February Stars by Mari Carr
Wilder Irish Series (book 2)
Releasing May 9, 2017
Forget May. It’s time for February! Today marks the release of February Stars, the second book in Mari Carr’s Wilder Irish series. Come back to Baltimore! Back to Pat’s Pub and meet sexy singer Hunter Maxwell! When his eyes land on shy Ailis Adams, he’s determined to win her over–body and soul!
“No show, no contest, nothing. Nothing is more important to me than you.”
Ailis Adams couldn’t be more dissimilar from Hunter Maxwell. Quiet to his loud, calm to his frantic, bookish to his street smart…they have no common ground. Except for the fact that Ailis’s boyfriend just ran away with Hunter’s fiancée. So no one is more surprised than Ailis when a friendship flourishes. Pat’s Pub’s resident wallflower discovers she actually enjoys spending time with the bar’s gregarious, attention-seeking musician.
When Hunter lands a spot in February Stars, his big shot at breaking into the music scene, who better to guide him than his new bestie? She’s a sharp businesswoman who grew up on her famous parents’ tour bus. Ailis isn’t keen to leave her quiet life in Baltimore, but she knows the ins and outs of the biz, and even she grudgingly admits no one will have Hunter’s back better than a friend.
However, with one impulsive kiss, everything changes. Ailis’s friendly feelings toward Hunter turn to serious lust…and more. But falling for a musician isn’t a good idea. Fame comes with a price, one Ailis isn’t sure she’s willing to pay. She’s already left behind a life on the road once before, in favor of planting roots close to her family and their beloved pub. Though, her family will always be there…and four walls can’t love her back…
So is home really a place? Or is it where her heart resides…with her gorgeous bad boy rock star?
“I think Baltimore is getting smaller,” she said after a quick survey of the bar.
“What do you mean?”
“I used to be able to go out and not know anyone. I swear to God nowadays it’s the same people every weekend.”
Hunter leaned closer. “I think they all just look the same.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m telling you. We’re trapped in a single-person’s vortex. This is seventh-level-of-hell kind of stuff.”
“It was one bad date, Ailis.”
“I wish it had been. But the truth is it’s been four bad dates in six months.”
Hunter grinned. “You counted?”
“Of course I did. Besides, it’s not like four is that high a number.”
“I didn’t count.”
She rolled her eyes. “Probably because you can’t count that high.”
“Smart-ass.” Hunter ruffled her hair as she tried to beat his hand away with a giggle.
“I thought that was you two,” a male voice said.
Ailis and Hunter looked up at the same time and found themselves face-to-face with the exes.
They’d managed to avoid this for almost an entire year. Somehow, Ailis had let that fact lure her into a false sense of security. While it wasn’t unusual to hear news about Paul or Rhonda on occasion from shared acquaintances, she hadn’t had to face her foes until now.
Paul had texted her a few times after he’d first returned from Vegas with his new wife in tow, claiming he wanted the chance to explain his actions in person. She’d ignored every single one of them and eventually blocked his number. She told herself it was because she didn’t feel generous enough to listen to his apology, to give him the opportunity to try to make amends. After all, the time for chatting was before he’d left town. Not after.
Rhonda, however, had remained a coward, never once contacting her…or Hunter. No matter how many times he got wasted and texted her. And by “her,” Ailis meant herself.
So, in all fairness, Rhonda didn’t know how desperately Hunter had wanted to see her, talk to her. But Ailis did, and her disdain for her former best friend grew with every brokenhearted text until she couldn’t look at the woman as anything less than a complete fucking bitch.
“Paul,” Ailis said in surprise. “Rhonda.” She and Hunter had gone clubbing countless times and they’d never once run into Paul and Rhonda. She’d suspected that was why they kept doing it. Clubs were their safe zone.
“What are you guys doing here?” Hunter’s tone was too chilly to be mistaken for anything other than anger. Time hadn’t healed Hunter’s wounds. The man could hold a grudge like nobody. Not that she was faring much better.
Of course, Paul had never proposed to Ailis, claiming he needed to get his medical career sorted before he considered making that leap.
Hunter had proposed. And Rhonda had said yes. Then she’d left the ring he’d given her and a note on the coffee table and run off to say “I do” to someone else. Well, not just anybody else. Hunter’s best friend. So yeah, his anger was completely justified.
Rhonda stumbled a bit in the face of Hunter’s hostility, and Ailis tried to recall what it was that had made the woman someone she’d considered such a great friend. She was always just a bit too much, when Ailis thought about it. Always trying too hard to be the center of attention, talking too loud, wearing clothes that were super sexy, makeup that was too heavy and flipping her long blonde hair in a flirty way meant to attract men. And on top of that, she sure as hell wasn’t loyal or trustworthy. So why had Ailis hung out with her for so long? She could only assume it was the work thing and the similar circle of friends’ thing.
Rhonda glanced at Paul uncomfortably. “Um. We haven’t been out in ages. We’ve both been so busy with work. Everyone really misses you there, Ailis.”
Ailis didn’t reply. She merely nodded.
“We thought we’d take this last chance to get out and dance before…” Paul said.
“Before?” Ailis said, immediately kicking herself for taking his bait so easily.
“Rhonda is pregnant. Due in May. Probably the last time we’re going to get to go out for a while.”
