Protecting the Bride
Military Men, Book 7
August 17, 2021
The wedding is off!
Curvy baker, Grace, kicks out her cheating fiancé two days before the nuptials. Unfortunately, her dream honeymoon is nonrefundable. She hates the idea of vacationing alone, but Cullen, her neighbor, suggests an alternative.
Military man, Cullen, has wanted Grace for years. During this furlough, he intends to move forward with his romantic plans. He’s devastated to learn of Grace’s impending marriage, then ecstatic on learning the wedding is off. Cullen seizes his chance, determined to woo the gorgeous Grace to his way of thinking.
The only problem is danger follows Grace on her fake honeymoon. While the military hottie is busy with seductive maneuvers, a menace arrives with his lady in their sights. It’s time for this alpha hero to do his thing and protect the bride.
You’ll love this friends-to-lovers romance because it contains a curvy jilted bride, the soldier from next door, a fake honeymoon, and lots of whipped cream and ketchup. Make of that what you will!
Other Books in the Military Men series
Read an Excerpt
The masculine shout followed by a sharp wolf whistle had Grace Feeney freezing in the middle of the footpath, near the bus stop. She glanced over her shoulder to see a six-feet-plus bearded man with shaggy brown hair bearing down on her. His faded jeans clung to the muscles of his thighs while a well-washed T-shirt—obviously destined for the rag bag soon—hugged his broad chest.
While she’d been gaping at the scruffy man, he’d used his long legs to cross the road and reach her side.
“Grace.” The man’s voice was softer now, his eyes a bright, sunshiny-day blue attracting her attention.
“Put down your shopping and let me give you a hug.”
It was the sight of his even white teeth and his husky voice that jogged her to sanity and rattled her memory back into sync.
“Aye, it’s me,” Cullen said with a huff of indignation. He patted the region of his heart with his right hand.
“I’m mortally wounded to learn you don’t recognize the man you babysat all those years ago.”
Grace rolled her eyes and attempted to rein in her smile. “You were ten, and in my defense, you’ve grown a few feet.”
His eyes twinkled. “I know, but I like to tease you.” His arms came around her in a tight, comforting hug the second after she set down her two canvas bags full of groceries.
She inhaled his fresh scent with a hint of citrus and laundry powder and savored the familiarity of his touch. When she seen him last—almost a year ago—he’d been clean-shaven with brutally short hair.
He pulled back with another flash of those white teeth. “I’m glad I saw you. I’ve just done a run to the local dairy for a bottle of milk.” He indicated the daypack he wore on his back that she hadn’t noticed earlier. “Stocked up on some snack treats too.”
Grace studied his features. Now that she knew his identity, she noted the minor details: the shadows of fatigue and the fact his smile didn’t always reach his eyes. “How long are you home for this time?”
“Perfect timing,” Grace said, forcibly halting her urge to caress his cheek and tell him he needed to sleep. Instead, she aimed for humor. “You can take care of my lawns for a change. That’s if you don’t have plans.”
“You’re going away?”
Grace cocked her head, their six-inch difference in height making this necessary, especially since she wore her work flats. “My honeymoon,” she said, beaming at him.
His mouth dropped open for an instant, but he recovered fast. “I didn’t know you were getting married. Who’s the lucky man?”
“Jeffrey Howard. You won’t know him since he moved to Papakura around six months ago. I met him during the time I was filming New Zealand’s Best Baker. He’s an accountant, and he works in Manukau. He—”
Cullen tapped her nose, and she ceased her chatter. “I still say you should’ve won that contest instead of coming second.”
“My appearance in the final opened doors for me. I’m writing a recipe book, a bakeware store wants me to promo their special line of products, and I’m enjoying my job at the café. Jenny, my boss, lets me do what I want with the menu.”
“I thought you wanted to set up your own place? The last time I was at home, you told me that was your dream.”
Grace shrugged. It was still her goal, but Jeff had convinced her it was better for them to purchase an apartment in the city, that cafes and restaurants failed all the time. After consideration, she’d decided he was right, and it’d be wonderful to have a place in inner Auckland. It was an investment. “I still want to do that one day.”
