This week’s Romance Cafe features an inside look into Marie Ferrarella’s ‘Fortune’s Valentine Bride’
Romance Cafe is an exciting new weekly series on Kmart Books where we introduce readers tothe world of series romance with sizzling content including free chapters, excerpts, video trailers and more. Simply, Romance Cafe gives readers a little taste of romance…
Blake Fortune might not have been the easiest boss in the world, but Katie Wallace knew him better than anyone. Neighbors and longtime friends, she and Blake made a great team. Katie dreamed they’d someday be more?.
But time was running out. Spurred on by last month’s life-altering tornado, Blake had decided it was time for him to marry?somebody else! With the rest of the Fortunes rooting her on, the spunky secretary had to find a way to change his mind fast. Could her plan really win over the Fortune of her dreams?
About the author:
Marie began to write her first romance novel when she was 11 years old, although she claims that, at the time, she didn’t even realize it was a romance! From an early age, Marie’s parents would find her watching television or tucked away in some private place, writing at a furious pace. During her days at Queens College, acting started to lose its glamour as Marie spent more and more time writing. After receiving her English degree, specializing in Shakespearean comedy, Marie and her family moved to Southern California, where she still resides today.
Marie has one goal: to entertain, to make people laugh and feel good. “That’s what makes me happy,” she confesses. “That, and a really good romantic evening with my husband.” She’s keeping her fingers crossed that you enjoy reading her books as much as she’s enjoyed writing them!
Excerpt from Marie Ferrarella’s‘ Fortune’s Valentine Bride’
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Blake,” Wendy Mendoza said to her brother as she tried, and failed, to find a comfortable spot on her bed, “but with all this hovering about you’re doing, I’m beginning to feel like a watched pot.”
Blake Fortune dragged over the chair he’d brought into his younger sister’s bedroom earlier and straddled it. “Isn’t that actually a good thing?” he pointed out. “Watched pots aren’t supposed to boil, or, in your case, give birth prematurely.”
Which was, between the terbutaline injections to stop her contractions and the enforced bed rest, exactly what the doctor and she were trying to prevent.
But that didn’t mean that she had to be happy about this state of affairs, Blake knew. And the longer she lay there, inert, the more restless she grew.
“Isn’t there something you could be doing?” she pressed, more accustomed to his teasing than his concern. “I mean, I really do appreciate you deciding to drop everything and come running back to Red Rock to hold my hand, but having everyone practically walking on eggshells around me is really making me feel very tense and nervous.”
Which was, he knew, counterproductive to what they were all really trying to do—keep her pregnant until the baby was strong enough to survive on its own when she emerged.
“If this keeps up,” Wendy warned, “I’m going to wind up giving birth to a neurotic baby who’s going to go straight from the delivery room to some psychiatrist’s couch.”
Blake laughed, shaking his head. At least she hadn’t lost her offbeat sense of humor. The whole family had gone through one hell of a trauma when that tornado had hit. And then on top of that, when Wendy had suddenly gone into premature labor, it had put a scare into all of them.
Thank God for modern medicine, he thought. Now she was back to her feisty self—except for not being able to get out of bed, he amended.
“Well, obviously the tornado had no effect on your imagination,” he commented. But one look at her expression told him that she was being serious. She wanted him out of her bedroom. He supposed that if he were in her place, he might feel a bit crowded, too. “You’ve already kicked me out of your house to bunk with Scott at his place,” he reminded her. “You want me to go altogether?”
Reaching out, Wendy caught her brother’s hand and threaded her fingers through his. She loved all her siblings, but, as the baby of the family, Blake was the brother she was closest to. He was the second youngest. Together they were the bottom of the totem pole.
“No, I don’t want you to go altogether,” she told him with feeling, “but I don’t want you putting your life on hold because of me, either.” He’d been her constant companion for two days now. It was time he got back to his career, to his life. “With computers and teleconferencing, you could work anywhere. Why don’t you set up a temporary office at Scott’s and take care of business before Dad comes, breathing down your neck for dropping the ball, or whatever cliché he favors these days.”
John Michael Fortune, who she felt certain did love his family in his own, private way, was ultimately responsible for the turn her life had taken. If her father hadn’t insisted on sending her here, to Red Rock, Texas, in hopes of waking up her heretofore sleeping work ethic, she might have never discovered the two ultimate passions of her life: baking and Marcos—not necessarily in that order.
