I Do, I Don’t Book Two; Standalone
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For one charming playboy, getting cast on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show is the shock of a lifetime—until he finds love where he least expects it. And now the chase is on!
Gage Barrett’s reputation as a ladies’ man has been greatly exaggerated, but none of that matters after a drunken bet lands him on Jilted, a reality TV show that matches runaway grooms with wannabe brides. Now he’s stuck at a Hawaiian resort with nineteen women competing to drag him back to the altar—and one contestant who’s even more miserable than he is. Gage has no idea how feisty, independent Ellie Wright wound up in the cast, but it’s obvious she hates his guts. And if there’s one thing Gage likes, it’s a challenge. . . .
Ellie can’t believe she let her best friend talk her into exchanging her dignity for a glorified bikini contest. Still, she could use the exposure—her business is struggling—and she’ll probably be one of the first to get eliminated anyway. But Gage isn’t the shallow jerk Ellie anticipated—and he’s in no rush to send her home. As stolen kisses turn into secret trysts, she finds herself losing track of what’s real and what’s for the camera. With the wedding finale looming, this runaway groom is tempting Ellie to start believing in storybook endings.
Runaway Groom was a charmingly fun romance centered around a Bachelor-esque reality show, and underneath the backdrop of this show was a wildly hot and explosive love affair steeped with interesting characters and Layne’s signature wit. In what initially started as a love-hate relationship soon bloomed into a rare commonality of being in this thing together against all others, and from tentative friends came so much more.
What was most enjoyable about this novel was the progression of Ellie and Gage’s contemptuous feelings for one another and how it slowly and organically morphed into an odd state of mutual trust. But most of all, it was fully believable–both the actions of the other contestants and the show itself, along with the progression of their romance. And while it had delicious angst and build-up, there was an abundance of humor mixed in to keep it light. There was the potential to make Gage like other playboy-like characters, but Layne put a spin to how he was portrayed and made him incredibly likable and swoon-worthy with very little effort from the reader to fall for him. I imagine that Ellie fell for him in the same manner as I did, thus bringing her character into reality.
One of the reasons I adore this series is because each novel has felt so different while all being very much tied together, completely standing on their own but bringing the gist of the series into each one. Runaway Groom is the kind of novel you inhale and immerse yourself into, spending one sitting becoming a part of these characters and their world because it’s impossible not to.
I’m not going to see Gage tonight.
It’s been my mantra all day. All throughout the booze cruise, where I watched him make out with just about everyone with breasts.
All through the ride home, while I had to stare at the back of his head and listen to him laugh what I now know is his fake laugh.
All through dinner, where I did my best to ignore him. And all through the invitation ceremony, where we’d made eye contact only once, and it was rife with meaning.
I don’t know.
I feel my phone buzz under my pillow again, but refuse to look at it, because I’m pretty sure it’s him. I told everyone in my personal life that I wouldn’t have access to my phone for the month-long duration of the show, and most of them took it to heart. Other than a few thinking of you messages from my mom and Marjorie, my phone’s been quiet besides the texts from Gage.
Eden and Paisley both passed out almost immediately following one too many drinks on the boat, and then more drinking at dinner, then champagne at the pool. I’d cried headache and kept it mostly sober, although I’m not sure that was the best idea. The only thing my sobriety is earning me is crystal clear images of Gage and Cora, Gage and Hannah, Gage and Aurora . . .
My phone buzzes again, and I reach beneath the pillow and hit the power button without looking at the messages, then roll onto my back, flinging both arms over my head.
What is wrong with me?
Surely I’m not turning into a Gage Barrett groupie. I’m better than that. I’m not looking for a relationship, and when I do get around to that, it’s not going to be with the hottest thing in Hollywood with a reputation for leaving women at the altar.
I hang over the side of the bunk to look at the clock. Twelve-thirty.
He’s probably not even there anymore. Gage doesn’t strike me as the type of man to wait more than five minutes for a woman. Not when there are dozens of others to take her place.
I wonder what would happen if I left. If I made him eliminate me. Would he find another “spy”?
Even more heartbreaking to think about – who would he propose to? Paisley would be a solid choice, but she’s too good for him. He’d probably choose someone like Brooklyn. Someone who’s sweet and gorgeous but who will never challenge him.
The kicker is, I actually do have an idea about who he should send home next. He’s not doing well on his own. I mean, Hannah went home tonight, and that was a solid choice—girl was mean. But last night he sent home Skylar. After I specifically told him to trust his gut and pick someone he wanted to see gone. And of all the contestants—the aggressive Cora, the mean Brittany B., the full-on-crazy Eden—he gets rid of Skylar? She was sweet and harmless. Not the love of his life, perhaps, but better than most of the remaining women.
He got rid for her for me. So he and I could keep meeting. Even though I told him I want to go home.
