“Sweet and funny and sexy all at once. I couldn't put this down.” Mari, Mari Loves Books Blog
Thea Blackwell never commits to anything. Not jobs. Not hairstyles. Not men.
Yet here she is dreaming about putting down roots by buying a house and having it fixed up by town playboy Aiden, who's never spared her a second glance.
Then Aiden shocks her with a wild proposal: he'll help renovate her tumbledown house if she’ll help repair his wicked reputation.
But what started as a simple arrangement gets complicated fast. Their hearts should be off-limits in this fake relationship, so why are all these for-show kisses starting to feel real?
“The right blend of sass and steam. Sara Whitney’s smooth, upbeat prose is a delight to read. I devoured it fast. Too fast.” Elle Greco, author of the LA Rock Star Romance series
Tempting Lies is a high-heat standalone romance featuring a charismatic carpenter and the woman who loves to watch him wield a caulk gun. Like all Sara Whitney books, it's bursting with playful banter, upbeat vibes, and a very happy ending.
“The roller-coaster ride the author takes us on getting to their happily ever after left me feeling slightly broken but so happy and hopeful. I’m already looking forward to the next installment in the series.” Kristen Lewendon, Renaissance Dragon Book Blog
Thea Blackwell wasn’t going to let herself cry.
For one thing, she didn’t have any Kleenex on her.
For another thing, it was so cold that any tears would probably freeze and scratch her eyeballs.
And for another other thing, crying wouldn’t make her tire any less flat or the parking lot any less empty or the night any less dark.
The word shuddered from her rapidly numbing lips as a tremor wracked her body. Two minutes in the frigid February air had been enough to leave her fingers stiff and her skin raw. Why the hell hadn’t she worn her coat to the bar tonight? Peter was right; her vanity really would be the death of her.
Forcing herself into motion under the halo of the buzzing lights attached to the outside of the bar, she fumbled with her keys and popped open the hatchback on Juniper to shove the big box of radio-station swag inside. Then she hustled to the front and slid into the driver’s seat. There was no point in turning on the ignition; Juniper’s crappy heater took at least ten minutes to produce any noticeable warmth, at which point she’d be tucked into a Lyft and on her way home.
The thought had her reaching for the phone, but when her stiff fingers finally managed to pull up the app, she whimpered. Not a single car was available. And why would they be? It was an hour past last call for the bars in Beaucoeur, which meant all the party people were off the streets for the night. She’d changed out a flat before, but never in pitch-black subzero weather, and the idea held no appeal.
At that moment, the bar lights shut off for the night, plunging her into total darkness.
“Shit!” She thrust aside the thread of fear curling through her chest and shoved her hands under her armpits for warmth as she considered her from-bad-to-worse options. Call Faith, who might not have her phone on silent and would probably come and rescue her. Or call her mom, who absolutely would have hers on silent thanks to Peter’s “no calls after eight p.m.” rule and might not come rescue her even if she did answer. Either way, it would set her up for a lecture on the dangers of improper car maintenance on an older vehicle like Juniper.
Death by frostbite might be preferable. Somebody would find her body when the bar reopened for its Saturday patrons, right? That’s if she didn’t get carried off by a murderer lurking out there in the pitch-black night.
“Shit, shit, shit.” She let her head fall forward, punctuating each word with forehead taps to the steering wheel. She was so screwed.
“Hey there. Need help?”
Thea whipped upright with a short, sharp scream and frantically mashed the flashlight app on her phone to illuminate the source of the voice outside her window. Brandishing her phone with trembling fingers, she inhaled in preparation to shriek her head off, but the sound died in her throat at the sight of the man wincing under the laser-beam light.
“Aiden?” For a moment every muscle in her body froze. Not because of the subzero weather this time but because the hottest guy in Beaucoeur was lifting a hand to shield his eyes from her flashlight.
“Yeah, just making sure everything was okay. You’re the only other car in the lot.”
“Uh, sorry,” she said, swinging the beam away from his face. Forcing the biggest smile possible, she popped open the door and stepped back out into the night. The wind sliced right through her T-shirt and skinny jeans, and her tremors started up again. “Flat tire and no Lyfts available.”
Aiden Murdoch’s brows lifted so far they disappeared under his knit hat. “Also no coats anywhere?”
Another tremor, stronger this time. “D-didn’t wear one. It’s always hot inside the bar.”
Without a word, he unzipped his Murdoch Construction coat and handed it to her. “Here.”
“No, I couldn’t.” But even as she objected, she slid it around her shoulders, wrapping her hands around the collar and burrowing into its warmth.
“Oh please,” Aiden said as he pulled off his hat and plopped it on her head. “Like I’m gonna let you freeze. Come on. I’m parked over there.” He jerked his head to the right, and this time Thea’s smile wasn’t forced.
Normally she hated trucks that were so far off the ground she had to make a running jump to get inside, but tonight she gratefully heaved herself onto the plush bench seat with all the grace of a whale beaching itself. Aiden managed to climb in far more smoothly, but his legs were almost as long as her whole body, so it’s not like it was a fair comparison.
