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Do You Take This Man

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"Do You Take This Man has one of the steamiest, most addictive, most satisfyingly hard-earned happily-ever-after I’ve read in ages!"—Ali Hazelwood, New York Times bestselling author of Love on the Brain

A wedding officiant who doesn't believe in love and an event planner who's been burned agree to say "I do" to being enemies with benefits.

Divorce attorney RJ would never describe herself as romantic. But when she ends up officiating an unplanned wedding for a newly engaged couple in a park, her life is turned upside down. The video of the ceremony goes viral, and she finds herself in the unlikely position of being a sought-after local wedding officiant. Spending her free time overseeing “I dos” isn’t her most strategic career move, but she enjoys it, except for the type A dude-bro wedding planner she’s forced to work with.

Former pro-football event manager Lear is a people person, but after his longtime girlfriend betrayed him, he isn’t looking for love. He knows how to execute events and likes being in control, so working with an opinionated and inflexible officiant who can’t stand him is not high on his list. He’s never had trouble winning people over, but RJ seems immune to his charms.

Surrounded by love at every turn, their physical attraction pulls them together despite their best efforts to stay an arm’s length apart. Lear refuses to get hurt again. RJ refuses to let herself be vulnerable to anyone. But when it comes to happily ever after, their clients might not be the only ones saying “I do.”

ISBN-13: 9780593437193

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Publication Date: 09-06-2022

Pages: 352

Product Dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Denise Williams wrote her first book in the second grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD in education, going on to work in higher education. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, son, and two ornery shih tzus who think they own the house.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


I didn’t blame Maddie Anderson for scowling at her soon-­to-­be ex-­husband.

He appeared calm and collected in a somber Italian suit, remaining quiet and deferent, and seeming reasonable. He almost looked bored by the proceedings and the minutiae of his marriage ending. I made note of the gray at his temples and supposed it was easy to look dignified as a fifty-­seven-­year-­old sitting next to one’s twenty-­three-­year-­old wife, and probably easy to look bored when you’d done this a time or two before.

Behind the makeup, Maddie’s eyes were puffy, and the cuticle on her thumb looked shredded, like she’d been nervously scratching it. Since walking in on her husband with not one but two women during their son’s first birthday party, she’d been through a lot. The hurt and embarrassment were clear in the woman’s mannerisms, but Mr. Anderson didn’t seem to care.

I’d never been in Ms. Anderson’s shoes—today, a pair of crystal-­encrusted pink stilettos. I’d learned young that people were rarely worth trusting, and baring your teeth was easier than baring your soul only to be shown you weren’t worth someone’s time. It didn’t make me bitter, but it made me careful. It also made me enjoy these little moments when I could help someone else bare their teeth.

Granted, my client huffed anytime opposing counsel spoke. I glanced at the clock on the far side of the wall and estimated how long this would take. Despite the eye-­rolling, gum popping, and faint smell of a perfume probably marketed to teenagers, Maddie Anderson was going to leave this office a very rich woman.

Twenty-­five minutes later and before rushing back to my desk, I smiled at Maddie, whose philandering ex-­husband was not as covert in his affairs as he’d hoped, and who’d chosen the wrong woman to underestimate.

“Everything should be finalized by the end of the month.” I shook Maddie’s hand to interrupt the hug coming my way and shared her smile. One point for the wronged woman and one more win for me. I rushed down the hall, trying not to look like I was in a hurry even though it was five fifteen and there was no way I was going to be on time.

“RJ.” The smoky voice of one of the senior partners left me cursing in my head as I turned to greet her. Gretchen Vanderkin-­Shaw would have scared the crap out of me if I didn’t admire her so much. Really, she still scared the crap out of me, but as a named partner before forty with a success rate through the roof, she was a force to be reckoned with, and she liked me. Gretchen was the lawyer I wanted to be, and I was gathering my courage to ask her to be my mentor.

She nodded toward the conference room. “The Anderson case?”

“We were able to come to a resolution that worked in our favor.” That was code for crushing them like tiny little bugs and then doing a victory dance that might involve some light professional twerking.

She nodded, a faint smile on her lips because I’d learned the victory dance from her. “Excellent. Eric mentioned you wanting to talk to me. I have a free hour now.”

I stole a quick glance at my watch, because nine times out of ten, if Gretchen asked to meet, we did. Hell, if she’d asked me to hop, I’d have gone full Cha Cha Slide.

“Do you have somewhere to be?”

I could have lied and said a conference call or a client meeting, but what was the point? Everything I was doing was happening because the firm wanted to keep a client happy. Well, mostly. “I have to be downtown at six.”

Her mouth formed into a thin line, and I knew she’d decoded my reason for needing to be downtown. She nodded. “Well, you’d better go. You know how I feel about this, though, RJ. You’re better than some publicity stunt.”

I fumbled for a response, biting my lower lip. That wasn’t characteristic of me—I held my shoulders back and chin up on the regular, and I never backed down from anything. I made powerful people want to cower, and I was good at it. She was right, and I was better than a publicity stunt, but I had to admit, I enjoyed this particular stunt. “Thank you for checking in. I’ll talk to your assistant and make an appointment.”

