordan seems hot enough—he’s certainly drunk enough—to show me what I’ve been missing. Judging by the body of evidence, it’s a lot. . . .
Cain: Being stuck in the same town as my lying SOB twin brother, Christian—who may or may not be the father of the son I’m not allowed to see—is a hell of a reason to drink myself silly after the lobster boat docks each day. Any port in a storm . . . But Sophie’s different. She doesn’t play around. And she’s becoming a habit I don’t want to break. Because the smartest woman I’ve ever met is also the sexiest—and the only one who makes me want to change.
Don’t miss Bella and Christian’s story in The Breakup!
And look for all of Erin McCarthy’s soulful Nashville Nights romances: HEART BREAKER | DREAM MAKER | LOVE TAKER
Includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Hookup
Nine o’clock to ten o’clock. That is the sweet spot of my day, every day. It’s when the oppressive weight of sobriety has been lifted by the first few drinks. But before eleven or twelve, when I’m shitty and mean because I’ve had too many and I’m trying to get back to my personal happy hour by pouring more Jack down my throat. But you don’t go back. That’s the rub of it. Every night. There’s no going back. You think I would learn that lesson.
But I don’t.
I drink, I chase, I push, I break.
Then I stumble into bed, sometimes alone, sometimes not. Then I wake up with a dry mouth and an anger that simmers on low. It heats as the day goes on until I can hit the bar.
And mentally flip off my day, my ex, my brother, my life.
I don’t really mind my job, which is how I can get out there on the water day after day, busted and hungover. I’m a lobster fisherman, and on the water, where I can chuck my stomach contents over the side if needed, no one gives a shit if I’m a dick. A sour-faced asshole, sullen, quiet, occasionally coughing up a laugh. The other guys are used to me and the fish don’t care. I need the open air, crave it. In town the buildings close in on me, smother me, wrap their wooden clapboard arms around me and squeeze until I can’t breathe.
Funny then, that I love the bar, that I open that door with anticipation, and it welcomes me inside like the kiss of a lover. The low ceilings, the wormy wood, the dim lighting, should make me claustrophobic, but they don’t. Here, I know there will be distractions. Liquor. Conversation. Women. All of which help me to forget about a pair of blue eyes in the solemn face of a two-year-old child, a halo of blond curls around those pink cheeks.
Out on the ocean, I have time to think. Home alone at night, my thoughts strangle me like an extension cord wrapped around my neck, choking out my air.
But here, at The Thirsty Moose, in the arms of my addiction, I am the closest to happy I can be.
My name is Cain Jordan and I’m an alcoholic.
And I have no intention of changing that.
“This is a joke. I’m not stepping foot out of the house like this.” I looked in the mirror and saw a complete stranger. One who looked a lot like my sister, Bella, who was standing behind me in heels, beaming. I was instantly on the verge of an identity crisis, even though I knew the fastest way to achieve my goal for the night was to submit to Bella’s makeover. But damn, it was hard to look at. Like fashionista roadkill. The glam was horrifying, but I couldn’t look away.
Behold, the bedazzling of Sophie Bigelow, “The Girl with the High IQ and Zero Tolerance for Bling.” The look was signature Bella. What I liked to rock was what I called Cute Chic. Combat boots and high-waisted jeans with slouchy, off-the-shoulder sweaters. The vibe of “I cared, but I needed to be comfortable.” This was not comfortable. This was me on sexy steroids.
“But you look pretty,” Bella said, fussing with my hair, which she had diligently curled.
Between the curls, the fake eyelashes, the contouring, and whatever makeup voodoo she had conjured so that my lips appeared double their natural size, I looked like I had a Kylie Jenner fetish. It worked on Kylie. It worked on my sister. It did not do a damn thing for me. Somewhere under my sister’s canvas was the real me. The one who thought mascara and tinted lip balm constituted being made up and who was certain that push-up bras were the invention of the devil.
A niggle of doubt pushed through my previous confidence. I had run the numbers—mathematically, it was guaranteed to work. But only if I could follow through, and right now I wanted to do nothing more than to bury my head in a book and pretend I was a cyborg who was not interested in men or sex.
“Bella, I can’t even see.” I tried to blink and the fake eyelashes didn’t move. They were alien creatures perched above my eyeballs, dominating my view. It was like trying to see the world through the legs of a centipede. “The eyelashes, paired with the shoes, and it is one hundred percent possible I will fall and die tonight.” I kicked the heels off and gave an immediate sigh of relief. Better. I had to draw a line.