“So warm,” she moaned, holding the icicles that were her fingers up to the heat blasting from the vent.
“That’s nothing.” Aiden flicked a grin at her and tapped a button on the console.
Almost immediately, her backside started to heat up. She gave a delighted wiggle despite the late hour and the overall crappy circumstances. Heated seats were one of her bucket list items.
Aiden put the car into drive. “Where to?”
“The Mayflower Apartments.” She slid her arms into his coat, which was eleventy sizes too big and swaddled her like a warm cocoon that smelled vaguely of sawdust and coffee. “Thanks. You may literally have saved my life.”
Her childhood neighbor shrugged as he pulled out of the parking lot, his headlights revealing the empty stretch of road in front of them. As they drove, the streetlights pierced the darkness of the truck cab before retreating, each time illuminating another portion of his handsome, all-American face: the stubble on his sharp jaw, the upward tilt of his generous lips, the slightly-too-long brown hair curling around his ear.
“I’m glad I noticed you. What had you there so late?” he asked, jarring her out of her Aiden trance. She’d been staring at him like a weirdo.
And God, it was late. A jaw-cracking yawn attacked her. She indulged and then shook her head to stay alert, reaching up to adjust his hat. Not like it’d mess up her hair, which had gone limp and straggly hours ago thanks to the heat in the overcrowded bar. “Cleaning up after the Brick Babes. You?”
“Cleaning up after the Moo Daddies.”
Several times a month, the dozen-member Brick Babe team shimmied into their one-size-too-small T-shirts to rep 105.5 the Brick at events around the Beaucoeur area. Tonight’s gig was a concert by the Moo Daddies, the popular local cover band that featured Aiden on drums.
He slid a glance her way as they drove. “If we’re on cleanup, does that make us the responsible ones?”
“Scary thought.” She gave an exaggerated grimace, yet it wasn’t too far from the truth.
The Moo Daddies always drew huge music-loving crowds, so she’d spent her night laughing and flirting and ordering drinks while the band rocked out. And those were all things she was good at. Enjoyed, even. Except tonight, when the responsibility for the girls and the shirts and the bumper stickers had left her feeling annoyed and put-upon.
She sighed and lifted her hands to the heating vent again. “Somehow I’ve become their den mother. ‘Sure, Thea’ll take care of the boxes of swag at the end of the night. It’s not like she was busy keeping Kimmie’s hair from falling into the toilet while she puked up those last four shots of tequila.’” She shuddered at the memory of wrestling the overly apologetic drunk girl away from the water as she flopped around like a fish. “By the time I sent her home with Bex, everybody else had cleared out, so I had to pack it all up on my own.”
Oh Lordy, she was babbling. She crammed her still-chilly fingers under her thighs and ordered her motormouth to slow its roll. Nervous chatter was her default setting even around gorgeous guys she’d known her whole life. Maybe especially around gorgeous guys she’d known her whole life.
This particular gorgeous guy’s lips twitched into a smile. “They could have a worse den mother.”
“Why do I have to be anybody’s mother?” she grumbled. “It’s not like I’m that much older than them. No more than five years.” Actually, Bex was all of twenty-one, which made Thea eight years older. But she didn’t offer that factoid up to Aiden. “So how’d you get to be the den father for the band?”
“Drums take the longest to pack up.” He tapped his fingers on the top of the steering wheel in time to the Liz Phair song on the radio. “And I’ve got the most space.”
“Makes sense.” She cast a teasing glance at the truck bed. “Got the lucky lady of the night stashed back there too?”
As she turned back around, she caught sight of the smile slipping off his face. “Nothing there but my kit.”
Huh. The tightness of his voice surprised her, as did his answer. “No girl?”
Aiden always ended the night with a woman—not that she’d ever experienced that for herself, although several of her girlfriends had.
“No girl,” he said shortly.
She watched his fingers tense and then release around the steering wheel, but before she could pursue it further—and oh, she would definitely love to pursue it further—her phone buzzed in her jeans pocket. She did a little dance to slide it out from under the coat and seat belt.
“Ooooh.” Her pulse kicked up at the notification box, and she tapped to open the new screen. “Oooooohhhh.”
“What’s got you so excited?” Aiden inclined his chin toward her phone as they idled at a stoplight regulating an empty intersection.
“Porn,” she said absently. But he looked so startled that she immediately let him off the hook. “Real estate porn.”
His shoulders relaxed and he grinned. “Whew, kid. You scared me for a second.”
Kid? Her eyes narrowed. “For actual porn, I prefer man-on-man. Twice the beautiful bodies to ogle.”
“Jesus,” he muttered, eyes snapping forward. The light turned green, and he hit the accelerator with enough force that she rocked back against the seat.
“Serves you right. I’m not the little girl next door anymore.” But her attention was already back on her phone as she swiped through photos. Despite the Midwest cold pressing against the window, heat ignited in her chest. It was perfect.
“So tell me about this real estate porn.”
She hadn’t expected Aiden to be interested. Then again, construction was his family business.
