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Lorana Hoopes

The Producer’s Unlikely Bride

The Producer’s Unlikely Bride

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He's given up on love. She's a romance writer. When they are thrown together at a cottage on the beach, will love bloom or sparks fly? (includes Ava's Blessing in Disguise bonus epilogue)

Justin Miller is one of the producers and host of the reality dating show Who Wants To Marry a Cowboy, but he's tired of helping others find love. He's tired of love in general. Why can't it just be a little business arrangement, like everything else in his life? His business partner sends him on a little vacation to clear his head, and cheer him up. It was just supposed to be a week at a cottage on the beach. Until he meets Ava.

Romance writer Ava McDermott believes in love even though she has yet to find the one for her. However, after struggling with her current book, she decides to take a few days off and recharge at a cottage by the sea. She expected some time alone, but when a strange man shows up, she finds herself in a romance of her own.

Justin and Ava must decide if it's time to create their own fairy tale ending, even if it's not real. A fictional relationship for two people who are ready to escape reality sounds like the perfect plan, until it isn't. Real feelings can get hurt, even when you're fake dating someone. Image isn't everything, and Ava and Justin have to choose. Is love real, or make believe?

Fans of Karen Kingsbury and Colleen Coble will love this new inspirational Christian romance by Amazon USA Today best selling author Lorana Hoopes, this story focuses on second chances and trusting God to bring the right people into your life at the right time. Though titled the sixth book in the series, this is Lorana's third book in the Blushing Brides series and follows The Cowboy's Reality Bride and The Reality Bride's Baby. Book includes discussion questions for book groups. Follow the journey by clicking the button above.

First Chapter

Justin ran his fingers through his platinum blond hair as he regarded his appearance in the mirror. Every hair belonged in a specific place, and it was integral that all of his lay in their right place. He wasn’t looking for a woman - that ship had sailed a long time ago - but one day he hoped to get noticed and offered a better gig than this.

Producing and hosting ‘Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy’ paid well, but dealing with the happy couples wore on him. It hadn’t been so bad when few of the couples lasted, but watching Tyler and Laney find love on the last episode reminded him of his own failed… No, he wouldn’t walk down that road again. The past needed to stay there. Locked firmly behind a heavy door with at least three deadbolts and a large wooden beam - just for good measure.

Satisfied that he looked as good as possible, Justin sprayed a liberal coating of hair spray across his hair. It was the last show of the Maui edition, and the salty ocean breeze always ruffled his hair. He’d cringed when he’d viewed the last episode as his hair had been all over the place. At least the rumors his luxurious hair was a toupee could be put to rest, but tonight, he wanted it to stay in place. One more spray wouldn’t hurt. Just for good measure. He gave his hair another coat, winked at his reflection, and then headed for the door.

Carl, the current Cowboy bachelor, would no doubt be waiting nervously at his bungalow. Justin wished they had never chosen him. Calling him indecisive was putting it mildly. Every time a ceremony arose, the man practically broke out in hives and spent half an hour waffling over one girl or the other. The worst part was Justin had to pretend to care. It didn’t really matter who Carl picked. Once reality hit and the couples left the show, most didn’t make it longer than six months. Tyler and Laney modeled the exception - not the rule.

He knocked on Carl’s bungalow, not surprised when the door opened and Carl, a sweaty mess, greeted him by grabbing his hand and yanking him into the room. He clung to Justin’s hand as if it were a life vest in the ocean. Cold, clammy sweat seeped into Justin’s palm, and he bit his lip to keep from yelling at the man.

“Justin, I’m so glad you’re here. I don’t know if I can go through with this. Cara and Destiny are both great. I think I love them both. How am I supposed to choose?” His wild eyes fixed on Justin’s. Desperation and urgency swam in them creating a cloudy hue in his gaze.

With as much tact as he could muster, Justin eased his hand from Carl’s grip. The clawing need to run it down his pants to wipe off the sheen filled him, but he would not do it. He could feign empathy for a little longer. “You’ll do it the way you’ve done it the whole show, Carl. You’ll go with your gut. Choose the one you have the best connection with.”

“But what if I’m wrong? What if I choose the wrong woman? I mean this is marriage we’re talking about.” Carl ran his hand across his chin as he paced the floor.

Justin tried not to roll his eyes. He heard the same story over and over again. Every bachelor except Tyler and Kurt, the other one who married his contestant, said almost the exact same thing. They all believed their choice would affect the rest of their life, but it really only affected their next four to six months. Normally, Justin would say nothing, but today his mouth refused to stay shut. “No one lasts on this show, man. It doesn’t matter who you choose.”

Carl’s mouth opened and closed like a fish trying to get off a hook. He stopped his pacing and ran a hand through his hair. “Are you saying this won’t last? No matter what?”