Her newfound passion for baking and creating desserts had come to light when she had gone to work at the restaurant that Marcos managed for his aunt and uncle, who were friends of her parents. At the time it was clear that Marcos felt he was being saddled with her and that he thought she was a spoiled little rich girl, totally incapable of doing anything right.
Marcos had been looking to fire her, while she in turn was looking for ways to prove herself. What neither one had been looking for was a life commitment, but they’d found it, in spades. Now she was married to Marcos and expecting his child any day.
A baby that had almost been born nearly a month ago, thanks to the tornado that had ripped through Red Rock just minutes before her family, who had flown out for her Christmas Eve wedding, were to take off for Atlanta.
It still left her breathless when she thought about it. One minute, she was saying her goodbyes, the next, they were being all but buried alive in debris as the tornado buzz sawed through the airport, collapsing it all around them.
The shock of it all, including having Marcos’s badly injured brother, Javier, lapse into a coma, was too much for her. She found herself going into labor way before she was anywhere near her due date. Luckily, her doctor was able to temporarily curtail her contractions with injections. The hope was that she could hold on long enough for the baby’s lungs to develop sufficiently to sustain the infant outside the womb.
Right now the process seemed as if it was taking forever. And having Blake constantly slanting wary glances in her direction really wasn’t helping anything, especially not her frame of mind.
The problem was Blake could see her side of it. If the tables were turned, he wouldn’t want people hovering around him, either, no matter how much he loved them. “I suppose you have a point.”
Wendy smiled broadly, relieved that Blake wasn’t offended by her strongly worded “suggestion.” But then, this was Blake and, most of the time, they really did think alike.
“Of course I do.”
Blake was already focusing on another project, one that had gone begging for his attention much too long. It was time to stop allowing it to take a backseat and get started on it in earnest.
“Actually, there has been something I’ve been meaning to do ever since we were practically buried alive in that airport,” he confessed to her.
Wendy wasn’t sure she was following him. “You were thinking of business at a time like that?” she asked incredulously. “God, Blake, you’re more like Dad than I thought.”
No, he highly doubted that any one of his father’s offspring would ever be placed in the same category as their dad. The man ate and slept business and, while he expected the same of his children, none of them, Blake thought, would ever measure up to the old man’s expectations. Blake sincerely doubted that anyone—besides a robot—could.
“Not business exactly,” he explained. For the mo-ment, he moved his chair in even closer to Wendy’s bed, lowering his voice. This was something he wasn’t ready to share with the immediate world—at least not yet. “When it looked like we actually might not make it, I promised myself that if we did survive, I’d stop putting my life on hold and do what I should have done years ago.”
Intrigued, Wendy sat up a little straighter in her bed. She pushed another one of the pillows behind her, tucking it against her back. “Go on,” she encouraged, curious where this was going.
“I promised myself that, if I survived, I was going to go after the woman who I allowed to slip away all those years ago.” Smiling broadly at the plan that was, even now, evolving and taking on layers in his mind, Blake paused a second for dramatic effect, then shared the woman’s name. “Brittany Everett.”
“I changed my mind,” Wendy told him. “Don’t go on.” She blew out a breath, sincerely disappointed with Blake’s revelation. She’d hoped that the socialite Brittany Everett, would be a thing of the past in Blake’s life. Actually, she’d secretly been hoping that when her brother’s thoughts finally took a more serious turn toward things of a romantic nature, it would be images of Katie Wallace that ramped up his body temperature.
Everyone but Blake, apparently, knew that Brittany was just a spoiled Daddy’s girl. In addition, she was someone who gave all “Southern belles” a bad name.
Trying her best not to look annoyed, Wendy slumped back on her pillows.
“What do you see in that woman?” she demanded in frustration. Before Blake could answer, she held up her hand. She was in no mood to hear any accolades for a woman she had never liked. “I mean, other than the obvious—that she could tip over if she turned around too fast.” The woman under discussion had a pretty face, a large chest—and a completely empty head, not to mention no heart to speak of.
Wendy was pregnant and her hormones were undoubtedly all over the charts, Blake reasoned, so he let her last comment go and only said defensively, “You don’t know Brittany.”
Now, there he was wrong, Wendy thought. “Oh, but I do, Blake, I really do,” she countered. Fixing him with an exasperated look, she insisted, “Blake, she’s not good enough for you.”
He laughed. When Wendy was very young, she’d been very possessive of him and jealous of any time he spent with anyone besides her. He supposed that there was still a tiny bit of that little girl left, even though she was now a married woman.
“You’d say that about anybody.”
