Pretend It’s Love
Bar manager Paul Chapman is sick of his family’s traditional ideals. Marriage, babies, and a white picket fence? Not his gig. But now that his ‘golden child’ big brother is tying the knot, Paul’s screwed. His ex will be there…and she’s having his cousin’s baby. Unless he wants to show up to the wedding alone and face his family’s scrutiny, he needs a girl on his arm. Now.
Cocktail specialist Libby Harris has spent her life earning the nickname Little Miss Perfect, all to win the love of her wealthy, controlling father. But she deviated from his plan, and now her business is on shaky ground. If it fails, she might as well kiss his respect—and her dream—good-bye. Her only hope? Convince the hottest bar in town to take on her product.
Luckily for her, the owner’s brother is sexy as sin and in need of a perfect girlfriend…
"What a fun little story this was! Paul and Libby both have issues they have to overcome but their journey is truly rainbows and gumdrops. It was sweet and romantic and sexy and just plain fun to read!" - Jessica, OMG Reads
"This is one of those stories that you will pick up, fall into and not want to put down till you get to the end and then still want more. I loved this one as I did the first one in The Behind The Bar series." - 5/5 Contemporary Romance Reviews
"Ms. London evolved the strangers to lovers relationship with transparent finesse, and there was never a moment that I did not want Libby and Paul to find their forever together....If you are looking for a fun, well-written book with characters that are easy to connect with, then add Pretend It's Love to your TBR list."- 5 star Goodreads Review
"I loved this story. The poignant way in which it all comes together at the wedding and then the finishing chapters was a romance readers dream. So beautiful. Made my heart happy to the very end." - Melissa, Bella Mi
There were plenty of other things Paul Chapman would rather be doing than watching two people make googoo eyes at each other. He could stab himself in the eye with a steak knife. Or listen to his mother talk ad nauseam about the intricacies of the floral arrangements.
Either would be preferable.
“Man, you’ve got to lighten up.” Noah Reid, his best friend and soon to be fellow groomsman, elbowed him in
the ribs. “You look like you’re about to go all Friday the Thirteenth.”
“I hate pretentious parties.” He shoved a bite-size piece of toast with smoked salmon into his mouth. “And I hate this stupid, tiny food.”
“What did you expect?”
Noah had a point. Paul should have known what he was in for the second his brother announced the engagement party would be held in his fiancée’s family home in Toorak, aka the “old money” part of Melbourne. The Greenes were rolling in it. It was fitting that they’d be drinking the fanciest champagne on the market and eating food that looked fit for a dollhouse.
“Is it so bad that I want a burger and a beer?”
Noah laughed. “If you’re still hungry we’ll do a Macca’s run on the way home.”
Paul watched the happy couple. His big brother looked more satisfied than he’d ever seen him, and Gracie, his pintsize wife-to-be, wore a smile that managed to out-sparkle her impressive engagement ring.
“Reckon that will be us one day?” Noah asked, studying Des and Gracie as though they were an alien species.
“No way. Marriage is for chumps.” Paul screwed up his nose. “I’m only here because of Des.”
Stomach grumbling, his eyes roamed, already on the hunt for something else to eat. The current options were miniscule sushi rolls and pieces of raw fish. What was the point of eating something if you weren’t going to bother cooking it first?
He brought a champagne flute to his lips and knocked back the remainder of his drink. It wasn’t his poison of< choice but it was alcoholic. Better than nothing.
A gloomy funk had descended over Paul ever since the engagement had been announced. He was happy for
his brother, of course. Gracie was good for him and they’d worked hard to get past the early hurdles in their relationship. But it was just another opportunity for Des to prove to their family that he was the favorite. The golden child. The chosen one.
The son who would live up to all their expectations.
Des ran the restaurant and bar, First, where Paul worked. His big brother’s success in business would be
further complemented by a wedding. Then it wouldn’t be long before the bambini arrived, and Paul would never have a hope of catching him.
A waiter walked past carrying a tray of freshly filled champagne flutes. Paul switched his empty glass for a full one and downed half of it in a single gulp.
“Whoa there. You’re drinking like an eighteen-year-old girl at O week.” Noah shook his head, laughing. “I don’t want to be holding your hair back later tonight when that all comes back up.”
Paul opened his mouth to retort, but Des and Gracie were coming their way. He put on his best “happy brother” face and held his champagne flute up in salute. Gracie launched herself at the two guys, collecting them both in a hug that was impressive for a girl her size.
“How are my future brothers-in-law?” she asked.
Noah might not have been a flesh and blood brother, but the Chapman boys—and now Gracie—treated him as if he were part of the family.
“Enjoying the festivities. Paul here has taken a liking to the champagne.” Noah smiled innocently as Des rolled his eyes.