Hunter remained stone-faced, silent, which was typically Ailis’s job. She didn’t have a clue how to respond to the bomb just dropped at their table, so she dug deep and threw out her biggest lie of the night. One word laced with so much insincerity it could sink a boat.
Paul didn’t acknowledge her statement. He was looking too closely at her sitting next to Hunter. “I didn’t realize the two of you were friends.”
Ailis resisted the urge to finger comb the hair Hunter had just messed up. She tried to tell herself she didn’t care what he thought, but she wasn’t there yet. Especially not when Rhonda was standing there looking like a fashion model even though she was three months pregnant.
There was something about the way Paul looked at her, almost as if he pitied her, that hurt.
Then it pissed her off. After all, he was the bastard who’d stolen six years of her life then left her here—twenty-eight years old and club hopping, hoping to meet the real Mr. Right, since he’d turned out to be Mr. Wrong.
“Yeah, we’re friends. We hang out,” Ailis said, not sure how else to reply.
“But you two don’t have anything in common. You don’t even like each other,” Paul said, still speaking to Ailis as if she were a child he needed to protect from her own inexperience and naivety.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Hunter answered, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her close.
Ailis was stunned when he followed that unexpected movement up with a kiss to her forehead that was definitely more than friendly.
“Are you two going out?” Rhonda asked, obviously as shocked as Ailis was at the moment.
Hunter was wasting himself with music. His true talents clearly lie in acting. He never bothered to look at Rhonda. Instead, he stared at Ailis as if she hung the moon. “Oh yeah. Finally opened my eyes and realized that this angel had been standing right in front of me all along.”
She wanted to blame Hunter’s sudden insanity on alcohol, but they hadn’t gotten their drinks yet.
Then he went completely around the bend, leaning closer and kissing her. On the lips. It wasn’t a brushing glance, either. It was a legit kiss, full of heat and—whoa—a whole bunch of other things she couldn’t even begin to describe.
If Hunter was doing this as some sort of joke, he was falling way short.
Because the kiss didn’t make her want to laugh. It made her want to take all her clothes off. Here. Now.
Hunter’s tongue darted out to stroke her lower lip a split second before he pulled away. He cupped her cheek with one hand, the touch full of affection and fondness. It was melting her insides.
Hunter’s eyes remained locked on hers even as he spoke to the other couple. “Sorry. I have a hard time resisting her.”
“I…see,” Paul said, his tone wooden, unreadable. Ailis couldn’t tell if her ex was angry or skeptical or annoyed or just bored. “Well, I guess we should leave you two to your…date.”
Mercifully, the waitress returned with their shots and beers—impeccable timing, since things had just gotten mega-awkward—and Paul took Rhonda’s hand.
“Enjoy your drinks,” Paul said coldly, the venom in his tone taking Ailis aback. What the hell did he have to be pissed about?
“It was, um, great to see you both again,” Rhonda said, though it was obvious she didn’t really think so.
Ailis forced a smile and a quick nod. Hunter merely shot daggers at the other couple with his eyes until they beat a hasty retreat.
“Sooooo,” Ailis dragged out. “What the hell, man?”
Hunter pretended not to understand her question. “What?”
“Why would you tell them we’re dating? We’re not. And even if we don’t see them anymore, we do still have friends in common. They’re going to find out that was a lie.”
Hunter was quiet for three heartbeats, his expression still dark. “I don’t care. I didn’t like the way that son of a bitch was looking at you.”
So she hadn’t imagined it. The pity in Paul’s eyes, as if she was destined to live life as a spinster.
“You did that for me?”
“He’s a fucking prick. Walking around with his Dr. God complex. Thinking he’s the best thing that ever happened to you, convinced you can’t find better. He’s lucky I kissed you. My other option was punching his fucking lights out for being such an arrogant asshole.”
Ailis was more touched than she’d ever been in her life. Unfortunately, that feeling was fleeting, replaced by a much more familiar one. The one she hadn’t managed to kick since Paul had told her they weren’t a “good fit” in his letter, as if she were a shoe that pinched. As always, that small part of her that she hated reared its head, making her doubt her worth. “You don’t think he’s—”
Hunter rolled his eyes. “I swear to God, if you ask if he’s right, if you are seriously sitting here thinking that you’re never going to find anyone else, I’m gonna have to kiss you again.”
Typically, confidence wasn’t an issue for her, but it had been a long, lonely not-quite year filled with really bad dates. While she tried to be optimistic about her chances for love, that hope was stretched paper thin.
Or it had been…until that kiss.
Then she considered pushing the point, not because she believed she was unlovable—but because she liked the idea of Hunter kissing her again. However, her voice was too flirty to pull it off. “I’m just saying I think maybe if you wanted to try—”
“Stop looking at me like that,” he said, interrupting her mid-coy, which was good because she really sucked at flirting.
“You know what I’m talking about, mouse. We can’t kiss again.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask why not, but she was afraid he’d have a really good reason, one that might convince her not to go for a few more of those bone-rattling, shake-her-to-the-core kisses.
Her expression must not have changed, because Hunter groaned and picked up a shot glass to hand to her. “Jesus. Here. Mother’s milk. To cure all awkward situations.”
She and Hunter tapped shot glasses and downed the tequila. “Or to make them more awkward,” she joked, struggling hard to get them back on familiar ground.