His protest made her think of Katie. Katie was extremely likable and had a great deal going for her. Katie’s family lived practically next door to hers in Atlanta, and they had all grown up together. She was kind, pretty and smart—and not even the least bit self-serving.
Brittany, on the other hand, was convinced that the world existed only for her own pleasure. Not only that, but it all revolved around her, as well.
Granted, Brittany and Blake had dated during his senior year, but from what Wendy had heard via the grapevine, she hadn’t changed a bit.
“No,” Wendy said firmly, “I wouldn’t.”
But Blake was convinced that he was right and that she was only acting like the overprotective little sister she’d once been. “Yeah, you would,” he insisted. “But that’s okay. My mind’s made up. I’m going to launch a campaign—”
Were they still talking about the same thing? “A campaign?” Wendy questioned, looking at her brother uncertainly.
“Uh-huh. A business campaign.” This was the very strategy he’d been missing, he told himself. He had to approach this goal of his by using his strengths and his skills if he hoped to ever win his “prize.” “That’s what I should have done in the first place, instead of just backing away,” he told Wendy. The more he talked about it, the more convinced he became that this was the right approach. “If I’d gone after Brittany the way I usually go after a new client, I would have won her over a long time ago.” He nodded at his sister’s swollen belly. “And then little MaryAnne would have another doting aunt when she’s born.”
God forbid, Wendy thought, all but biting her tongue to keep from voicing her thoughts out loud.
“You know,” Blake continued as his thoughts fell into place, “your idea about setting up an office in Scott’s house isn’t half bad. If I want to approach this problem professionally—”
Wendy fought the desire to tell her brother that she’d been too hasty and had made a mistake. That she really needed him to hang around here and help her stave off the boredom.
But then, if this really was Blake’s mind-set, she knew that he would continue talking about Brittany and how wonderful he thought she was. She also knew that she would come very close to strangling her beloved brother if he went on and on about Brittany and her so-called attributes. If nothing else, it would make her nauseous as hell.
Still, she had to find a way to at least try to throw a monkey wrench into this absurd “campaign” plan of his. Not that she actually thought that the heartless Brittany would wind up marrying her brother. She knew the woman well enough to know that Brittany was too accustomed to being fawned over by a host of men to ever give that up for just one man.
But if Blake went all out to win Brittany over, he would eventually have his heart cut out and handed to him—and not on a silver platter. Wendy was determined to do whatever it took to spare her brother that ultimate pain and humiliation.
But there was only so much she could physically do right now.
Wendy frowned, staring down at the bed that imprisoned her. Giving her word that she wouldn’t get out of bed was the only way she had managed to bargain her discharge from a San Antonio hospital room. Her doctor had fully intended for her to remain in the hospital until such time as her baby was physically developed enough to be born. Complete bed rest was the only compromise available.
Which meant that she was going to need an ally to act in her place. More specifically, she needed the one woman who just might be able to get her brother to give up this ridiculous notion of asking Brittany Everett to become Mrs. Blake Fortune.
“If you’re setting up your office,” Wendy said, cutting in, “you might as well send for Katie and have her come join you.”
Caught off guard by the suggestion, Blake stared at her. “Katie?” he echoed.
“Wallace,” Wendy prompted needlessly. Katie was as much a part of her brother’s life as anyone in the family. More, probably. “You know, your marketing assistant. Cute girl, twenty-four, stands about five foot five, has pretty brown hair and soft brown eyes—”
Blake snorted. “I know who Katie is.” And then, as he replayed his sister’s initial words in his head, he nodded. His frown faded. “You know, sending for Katie’s not a half-bad idea, either.”
“Of course it’s not a half-bad idea,” Wendy informed him serenely, then couldn’t help adding, “It’s a completely wonderful idea.
“She can help you with your work,” she underscored pointedly, praying she could divert her brother’s focus away from the girl he was mooning about and get him back on his usual track. Blake really was a very hard worker and a real asset to FortuneSouth Enterprises. This nonsense about Brittany was hopefully just that—nonsense. “Katie has wonderful organizational skills,” Wendy reminded him.
Besides, Wendy added silently, if her brother interacted with Katie, maybe he’d forget about this stupid vow to win over Miss all wrong for him. Or at least feel too stupid saying it out loud in Katie’s presence, which meant he wouldn’t be putting whatever half-baked plan he was hatching into play.
Though they had never talked about it out loud, Wendy was certain that Katie had feelings for Blake. Maybe even loved him. It was all there, in her eyes.
Not that Blake ever looked, she thought, slanting a disparaging glance in his direction, which he seemed to miss totally.