“It’s my house.” She clasped the phone to her heart where it was going pitter-pat under the thick layer of his coat. “The house I’ve wanted to buy my whole life.”
“Oh yeah? Which number?”
His question confused her until she realized he’d pulled into her apartment complex. “Oh, building two.”
He pulled his truck around and slid it into the available guest slot in front of the glass entrance door before notching the gear into park. “And the house?”
She looked down at her phone and bit her lip, already feeling a little silly for bringing it up. Still, how often was she sitting next to a certified expert? “Okay, I know it’s late, but can you tell me if I’m an idiot for thinking about buying this?” She handed her phone over.
After a moment, recognition spread across his face. “This is one of the houses off Prospect Point.”
She nodded. “One of the smaller ones, yeah.” She kept talking as he swiped through the listing photos. “The only reason I could come close to affording anything on that street is because it needs so much work. What I don’t know is if it maybe needs too much work for me to afford.”
His large hand dwarfed her phone as he pinched and zoomed, the glow from the screen illuminating his furrowed brow. “It’s tough to tell just from the pictures. Considering the age of the house and some of these photos, I’m guessing it’s full of lead paint and outdated heating and cooling. Oh, and the basement probably floods.”
Her heart dropped. “You’re right. It was stupid to even think about buying it.” She inhaled hard against the sharp swell of disappointment and reached for her phone.
He refused to relinquish it, instead flashing that irresistible grin. “Are you kidding me? This is one of my favorite houses on the Point. All that Tudor architecture and brickwork. And look at the ceiling in the master bedroom here. It’s just begging for a skylight, don’t you think?” He tapped the photo in question with one long finger. “You should at least get someone with some expertise to walk through it with you.”
“Good idea. Do you know anybody?” she chirped, and as she hoped, it made him laugh.
“Sixteen years of construction experience at your service.” He waved a hand down his body with a flourish.
“Are you serious?” She held her breath, expecting him to brush her off. After all, he was Aiden freaking Murdoch, every woman’s fantasy fling and one of the busiest contractors in town. Why would he take the time to help her? They were friendly, but they weren’t exactly friends.
Then he almost killed her by flashing that smile and crinkling the corners of those hazel eyes. “If I wasn’t serious, I wouldn’t have offered.”
Her heart hammered at this unexpected turn. “Okay then. Would… would you be willing to walk through it with me sometime this coming week? Because I really love this house and I’ve been waiting for it to go on the market forever, and my Realtor friend told me to keep my eye out, and the listing just popped up, and I don’t want to wait.” More word babble, but Aiden just rolled with it.
“Sure. Make an appointment and I’ll be there. Here.” He tapped in a number on her phone, and a moment later an electric ringing sounded from his pocket. He hit End on the call and held her phone out for her.
His fingers brushed against hers as she reached for it, and she barely suppressed a nervous giggle at the zing of pleasure she got from the contact. Was she really ending her shit night by collecting Aiden’s digits? Most of the single ladies in Beaucoeur would slap their grandmas to get their hands on that. Although they’d known each other for two and a half decades, they’d never had a single reason to exchange phone numbers before, and for some reason this felt more intimate than knowing she could reach him through whatever social media accounts they were connected on. Then again, this was for work purposes, and he wasn’t exactly angling to come upstairs with her tonight, was he? Not that she’d say yes if he was.
Her eyes cut over to the strong lines of his face, and she shifted at the thought of what bringing Aiden up to her apartment would actually be like. Then something sharp jabbed her in the butt. “Ow!”
She arced off the seat and groped around until she found the culprit: an earring.
“Um. Yours?” She held it out to him, all dangle and sparkles in the watery light of the parking lot, and he had the good grace to look chagrined.
“Yeah, no.” He plucked it from her palm and dropped it into the cup holder. “Sorry about that.”
The physical reminder of Aiden’s playboy ways was what she needed to get her sorry self out of the truck. This night would definitely not end with him following her up to the fifth floor. She sighed and started to shrug out of his jacket.
“Give it back on the house tour.” He reached for his seat belt. “I’ll walk you up.”
“No!” He’d called her kid not ten minutes ago. No need for another reminder that their night would end with nothing more heart-racing than a platonic handshake. “It’s eight feet to the entrance, and you can see the elevator from here. Thanks though.”
He shrugged and tapped the steering wheel, and she slid out of the truck, praying that she’d stick the landing.
“Okay, thanks again!”
“Night,” he said. Then, “Hey!”
She turned quickly, heart in her throat and hoping for… What? That he’d invite himself up?
“You got a tire guy?” he asked. “For your car?”
She blinked. Right. Her car. “Uh, no.”
He nodded. “I’ll text you my guy’s number. Tell him I sent you.”
“Oh. Thanks. Again. Um, good night.” With an awkward final smile, she slammed the door shut and hustled inside, grateful for the warmth of his coat and the brightness of his headlights until she was safely on the elevator. As soon as the doors dinged shut, she dropped her perky-girl act and sagged against the wall.
For better or for worse, she was the one woman in Beaucoeur that Aiden Murdoch never even considered going home with.