Justin shrugged. He shouldn’t have said that. Peter would ream him for saying it, but he was tired. He wanted to sleep, and the truth remained that nearly no one did. “People have, but not many.”

Carl crossed the room to stand in front of Justin. His eyes gleamed with intensity. “What did they have? What made them different?” His words clung to Justin like a lost child, but at least his hands stayed by his side.

Therein lay the million-dollar question. If Justin knew what kept couples together, he could help Peter find similar prospects in the future. If matches made on the show actually stayed together, it might skyrocket their viewing. Although Justin wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not. On one hand, it might get him the exposure he wanted and a hosting role on a more popular show, but on the other, if the show grew too popular, he might not be able to leave.

None of that mattered to Carl who still stared at him with those dopey, hopeful eyes, but he held no words of wisdom for the cowboy. Didn’t he know divorce rates reached nearly sixty percent? It didn’t matter if you met on a reality dating show or church, the numbers stayed almost the same.

Church. Huh. Justin hadn’t realized it at the time, but thinking back now, he was almost certain the other couple who lasted possessed a similar belief in God to Tyler and Laney. Surely that was coincidental though. His parents had been regular church attenders and they still divorced. In fact, his father was on his third or fourth wife by now.

Justin shook his head to clear the wandering thoughts. He clapped a hand on Carl’s arm and flashed his pep-talk smile - the one that usually eased contestant’s fears and allowed them to breathe easier. “They trusted their heart and didn’t let fame go to their heads.”

“Fame…. right.” Carl said the words slowly and nodded as he spoke as if seriously considering the words, but Justin knew the idea of fame held his attention more than the letting it go to his head part. Carl was certainly no Tyler. It was obvious from the first meeting that he came on the show to get noticed. He’d shown up with an extra tall hat and a thick southern drawl that wavered in its consistency - thicker when the women were around and barely noticeable with just the two of them. In addition, he flashed a wink at every woman in the room. He’d locked lips with at least three of them the first night, and unlike Tyler, he had made use of the overnight dates. For a man who seemed so worried now, he had certainly appeared flippant throughout the process.

Justin glanced down at his watch. Carl had stalled long enough. “It’s time. You ready?”

* * *

Ava McDermott believed in love. She should. It was her job. But she didn’t believe in just any kind of love. She believed in the heart thumping, toe tingling, weak in the knees, fireworks bursting, always on my mind kind of love. Which was probably why she remained single. No man seemed to be able to live up to her expectation of love, and she refused to settle for less which led to a lot of frustration.

Normally, she channeled that frustration into her words. She spun characters she would want to date and wove plots that sounded interesting to her and worked, but today…. She had nothing. Ava bit her lip as she stared at her blank screen. The words not only refused to come today, but they taunted her with their refusal to form and stay solid. Every time she thought she had grasped an inkling of the plot the idea would slip away. Her bangs ruffled as she blew out another frustrated breath.

“Everything okay over there?” Genevieve asked from across the room. Gen had been her editor for the last year and her friend for longer. Fantastic at her job, she edited for many authors. She was also vicious. Generally, she tore Ava’s books apart, but they always ended up better because of it. Six months ago, they had decided to lease a little office space together.

Ava tapped her fingers lightly on the keyboard in hopes the muscle memory would stir her brain. “I’m having trouble getting words today. Everything feels bland, trite, passé.”

“How very redundant of you to say the same thing with three different words,” Genevieve said with a wry smile. “You know what your problem is, don’t you?”

Ava pulled her attention from the inane blinking cursor and focused on her editor. “No, what’s my problem?”

“You’re running out of experience. When was the last time you went out with a man more than twice?” Gen’s eyebrows arched on her forehead and she placed her chin on her folded hands as she posed the question.

“I date,” Ava protested. Her last date had been… she thought back and frowned. Okay, it had been awhile.

“Uh huh, but I didn’t ask you when your last date was, though from your face it’s been too long. I asked you when was the last time you went out with a man more than twice.”

Ava sat straighter in her chair and puffed out her chest. Maybe if she didn’t look defeated, Genevieve wouldn’t swoop in for the kill. “It’s been some time, but none of them have been right.”

“You mean none of them have been perfect. You’ve got this mixed up notion in your head that romance is always fireworks and passion, and that’s just not reality.”

“But it should be.” Ava didn’t want the sad relationships that some of her friends had. They fell into two categories: the no longer in love lilies and the flitting fireflies. The no longer in love lilies were her more religious friends - married but bored or unhappy. They claimed fireworks existed once but had faded with time or kids. Now they couldn’t remember the last time they held hands or kissed. A few of them even believed they married the wrong person, but their desire to be faithful to God kept them from leaving their spouse.