I fling the covers back, quietly climb down from the top bunk, and slip on my flip-flops. He’s probably not still there, but if he is, I’ve got things to say to him.
I’m still fuming by the time I make it to the closet, and I tell myself that my heart is pounding with anger and not anticipation because I see the faintest light coming from beneath the door.
When I open it, Gage is sitting on the love seat, leaning forward, his shoulders slumped, his head down as he stares at his hands.
His head snaps up, his eyes finding mine a split second before a smile spreads across his face as though he’s glad to see me.
I start to smile back before I remember that I’m mad at him, and I step into the room, shutting the door behind me.
“I wasn’t going to come at all,” I say, dropping unceremoniously onto the love seat beside him.
He nods toward the table, where he’s got the usual bottle of wine and two glasses. “Your head still hurt, or you want a glass?”
How’d he know I was telling people I had a headache? The man’s more observant than I give him credit for.
“No thanks on the wine,” I say. Not because my head hurts, but because I need to keep it clear. “So, Hannah.”
He lifts a shoulder and pivots to face me. “My spy disappeared on me—didn’t give me any tips on who to send home.”
He opens his mouth as though he wants to respond, but then gives me an indifferent shrug. “Why not?”
I narrow my eyes, because that’s an evasion if I’ve ever heard one. “And Skylar? She was sweet.”
“Are you here to lecture me about the women I’ve already sent me home, or to tell me who I should send home tomorrow?”
I chew my lip for a second. “Fine. Naomi.”
A line appears between his eyebrows. “Why? She seems cool.”
“Cool? Or a good kisser?”
It’s not even a good jab—Naomi wasn’t one of the ones who kissed him on the boat. But who knows what he’s been up to when I haven’t been around?
His head snaps back slightly, and I want to punch myself in the face, because that is so not what I meant to say. The words came out petty and, well . . . jealous.
I hold up a hand. “Forget it, totally not my business, I know. But anyway, Naomi . . . yeah, she is cool. She’s also married.”
“She and Sidney are tight and she confided in her friend, only Sidney had way too much to drink and blurted it out to Brittany B., who promptly told the rest of us after dinner tonight.”
“What the hell is she doing on the show? Where’s her husband?”
“Apparently she signed a prenup, and if she leaves him, she doesn’t get a penny.”
“Yeah, well, pretty sure she’s not going to get a dime once the hubby learns about this.”
I shrug. “I dunno. Maybe she’s trying to get him to leave her. I don’t know the details, or what’s going on there. Just that legally she’s married, which would make you marrying her illegal at worst, a hot mess at best.”
Gage groans and drags his hands over his face. “What is wrong with these people?”
I give his knee a friendly pat and stand. “You’re surviving just fine.”
He drops his hands. “Where are you going?”
“Back to my room. I did my girl spy part.”
Gage reaches out and grabs my hand, pulling me back down to the love seat.
I resist the pull, I really do, but it’s no contest. I collapse with a quiet “oof,” my chin awkwardly knocking his shoulder. Irritated, I punch the same shoulder. “Damn it, Gage. Let me go.”
He’s still holding my hand, his face just a few inches from mine. “What was the deal with you today?”
“What do you mean?” I avoid his eyes.
“You were acting weird. You ignored my texts. You wouldn’t even look at me on the boat. Or at dinner.”
“I never look at you. Your ego shines so brightly, it hurts my eyes.”
Instead of letting me escape with the joke, Gage snags my chin between his thumb and forefinger, lifting my face to his as he searches my expression. “Talk to me.”
He’s so close. My eyes drop to his mouth for a split second, and I have the insane urge to press my lips to his.
But then I remember that’d make me the fourth woman he’s kissed today, and I pull back. “I need to get to bed. You should too. We both have another stressful day in paradise tomorrow looking at waterfalls on the road to Hana.”
Gage groans, and I smile a little as I climb to my feet once again. “You don’t like waterfalls?”
“I like looking at waterfalls just fine.” He rests his head against the back of the love seat, closing his eyes, and looking so exhausted and miserable that my heart lurches. “I just don’t love the fact that I’ve got to entertain thirteen women at the same time.”
“Twelve women,” I correct, stepping backward toward the door. “You won’t have to entertain me.”
His eyes open, and he pins me with a green stare. “Of course not. Ellie Wright’s too good for the rest of us.”
I pause, a little stung by the sharpness of his tone. “I don’t think that.”
“No?” he asks, climbing to his feet.
“You’re the one who asked me to be your eyes and ears with the other women,” I remind him, punching a finger into his chest. “You’re the one who bugged me to come here tonight.”
“And yet you agreed to my terms, and you came tonight,” Gage retorts. “Your choice, Ellie. So you don’t get to be pissy.”
“I’m not!” My finger pushes his chest again.
“You are.” His hand lifts, wraps around my hand, crushing my fingers lightly. “You’re mad at me, and you won’t tell me why. I’m not even sure you’ll tell yourself why.”
