crazy Hearts

What happens when an unexpected pregnancy puts a secret billionaire and a working-class nurse on a collision course?

Zoe Inglot

You couldn’t pay me to date a rich man. Not after my surgeon boyfriend humiliates me in front ofwell, everyone. I didn’t gut it out in nursing school to settle like my single mom did.

A one-night stand doesn’t fit into my life plan, either. Until it happens. Mike was just being nice. But one drink turned into two, then threethen a morning-after walk of shame I won’t repeat. Ever.

“Lucky” Mike Daughtry

Why am I an MMA fighter? Win or lose, it’s all on you. I know Zoe’s on the rebound, but one taste of those cherry-red lips and I do something I know I’ll regret. I lie. About everything. My car, the family businessespecially my bank accounts.

It’s not hard to convince her to come with me on an exotic beach vacation—no pressure, letting her lead only as far as she wants to go. But after spending the week naked and horizontal, she discovers who I am. And she taps out.

Except one little souvenir ties us together, win or lose. I just hope my lie of omission doesn’t TKO our chance for a future. 

 

 

EXCERPT

 

“Name, please?” a man wearing a hotel blazer asks me at the terrace entrance of St. Rafe’s.

“I’m meeting someone,” I explain.

“Name, please?” he repeats without looking up from the seating chart at the hostess stand.

“Daughtry,” I tell him.

“Mike Daughtry?” He looks up at me with suddenly undivided attention.

“Yes. Do you know if he’s here yet?” I ask.

“I can have someone check for you, Miss…?”

“Inglot. Zoe Inglot.”

“Right away, Ms. Inglot.” The host calls over a waitress and whispers into her ear before she disappears.

While they go to see if Mike’s arrived, I study the light-filled lobby of the restaurant. The black-and-white checkered marble floor combined with the vivid still-life pictures on the tan walls give the place an elegant but easy-going vibe. Behind the hostess station, a painting with a crowd of people sitting around a long table dominates the room with its silent cheeriness.

It reminds me of how much I like this place even though I’ve been here only once.

“Ms. Inglot? Mr. Daughtry is outside on the terrace. This way, please.” The host gestures toward a double French door that leads outside.

It’s late Sunday morning, and it’s crowded with people enjoying brunch. Who can blame them? It’s clear and sunny without being too hot yet, and they fill the air with laughter and happy chatter. Just like the picture.

The long trip across town didn’t thrill me, but I wanted to see Mike again. After our lastencounter here, I felt badly about the way it ended. He’s too likable to be treated like that.

Then he turned up at the hospital, intent on trying to get past it, too. The thought of seeing him again fills me with tense excitement. Is it possible to put that behind us and start over?

I’m led past the crowded tables, around a terraced wall with pink and red flowers growing out of a long planter along its top edge. Behind the terrace are two tables with seating for four. The first one is empty. The second is occupied by a fit tall blond man dressed in casual clothes. He’s turned away from the aisle as he studies the killer view of the city skyline.

“Mike?” I say.

His blond head snaps around. “Zoe. Nice to see you.” He stands and there’s an awkward pause as we muddle through how to greet each other before he plants a quick kiss on my temple and gestures toward an empty seat across from him.

“Wow, you lucked out this morning,” I tell him.

“How’s that?” he asks.

 “This table has a great view of everything, and it’s not crowded here at all. How d’you manage that?”

“Just lucky, I guess.” He shrugs. “Would you like something to drink? Coffee? Mimosa?”

“Yes, please—” I’m trying to decide when Mike does it for me.

“Two coffees and two mimosas, please.”

“Right away.” The man disappears.

“You look good,” he says.

“Thank you.” I smooth my chambray colored T-shirt dress over my thighs and let him push the chair into the table. “So do you.”

“Thanks.” Mike removes his dark sunglasses and tosses them on the table before resting his hands on both thighs. “How is everything?” he asks.

“Fine. Work is going okay.” Our conversation feels awkward. “How about your MMA stuff?”

“I’m at a crossroads,” he admits. “One of my coaches suggested I drop twenty pounds and fight in a different division. I’m thinking it over.”

“Oh,” I reply after a long pause. “Is… that what you wanted to meet me about?” It doesn’t make any sense.

“No. I want to ask you something.” He crosses his legs while keeping his hands on parked on those athletic thighs. “But I don’t know how you’ll react.”

“Well, maybe you should just ask and find out.” My palms sweat and I smooth the skirt of my dress to dry them.

“Good idea.” He smiles at me with perfect teeth. “Zoe, have you ever been to Mexico?”

“Mexico? No. I’ve never been anywhere, really.” It’s hard to hide the regret I feel about it. “Why do you ask?”

“You remember me saying I work in real estate part time?”

“Yeah. So?”

The, uhcompany gives out a prize for most annual sales.” Mike grabs the sunglasses from his empty salad plate and twirls them in the air by the nose bridge. “This year I won.”

“Congratulations!” I’m truly happy for him. “It’s nice when something good like that happens.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“What d’you win?”

Mike stops spinning his sunglasses. I can see the lenses are blue, and that the amber-colored frames are a near perfect match for his hair. “A trip to Mexico,” he answers softly.

Is he serious? What kind of company does that?

“You know, I’ve heard about people winning stuff like that. But I’ve never met anyone who did. That’s fantastic.” I smile at him.

Mike’s stoic expression surprises me.

“What’s the matter? Don’t you want to go?”

“Oh, I want to go all right.” His gray eyes meet mine. “And I want you to come with me.”

My first response is laughter. Knee-jerk nervous laughter. “Me? I can’t.”

“Why not?” He sounds genuinely puzzled.

Thank god the waitress arrives with our drinks, giving me much needed time to collect myself. She seems a little nervous as she removes two flutes from her tray and places each one in front of us. When that’s done, she sets down a tray with sugar packets and fresh cream before slowly pouring coffee for us from a large white carafe.

“Can I take your order now?” she asks.

“We’ll order food later,” an impatient Mike replies. “Leave the coffee, please.”

She leaves the carafe, then walks away. Mike watches her retreat for a few seconds, then turns back to me.

“So where were we?” he prompts.

“Mike, I can’t afford to take a trip like that. And I won’t let you pay for it.”

“I’m not paying. I won it, remember?”

“I don’t have a passport.” Hopefully, my embarrassing confession ends the conversation.

“Do you have a birth certificate?”

“At home,” I admit.

“Good. There’s a business center in the hotel. We can do the application and run to the drugstore for a photo. Let me do the rest.”

I take a deep breath and reach for my mimosa. It’s cold, sparkling and delicious. It goes down easy, most in a single gulp.