She made a face, still playing with my hair. “You know, everyone always accuses me of being dramatic. But because you’re smarter than me, no one seems to notice that you are the world’s biggest exaggerator. You’re not going to fall, so put those back on. You’re a brat, but you’re not clumsy. And this is why we’re doing this—it’s a test run. You’re breaking the look and the shoes in before the wedding.”
Oh, right, the wedding. Otherwise known as “The Wedding to End All Weddings.” “The Fairy Tale Fantasy Nuptials.” “Bella’s Current Reason for Being.” “The Most Pretentious Display of Excess Ever.” And the culmination of Bella’s two-year campaign to get her boyfriend Bradley to take it to the next level. So we were here, at our parents’ summer house in Camden, Maine, getting ready for the big day.
I pushed her hand aside, mildly annoyed that she had said I was exaggerating. None of this was my scene and that was no lie. I was the anomaly in the Bigelow family, the only one generally unconcerned with appearances, which drove my sister and my mother absolutely freaking insane. My father didn’t care, but then my father didn’t care about his family much to speak of anyway. His days and thoughts revolved around making money, golfing, and flirting online with women in bikinis who claimed to be aspiring sportswear models. I know that because I’ve looked, because I’m nosy.
“It’s a beach wedding. Can’t I wear sandals?” I said, because I really, really hate heels. If it’s not flip-flops, Converse, or boots, I don’t want to wear them. Bella is two years older than I am and we have a lifelong relationship that centers around her trying to make me over, and me resisting. Tonight I was going along with it because one) it was her wedding and two) I wanted to get laid.
But I couldn’t resist pushing back on the sandals because Rome wasn’t conquered in a day. I should take this in baby steps. Hair, makeup, tight dress, check. The heels were on a whole different level. Grad school versus middle school. I had asked Bella about wearing sandals to the wedding about three hundred times already and I knew what her reaction would be. She didn’t disappoint me.
She stomped her foot. Like, legit stomped her foot like a toddler, and I fought back a grin. But it was so easy to get a rise out of her, even when I wasn’t actually trying. She always thought I was being stubborn just to be a jerk, but I genuinely hate wobbling around on stilts while my toes are smothered by leather. It’s like strapping toothpicks onto a newborn colt and telling him to walk. Wearing heels is a sport and I don’t want to play.
“Stop asking me that! No sandals! Ugh! We’re not getting married on the sand. That’s why they’re called sand-als.” Her face scrunched up and somehow she made her tantrum look adorable.
Bella was beautiful. She always had been. She was also one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known, her thoughts simple, her heart pure. I felt bad, the way I always did, when I inadvertently goaded her and she fell for it. “I’m sorry, okay. I’ll shut up. But for the record, I want it noted I’m doing that for you, not because I want to, and only at the wedding.”
My sister never seemed nervous when it came to event planning, but it occurred to me that maybe she was. Getting married was a Big ****ing Deal and despite her confidence that she had her wedding and her life carefully planned, maybe she was anxious. I needed to respect that. The whole wedding was, to me, a designer circus, but this was what Bella wanted. What she had always wanted. I was trying to back her, I really was, but I sucked at all of this. I was way more comfortable back at grad school in class than playing right-hand man to the bride. I was too literal. Everyone knew that. I knew that. And sometimes I was too honest, which made people uncomfortable. That was never my intention, but I had never learned the art of conversation, the dance of choreography where everyone speaks in subtext. I’m too factual and generally speaking, that makes for a shit hostess.
Which was why my mother had secretly hired someone to do all my maid of honor duties. She didn’t think I could do it. It made me hugely uncomfortable to be taking the credit for fabulous ideas that were not at all mine, but I had agreed to it because there was no denying I blow at party planning and I didn’t want to disappoint Bella. “Will you relax?” Bella chastised. “Now, let’s go out and have fun.”
New York Times bestselling author Erin McCarthy sold her first book in 2002 and has gone on to pen more than sixty novels and novellas in the paranormal, contemporary romance, and young adult genres. A RITA Award finalist and an American Library Association winner of the Reluctant Young Adult Reader award, McCarthy is a member of Romance Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and Ohioana.