I hurried into the back of a waiting Uber, with plans to change clothes modestly in the back seat. Was I telling myself I would be modest, knowing that I was about to give anyone looking a bit of a show? Absolutely.

Penny: Where are you?

RJ: On my way. There’s traffic.

Penny: You’re killing me.

I sent her the knife emoji. Top of my class in law school and this is my life now. Event planners harassing me as I strip down in the back of an Uber. My phone buzzed again from the seat as I brushed powder onto my cheeks and checked my edges in a compact.

Penny: But I love you.

RJ: I know.

RJ: You have the mic set up how I like?

Penny: Yes, but if you’re late, you’re getting a handheld with a tangled cord.

I pulled out the binder where I’d prepared my script. All the pages were in plastic covers with labeled tabs just in case, a copy of all pertinent information in the back folder and a Post-­it Note reminding me of everyone’s names and pronouns tucked in the front. I climbed from the car and repeated the opening phrase to myself as I hurried toward the stairs of the venue. I spoke part of the line to myself. “. . . the promise of hope between two people who love each other sincerely, who—”

Suddenly, I was hurtling toward the sidewalk, not sure whether I should try to save myself, my bag, or the notes. I clutched the binder to my chest as I hit the concrete, scraping my leg, my palm stinging with the impact. The clothes I’d hurriedly shoved in my bag after changing fluttered around me, and I took in the large form who’d been blocking the sidewalk.

In a movie, this would be the start of a how-­we-­met story. The tall guy, his features obscured by the sun at his back, would lean down and help me up. Our eyes would meet. He’d apologize, I’d note something like the depth of his voice or the tickle of the hair on his forearms, and we’d be off. That might have happened for other people, but though our eyes met, I was not in the market for cute, and now I was about to arrive late and bruised to perform this couple’s wedding rehearsal.

Chapter 2


I stepped out of my car and stood looking up at the wedding venue as if I was standing on some great precipice. My phone buzzed again and, against my better judgment, I looked at the screen.

Sarah: I just need to know you’re okay.

She hadn’t texted for a while. Someone must have told her I’d gone home. I’d never planned to return to Asheville, North Carolina, and yet there I was, living in my cousin’s basement after doing my best impression of someone trying to self-­destruct for the better part of a year.

I tapped the delete icon with more force than it needed. I imagined the sympathetic face she’d probably made while typing the text, with her lower lip out, eyes soft. When I didn’t respond, she’d sigh in exasperation. She told me once that nothing drove her crazier than when someone didn’t respond to texts, and I made it a point from then on to never leave her hanging. One of the many things I did to make sure I was everything she wanted, something I’d done with everyone since I was a teenager.

Done with her sympathy. Done with her. Done with being a nice guy. My phone buzzed again, but this time it was my cousin.

Penny: Did you go back to LA or something? Can you still cover this?

Lear: Got held up. There in a sec.

Penny: You’re killing me.

I shoved my phone into my pocket, clearing my head so I could take on my first task as Penny’s assistant wedding planner. The title required a second deep breath, because my old job, planning events for a professional football team—my dream job—was across the country, and it wasn’t mine anymore. With Sarah’s text fresh on my mind as a reminder that falling in love was the first step off a cliff, I headed into my first day as a wedding professional. I’d helped my cousin with setup earlier in the day, but now my only task was to woo a prospective client and her mother. I sucked in a breath. Here goes my new life.

A fast-­moving body stopped my progress when it rammed into me, the voice of its owner high pitched as she cried “Motherf—” but hit the ground before completing the expletive.

The woman was sprawled on the pavement, the contents of what looked to be her entire life strewn around her. Her shocked expression quickly shifted, lips pursed and brow furrowed.

“Dammit,” I muttered.

She was dressed professionally, but the grass near her thigh was littered with a few tampons, a balled-­up shirt, a stick of deodorant, a small bottle of maple syrup, and nine rolls of butter rum Life Savers. I lost focus on her haughty expression and tried to figure out why a person would have these things just with her. If she hadn’t still been muttering curse words under her breath, I would have really taken a moment to appreciate the randomness of the maple syrup and the audacity of that many Life Savers.

She looked up at me like I owed her something, eyes narrowed and expression incredulous, and I lost interest in the contents of her bag. I didn’t have time for this, but I tried to sand the edge from my voice. “You should watch where you’re going,” I said in what I hoped was a playful tone, holding out a hand only to be met with a deeper scowl.

“Speak for yourself,” she said in a huff, pushing away my hand and scrambling for balance. Her face was pinched, annoyed, and she turned in a flash to collect her things. “And manners. Have you heard of them?”

“You ran into me.”

“Because you were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, not moving.”

I still held out my hand to help her. Ten years in LA hadn’t completely robbed me of my Southern home training, but this random angry little woman was pissing me off. I reminded myself that I left the nice-guy thing back in California, along with everything else. I shook my outstretched hand at her, letting any veil of politeness slip. “Will you take my damn hand so we can both get going?”