“I’ll get right on it,” Blake was saying cheerfully. Rising from the chair, he stopped to brush a kiss against her cheek. “You’re the best,” he told Wendy with enthusiasm.
“Of course I am,” she agreed, as he headed for the doorway.
“Katie, I need you.”
Katie Wallace nearly dropped the receiver as Blake Fortune’s voice echoed in her ear, uttering the words she had waited to hear for what felt like her entire life. Words that she’d been fairly convinced she was never going to hear.
Katie, I need you. He’d said it. Blake had actually said it.
They weren’t in the middle of an incredibly long meeting, or stuck in an all-night work marathon, the way they’d been all too frequently. They weren’t even in the same room together. Blake was calling her from Red Rock, where he was on what she’d assumed was a vacation or some kind of family emergency.
Ever since the tornado had ripped through Red Rock she’d been watching the news reports religiously and reading everything she could get her hands on about the devastation that had befallen the idyllic Texas town where her childhood friend Wendy had taken up residence.
When the tornado had initially hit, a news bulletin had interrupted the program that was on TV. As she’d watched and listened, her whole world had ground to a halt. She’d wanted to attend Wendy’s wedding, but because of circumstances, she’d had to remain in the office, manning her post, so to speak.
Her heart had all but stopped as she’d listened to the bulletin. She knew that Blake and Wendy, as well as the rest of their family, were all out there, stranded and in the tornado’s path. The very thought unnerved her. She’d instantly started praying and searching for more information.
At one point, she had almost torn out of the office to try to get the first flight out to Red Rock, but no flights were going out to Red Rock, not directly or with layovers. Moreover, as reports began to come in, apparently there no longer was an airport for the flights to land in. The tornado had taken care of that.
That first day, she’d stayed up over twenty-four hours, scouring the channels and the internet, searching for any shred of information. Looking for the names of those who hadn’t made it—desperately praying she wouldn’t see any she recognized.
Especially not the name of the man she had loved with all her heart since she was a little girl.
Not that Blake Fortune actually ever noticed her. Oh, he’d seen her, but never as what she wanted him to see. To him she was just his sister’s friend, the annoying girl next door. Later on, he’d acknowledged her as a college graduate with a marketing degree and he’d been impressed enough with her skills to hire her. But he never saw her as what she was. A woman who could love him the way he desired to be loved.
Still, something was better than nothing, so, as a kid she’d settled for his teasing words, his pranks, pretending indignance and secretly loving the attention. Anything, she had long ago decided, that had Blake looking in her direction was fine with her.
After she grew up, of course, she’d wanted more. Couldn’t help wanting more. She’d wanted him to look at her as something other than Katie Wallace, the little girl next door.
That was why she’d gone to college to get that marketing degree in the first place. This was the key to getting closer to him, if not in his private life, then in his professional one. She’d nurtured the hope that if she worked really hard and proved to be indispensable to him, Blake would eventually wake up one morning to realize that he had feelings for her beyond his role as her boss.
That had been her plan, but even so, right now she still was having trouble believing that she wasn’t dreaming. Was Blake actually saying what she thought he was saying?
After all this time?
Her heart was hammering in her throat as she forced out the words, “Excuse me?” into the receiver, scarcely above a whisper. She cleared her voice and spoke up. “Could you repeat please that?” Then, in case he thought she was being coy instead of just shocked, she quickly explained, “There’s interference in the line, I didn’t really hear what you just said.”
“I said I need you,” Blake told her, raising his voice. “It looks as if I’m going to be here longer than I thought. At least a couple of weeks, maybe three. When can you get out here?”
Katie allowed herself to savor his words for exactly thirty seconds. Where were Dorothy’s magic ruby-red slippers when you needed them? she thought. Because then all it would take was clicking her heels together three times and she would be there at his side. Just the way she desperately wanted to be.
She knew that this had to be about work and that Blake needed her to get things done, but she viewed the phrase he’d uttered as her first step in the right direction. Someday, she promised herself, Blake was going to realize that he really did need her—and not just as his assistant.
“I can be on the first flight out there,” she promised. Even as she spoke, she began searching the internet, pulling up the various airlines and looking at departure times. “I’ll call you back the second I’m booked.”
“That’s my girl,” he said. “I knew I could count on you.”
That’s my girl.
The three words echoed in her head over and over again as she all but flew back to her apartment and set a new world record for packing quickly.
That’s my girl.
Definitely in the right direction, she thought happily.
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