“Me, too.” Gracie leaned forward and winked at him, her cheeks flushed.
“Too many drinks, not enough dinner,” Des said with a frown. “We should get something into your stomach.”
“Don’t be a bore. I haven’t drunk like this since university—it’s a special night!”
“Can I get that in writing so when you’re glued to the bed all day tomorrow I can remind you the hangover is worth it?” She poked her tongue out at him before turning to Paul. “Was he always this straight-laced growing up?”
“Uh, yes,” Paul replied. “Hard to believe it, but he was worse.”
“Yikes.” Gracie giggled, covering her mouth with one hand.
When she wandered off to dance with her sister, Des shook his head. “The wedding planning has been a little…tense.”
Noah frowned. “Because of Mrs. Greene?”
No one ever referred to Gracie’s mother as anything but Mrs. Greene, although Paul had been led to suspect her name might be Cecilia. Despite sharing her daughter’s petite stature and flair for style, she lacked any of the warmth and charisma that Gracie exuded, and had a reputation as being a bit of a dragon.
“Yeah.” Des raked a hand through his dark hair. “She’s driving Gracie bananas, but I can’t get involved. She gets worked up if I mention it. Good thing it’ll be over in a few weeks.”
Paul choked on his drink. “A few weeks?”
“Yeah, we’re going to announce it tonight. The wedding is going to be in six weeks.”
“Is she…” Noah looked around to see if anyone else was in earshot.
Des folded his arms across his chest. “She’s not pregnant.”
“Not yet,” Noah said, waggling his eyebrows.
“Why the hurry?” Paul set the champagne flute down.
Des looked over his shoulder. “I don’t want this planning phase to go on any longer than it has to. Besides, we’re ready to be married. It sounds corny, but I don’t want to wait any longer.”
Paul made a gagging motion. “What chick flick did you pull that from?”
“Mock me, oh little brother. One day this will be you, and I’ll be the first one to remind you of this moment.” Des turned to Noah and slapped him on the back. “And when it comes to the wedding you have to wear a suit. No excuses.”
Noah had worn black jeans and an open-collared shirt under a leather motorcycle jacket, despite the fact that the invites had said Dress Code: Cocktail. “It’ll be the first time.”
Des moved on to talk to Gracie’s older sister and left the two men to their drinks. The engagement party was intimate. Private. Immediate family and the bridal party only. But the wedding would be filled with people Paul didn’t want to face. Most of all, his ex-almost-fiancée and the guy she’d married…who just so happened to be his cousin.
“Six weeks, can you believe it?” Noah shook his head.
“How are we going to plan a buck’s party in that time?”
But Paul’s mind was consumed with the wedding itself. He’d thought that Gracie and Des would have a more standard engagement, like one or two years…five, if he was lucky. Then he would have time to get his shit sorted, find someone he trusted enough to bring to a family function, and do something noteworthy so he didn’t have to rehash the overdone conversation about his lack of direction in life.
He could hear his aunts now.
Paul, why can’t you be more like your brother? Why haven’t you settled down with anyone yet? Don’t you want to get married? And the underlying question beneath it all: what did you do that was so bad your girlfriend cheated on you with your own cousin?
Like it was his bloody fault.
“Hey.” Noah waved a hand in front of his face. “I said, do you think Des would want a weekend away for his bucks?”
“Maybe.” Paul wanted to talk about anything that wasn’t connected to the wedding, but his concentration had
“You giving a speech?” Noah asked.
Paul looked up. “Huh?”
His friend pointed to a piece of paper sticking out of his suit pants pocket. “I thought you hated speeches.”
“I’m not giving a speech, but I did get her number.” He nodded toward the blond catering assistant who flushed when the two men turned to look at her.
“This is a family event.” Noah shook his head.
Paul grinned. “Girls love me, what can I say?”
“You’re so full of shit.”
Truth was he hadn’t really wanted her number, but old habits die hard. At one point women were the center of Paul’s life, though not any one woman in particular. However, lately he’d stopped going out partying with Noah.
He’d even deleted all the numbers in his phone that weren’t family or his mates. Empty encounters had begun to fill him with resentment.
The kind that burrowed deep down and made you question everything.
The sudden decline in socializing hadn’t gone unnoticed; both Des and Noah had questioned him to no avail.>/p>
He didn’t want meaningless sex anymore nor did he want to be chained up in a relationship hell. If only he could have some kind of in-between solution…
But now Paul had bigger problems to deal with other than his sex-life limbo. Tonight’s announcement meant he only had six weeks to find someone to stand by his side at the wedding and do something meaningful with his life. No big deal, right?
There was no way in hell he’d front up to his ex alone being exactly the same guy as when she’d dumped him two years ago. Not going to happen.