She scowled again, and the entitlement running off her petite frame in this brief exchange hit me in waves, even from a few feet away. “This is not what I needed today.” As she pushed herself to her feet, she ignored my outstretched hand, and I stepped back.

Her hands flew frantically over her clothes and swiped at her hips. She muttered to herself as she tried to pick everything up, swatting my hand away when I tried to help. “Assholes just standing in the middle of the sidewalk,” she muttered to herself. “The last damn thing I needed today . . .”

I’d never heard that combination of whisper-­quiet cursing. My instinct was to offer help again, to apologize again, and to smile until she walked away, but if the last several months had taught me anything, it was that my instincts weren’t all that great.

“Good luck with that.” Without another word, I turned to walk away, but not before deciding I could truly go against everything my gut told me to do, to hammer that last nail in the coffin of the old me. I called over my shoulder, “You know, you should smile more.”

I regretted it immediately. My sister would have my ass on a plate if she knew I’d uttered those words. I thought briefly about turning back to apologize, but I was already pressing my luck after getting lost. My phone buzzed in my pocket again, no doubt my cousin.

I pushed the woman from the sidewalk out of my mind and reminded myself that being a nice guy was not on my priority list anymore. I’d probably never see her again anyway.

The venue had been a bank once upon a time, and the old architecture framed the entryway. Following a complete renovation years ago, it was an event space now and today would host a wedding rehearsal. I wondered if the vault was still in place and if anyone held parties there.

Lear: I’m here and waiting for them. Fear not.

Penny: You’re my favorite cousin, but if you fuck this up, I’ll end you.

Lear: Noted. Love you, too.

The door opened, letting in a swath of sunlight. A pang of anxiety hit me that it might be the woman from outside, and I ducked my head, intent on examining the pattern on the marble floor. Instead of the angry growl someone had briefly introduced me to outside, a voice that sounded more like chirping filled the space.

A stylish younger woman chatted with an older woman, both adjusting their blond hair. Catching my eye, the younger woman beamed. “Are you Penny’s cousin? She said you’d be tall and well dressed and, oh my, you are. How lovely. She didn’t say you’d be so good looking, but of course you are.” She talked without pause, her words flowing from her nervous laughter. I flashed an easy smile at Melinda and Victoria Matthews, daughter and wife of Richard Matthews. The family apparently owned one-­third of North Carolina.

“Nice to meet you,” I said smoothly, taking the younger woman’s hand. “Lear Campbell.” I wanted to make a good first impression, but I also wanted her to stop rambling. From what Penny said, the bride wanted to copy and paste that next day’s wedding, but we wanted her to feel like she was just getting inspiration. Her wedding was over a year away and it seemed silly to be concerned with how the rehearsal venue’s lobby and gardens might work, but Penny’s words played in my head. Make them feel special. Don’t disparage any idea they love, no matter how bad the idea is. Make it seem like you can move mountains. She’d also added Don’t make that face, but I was fairly certain that was her being my older cousin and not my boss.

“This is so beautiful!” Melinda twirled around in a circle, looking at the space. She also seemed to end every sentence with an exclamation point, her voice high and excited. She reminded me of a teenager or a terrier.

“It’s a beautiful venue. You chose well.” My compliment on her excellent taste was met with a beaming smile from both mother and daughter. Penny didn’t give me quite enough credit. It wasn’t like I didn’t have to schmooze and make people feel important working in professional sports. “We can visit the gardens. That space isn’t in use now.”

“We are just so excited. I can’t believe—” Her voice halted and her eyes grew wide.

Over my shoulder, I saw the woman from the sidewalk hurry out of the restroom across the vestibule. I snapped my head down before she caught my face. She’d put herself back together, clothes straightened and her hair, which had come loose when she fell, pulled back into a bun that showed off her neck. She had a nice neck. She was short but in sky-­high heels and a black dress that subtly highlighted her rounded curves. She looked better when she wasn’t scowling at me from the ground. It was a wonder I hadn’t seen any of that outside. Well, maybe not a wonder. She was pretty adamantly insisting I was an asshole at the time.

“Mom,” the girl hissed. “That’s her! The woman who performed Alejandro’s wedding! I love her.” Mrs. Matthews followed her daughter’s gaze.

“Who is Alejandro?” Her voice was sweet and slow. Her accent reminded me of my aunt, and I smiled, also interested to learn why the bride knew who the woman from outside was.

“Alejandro Calderón proposed to George O’Toole in the park and it was totes cute, just, like, all the feels. Their families were there, and he said all these nice things. Mom, I was seriously bawling.” The woman bounced on her heels, her energy like a gale force wind.

“Melly, you know I don’t know who those people are,” her mother interjected.

I’d been in a hole for almost a year and even I knew who they were. The two men had played opposite each other in a superhero epic a couple years earlier, and when the country’s new favorite hero and most reviled fictional villain started dating, it was big news.

Melinda fiddled with her phone and held it out to her mom. “You remember. They were in the Interstellar Man movies. I had the biggest crush on Alejandro when I was a kid and had all these posters.” She took a breath, and I slid into the conversation, because this was taking us way off course.