Then there were the flitting fireflies - friends who jumped into relationships and stayed until the sparks disappeared. Then they left to find a new spark. It didn’t matter if they were just dating or married for ten years. They held the mindset that they deserved to be happy, and if their relationship no longer made them happy then it was time to leave.

Ava didn’t want to fall into either of those categories. She wanted what her parents had. After forty years of marriage, they remained very much in love. Her father still kissed her mother every day and held her hand as they walked. And if her parents could find it, then she could too. She might just have to kiss a lot more frogs to find her prince.

“Maybe it should be,” Genevieve continued, “but it isn’t, and if you don’t get some new experiences soon, your writing is going to become stale, trite, and passé.”

Ava stuck out her tongue at Gen, but Gen was right. Almost always right, Gen doled out sage advice, but that didn’t mean Ava could just wave a wand and find a man she wanted to date.

“Look,” Genevieve stood and crossed the space between them, “maybe you need a break. Why don’t you go somewhere different for a week and see if it opens up your creative juices?”

A week. Could she afford to be gone a week? Ava enjoyed writing. It was certainly more rewarding than her previous job selling insurance had been, but the one thing that irked her was the ebb and flow. She had saved six months’ salary before quitting her day job, and two months ago she had sold a plethora of books and enjoyed a spike in her income. However, last month she hadn’t released anything. Now, she was watching her income drop, and it was stressful to say the least. She needed to finish this book and release it because even though the words weren’t coming, she still had a mortgage payment and a car payment due. They weren’t going to care that the words refused to come as easily this time. She couldn’t call them and use writer’s block as an excuse for why she couldn’t pay her bills. Well, she could, but she doubted they would have any sympathy for her.

“Yeah, maybe.” Ava closed her eyes. Maybe closed, she could see the picture unfold. That’s how the last book had been. She’d prayed for words, shut her eyes, and seen a movie in her head. Then she’d written until the words ran dry. The next night had been the same and every night after until the book was done.

Maybe the difference resided there. She hadn’t taken this book directly to God in prayer when she started. She’d run with an idea in her head that matched the flow in the market, but while the first thousand words had poured out, now she was stuck.

She waited. For an idea, a feeling, a word, but the only image that kept popping into her head was the ocean. The gently lapping waves, the smell of salt, the soft caress of the wind on her skin. How long had it been since she had visited the ocean? Too long for sure, but she remembered always feeling inspired when there. Was that what she was supposed to do? Go to the ocean?

Ava gave it another few minutes, but only the picture of the ocean remained. She opened her eyes. “All I see is the ocean, so I guess the ocean it is.” With a shrug, she clicked a new browser open and began searching rental houses near the ocean. A hotel or an inn wouldn’t work. She needed a quiet space that would have little interruption from others.

“The ocean is good,” Genevieve said as she came behind Ava and watched over her shoulder.

A quaint white cottage appeared on the screen. From the picture it appeared the cottage sat right on the beach as the expansive blue could be seen to the left. Two palm trees that held a hammock between them sat on the right, and the sand appeared to glisten in the picture.

Ava grinned up at Genevieve. “And this might be perfect.”

“It sure looks pretty although a little lonely. Not sure where you’ll meet a man around there.”

“I’m not going to meet a man,” Ava said, “I’m going to get inspired.”

Genevieve held up a hand in surrender before returning to her desk.

Ava turned back to the screen and scanned the information. The rate appeared reasonable and it appeared the cottage came with a kitchen to prepare your own meals, a utility room with a washer and dryer, and wi-fi. Even better. She could totally unplug and still get work done. At the bottom of the page was the rental company’s information. Reflection Rentals. Sounded interesting. Ava picked up her cell phone and punched in the number.

“Reflection Rentals, how may I help you?” The warm voice on the other end reminded Ava of her grandmother, and the smell of the chocolate chip cookies her grandmother always baked filled her memory.

“Hello, I’m interested in renting your cottage on the beach.” Ava scrolled back up searching for a name, but there wasn’t one. “It has no name, but it’s the quaint white one.”

“Ah, that’s our slice of tranquility,” the woman said.

“Is that what it’s called?” Ava asked.

A gentle laugh filled her ear. “No, dear, it doesn’t have an official name, but that’s what I like to call it.”

“I see. Well, is it available to rent?” She would need a few days to pack and make sure she had someone to check on her place. “I could be there Sunday, and I’d like to have it for at least a week.”

“Of course. I can certainly do that for you. What’s your name, dear?”

“Ava McDermott.” Ava rattled off the rest of her information including her credit card and then hung up. She still had no words, but she had a plan, and hopefully the words would come when she followed the plan.

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Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.