I keep my eyes locked on his Adam’s apple. “I’m not mad. I just want to go home.”
“Two nights ago, you were fine staying. You were good with it. Something changed.”
“Yeah? Look me in the eyes and say it.”
“You’re just hoping I’ll compare your eyes to guacamole again.”
He laughs, causing his chest to lift and fall beneath my hand. I try to tug it free, but he holds me still.
My eyes close a second, then I take a deep breath, force myself to quit being a ninny chicken, and lift my gaze to his.
“Yup, avocado,” I say with a smile.
He doesn’t smile back. “About the boat today . . . the women I kissed . . .”
“I get it,” I say on a rush. “You told me the other day that the producers were complaining because you hadn’t kissed anyone yet, so you did that and one better, kissing multiple women. They must have been thrilled.”
“They were,” he says quietly.
It’s not what I want to hear, not at all, and I yank my hand away and spin back toward the door. “Congratulations.”
I open the door, and he shuts it again. “Would you just fucking admit it?”
“Admit what?” I tug on the doorknob, but he leans a shoulder against the door, holding it closed with his weight.
“You were jealous.”
I scoff. “No.”
“No?” He touches my ear gently, and it shouldn’t be sexy, because it’s an ear, but his fingers are warm, his touch gentle, and my eyes close. “They kissed me.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t exactly see you shoving them away,” I say on a whisper.
“I’m an actor, Ellie. Kissing for the camera is part of my job. It’ll always be part of my job.”
“I know that!” I practically shout, turning toward him and batting his hand away. “I get that. What I don’t get is why we’re talking about it! I didn’t ask you not to kiss them. I didn’t even bring it up, you did! You can kiss whoever you want. You should kiss the women. If you’re going to freaking marry one of them, you should kiss all of them, you should—”
Gage captures my face with both of his hands, derailing the rest of my rant with a kiss so unexpected and demanding that I gasp against his lips.
My hands lift, my fingers wrapping around his wrists as I open my mouth to his.
The second I do, Gage groans and deepens the kiss, his tongue sliding against mine. His fingers tunnel into my hair, and my hands slide from his wrists and up his arms until I can wrap my arms around him, pulling him closer.
I’ve had my fair share of kisses in my life, with a lot of decent ones, I’d thought at the time, but kissing Gage is on a whole other level. The man knows what he’s doing, because I feel like the only woman in the world—the only woman in his world.
One of his arms drops around my waist, pulling me against his hard body, his other hand cupping the back of my head as he takes the kiss from deep and sensual to light and teasing and back again.
It’s the perfect kiss, as though he were made for me, and I for him, except . . . I open my eyes.
Except we aren’t made for each other.
He’s good kisser not because of some magical chemistry between us but because he’s had so much practice.
I can’t do this.
I’m not the kind of girl Gage Barrett wants, and I don’t say that in a self-disparaging way so much as . . . well, he’s the Sexiest Man Alive, and I sell T-shirts. He lives in a mansion, I live in a studio apartment. He’s gorgeous, I’m . . . regular.
But none of that’s even the agonizing part.
It’s that I could lose myself in him, which is dangerous. He’s the type of guy who can and will walk away without a backward glance, and I’d be left to pick up the pieces.
Somehow I think it’d be so much harder with him than it was with Sean.
I wrench away from him with a gasp, and both of his hands tighten reflexively, as if he’s reluctant to let me go. But when I squirm again, he releases me.
We stare at each other, breathing hard, and I lift a shaky hand to my mouth. “Well. I guess I did tell you to kiss all the women.”
He frowns in confusion, then glares in anger when he puts the pieces together. “That’s not why—”
“Yeah, it is,” I say, reaching for the doorknob and jerking the door open before he can keep me here and convince me to do something stupid. “You said it yourself—you kiss women for a living, Gage. Just do me a favor and keep me out of it. When I kiss guys, I like it to be for real.”
I slip into the hallway before he can reply, but I have to walk away now. Before I can dwell on the fact that pain flashed across his face at my words.
For the second time today, my eyes sting with the threat of tears—for myself, yes, but also because I’ve been so damn worried about not letting him hurt me that I haven’t really realized . . . what if I hurt him?
And why does that bother me so much?
I Do, I Don’t Book One; Standalone; My Review
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I Do, I Don’t Book Three
Release Date: March 20, 2018
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♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦
Lauren Layne is the USA Today Bestselling author of more than a dozen contemporary romance novels.
Prior to becoming an author, Lauren worked in e-commerce and web-marketing. A year after moving from Seattle to Manhattan to pursue a writing career, she had a fabulous agent and multiple New York publishing deals.
Lauren currently lives in Chicago with her husband and plus-sized Pomeranian. When not writing, you’ll likely find her running (rarely), reading (sometimes), or at happy hour (often).
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