He nodded as if he was privy to her thoughts and agreed with her, but she also noted his sharp scrutiny, his brain busy dissecting her reply. She’d forgotten that about him—his keen intelligence. Most women looked at his pretty, striking face and sexy body, learned about his chosen career in the military, and misjudged him. They thought him only good for a jump in the sack, or at least that was what Cullen had told her last time he’d been at home.
“Will you invite me to dinner soon? I want to meet this fiancé of yours and make sure I approve of him before the wedding. Have you set a date?”
Grace grinned. “This coming weekend.”
“Wow, that was fast.” His expression blanked, which made it difficult to read his thoughts.
“Not really. We’re both in our thirties. We love each other and don’t see the point in waiting. I think you’ll like Jeff. He’s charming. Attentive. A supportive, intelligent extrovert and he encourages me to put myself out there. He wants to have kids soon.”
Although lately, Jeff had been cranky and dropped a few mean comments after working long hours. Problems at work, he’d told her when he’d arrived home and apologized with a bunch of spring flowers. She’d given him a pass since tiredness always made her snappish. No one was perfect. Grace noticed Cullen was grinning, and she pulled a face.
“Sorry. Listen to me babbling.”
“No, it’s great to see you happy.” He tugged her ponytail. “Where is my invitation?”
“I didn’t realize you’d be home. I’ll get an official invitation to you tomorrow. It’s so nice to see you again, Cullen.” Grace gave him another swift hug before stepping back. “I’ll call you about dinner. Maybe in the next night or two?”
“Works for me,” Cullen said and bent to pick up her shopping bags. “I’ll carry these to the door for you.”
“You’re rockin’ a mountain man look. I didn’t recognize you at first.”
Cullen grunted as he shortened the length of his strides to match hers. “The last mission I went on required us to fit in with the locals.”
“I see.” Grace didn’t ask for details. Cullen was tight-lipped about his job with the New Zealand Special Air Service. She no longer asked questions because he never proffered answers. All she knew was that his job was dangerous, and she gave a sigh of relief each time he came home in one piece.
Cullen handed over her shopping at the gateway. “I’d come in and bother you, but I’m meeting a friend for drinks.”
“No problem. It was great to see you again. I’ll check with Jeff about dinner and get back to you.” Grace impulsively stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek.
Cullen froze before stepping back, and Grace gave a small laugh to hide her sudden discomfort.
“See you soon,” she said with a wiggle of her fingers. She walked up the flower-lined footpath—the purple-and-white pansies were gorgeous this year—to the front door of the house where she’d grown up and halted. A pair of sneakers balanced on the branch of the tree in front of her property. Kids. She wasn’t getting out the ladder to retrieve them. If the owner of those shoes wanted them back, they could make the climb themselves.
She loved this house and hated the idea of selling it. Her parents had moved into a lifestyle village and given her the property for a token amount. This suburb was vibrant, and she enjoyed living here since she knew everyone in the neighborhood and it was close to work. It was also on the bus route, which came in handy since Jeff had needed to borrow her car this morning. By the time she walked past a bed of purple and pink petunias and the hanging basket bursting with spring color near the front door, Cullen had disappeared.
His mood had been strange, and she wondered if he was meeting a girlfriend.
She paused on the step, surprised to find the door ajar. That was odd. She pushed the door open and peeked inside, but nothing out of the ordinary jumped out at her. When she cocked her head, she heard nothing except the tick of the clock in the nearby lounge. She stepped inside and let out a shuddery breath. Stupid door. She’d been in a hurry this morning, and she’d carried a container. In the future, she’d make certain she shut and locked the door.
In the kitchen, she set her shopping on the counter. She slipped her handbag off her shoulder and left it on the chair. Grace unpacked her groceries, placing the milk and other chilled items in the fridge. She ripped off the inner seal of the ketchup bottle and prepared the whipped cream for future use. She was about to place the items in the pantry when a foreign noise encroached on her awareness.
Was that a groan?
She took two steps in the sound’s direction and came to a sudden halt. It wasn’t wise to take on an intruder. No, she’d call the police. Grace retreated to grab her phone from her handbag. She tapped in her password and pushed one-one. She was about to tap the third digit of the emergency number when a woman shouted.