(Mirabelle Harbor #3)
Publication date: January 24th 2016
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
“Nothing but love, 24/7” is the slogan of Mirabelle Harbor’s only radio station, 102.5 “LOVE” FM. On the verge of turning thirty-five, local DJ Blake Michaelsen is well-known for several reasons: his very sexy on-air voice, his omnipresent family, his eligible bachelor status, and his reputation as one of the most impulsive men in Chicago’s northern suburbs.
High-school French teacher and lifelong romantic Vicky Bernier is not at all wild about people who exhibit reckless conduct. (Blake.) Or men who have gigantic egos. (Blake.) Or grownups who still act like teenagers. (Blake, again.) She deals with enough adolescent behavior during the school day. Unfortunately, she’s the staff advisor to the Homecoming Committee, and they’ve chosen him as their DJ for the big fall dance.
What happens when a man whose job it is to play love songs for a living is forced to admit his deepest secret—that he doesn’t believe in true love—only to discover that the one woman who might capture his heart is the same woman who distrusts him the most?
No matter what you call it, with love there’s an exception to every rule. YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME, a Mirabelle Harbor story.
**Note: YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME is Book 3 in the Mirabelle Harbor series by New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Marilyn Brant, but this story and all of the contemporary romances in this series can be enjoyed as stand-alone novels.
I dropped the van off at the radio station first and then an exhausted Winston at my apartment. Between my nephews and a yard full of squirrels, he’d run himself ragged. I watched him drag his furry body over to his water bowl, slurp up a few sips, and then collapse into a heap on the cool kitchen floor.
Much as I wished I could do the same, my mind just wouldn’t shut down. It kept racing from one thought to the next, but most of the thoughts were variants on the same theme: I was now officially thirty-five years old, and what did I have to show for it?
I was single and the definition of the kind of guy who was a drunk girl’s one-night stand.
I lived in a small apartment with a scruffy dog I’d picked up on a whim.
I dressed like an overgrown college kid all the time in jeans and t-shirts because I knew no one on the air could see me.
Even though I had degrees in two different fields—communications and marketing—I’d quit a bunch of jobs because they were boring, and I wasn’t exactly advancing in my new radio career because love songs annoyed the shit out of me. (Try to explain that on a resume.)
When had I gotten so stuck in this rut?
When did I become a boring, thirty-something fool whose only Rx was the typical slacker combo of bar babes, alcohol, and mind-numbing TV?
Seriously. It was depressing as hell.
Also, these habits were hard to break.
I left my apartment and my dog and found myself heading toward the nearest bar in Harbor Square, like a magnet drawn to its mate.
There were two main drinking establishments downtown, not more than two blocks from my apartment complex, and they were next to each other: A newish wine bar for hipster types called The Lounge (Shar and her friends liked it), and a real bar that had been in the square for years—Max’s Pub, a sports bar where everyone knew my name.
I meandered inside Max’s and squeezed into a space at the bar counter. Football was on. The Chargers versus the Broncos. Couldn’t say I cared about the game. It was the Bears or nothing for me. But I had my attention split between Gina, the smokin’ hot bartender who was wise enough not to let me pick her up (I’d tried a dozen times), and the top shelf vodka I liked to drink straight on nights when I was feeling especially sorry for myself.
“How are you doing, Blake?” Gina asked, all smiles. As it got later, the guys in the room got drunker and they tipped more freely.
“I’d be better if you came home with me,” I said. “When’s your shift end?”
She laughed. “Too late for you. You’ll be wasted in an hour.”
I checked my watch and shrugged. “Ah, you’re probably right.”
“I know I am.”
“Is that why you never let me pick you up? I mean, I could stay mostly sober tonight if you wanted me to wait—”
“Blake,” she cut me off, “I think you’re a sweetheart...usually, but I’m not looking for a fling.” She patted my head like a Sunday school teacher might. “But don’t you worry. I know you’ll find plenty of women who are looking for just that. I’ve seen you go home with enough of them.”
“Ow. That sounds an awful lot like an accusation.”
“Well, I’m not your sister. I don’t have to be nice to you.”
“Have you ever talked to my sister? ‘Cuz then you’d know she isn’t all that nice to me.”
Gina laughed. “Careful. This is a small town. That might get back to Sharlene.”
I grinned at her. “I can only hope.”
But despite my attempts to flirt with the bartender, she had other customers to attend to, and I was left with my vodka and my loneliness.
I glanced out the window and saw a bunch of local teachers approaching the front entrance to The Lounge. I recognized a few of the women from around town. Since Shar was an English teacher at the junior high, she’d introduced me to a number of fellow educators over the years. Teachers were generally too straight-laced to be my type, though, so I never paid much attention. The only one in the crowd tonight whose name I even remembered was the French teacher, and she taught at the high school.
I’d seen her at the radio station when I was doing a big interview with actor Dane Tyler this summer. I distinctly remember Shar saying that Vicky was single.
“Need another?” Gina asked me.
“Maybe just one or two more.” My head was finally starting to catch a decent buzz, so I should have been feeling a lot better, especially after Gina gave me a freebie drink in honor of my birthday. But I was still irritated. Thinking about the radio station made me think about those sappy love songs. Whether the musician was pouring his heart out about “love gone wrong” or the joy of “the first time,” it didn’t matter. I couldn’t stand either extreme.
Those songs were the worst kind of subversive lie out there. And people just accepted whatever the singer sang as truth because it was delivered in harmony and with lyrics that rhymed. Idiots.
But I knew the real truth. Love wasn’t a panacea for all of life’s ills.
Love made everything worse, at least for most people. Love made everyone it touched vulnerable. I’d witnessed it firsthand, time and time again. I’d seen that vulnerability nearly level my strong, smart sister when her ex cheated on her. I’d watched two out of my three brothers wrestle with their sense of self worth when trying to win the women in their lives. And I’d had a front-row seat as my mother suffered through the early death of my father from stomach cancer, and she never really recovered. Her stroke a couple of years later was a shock to most of my siblings, but not to me. Her weakness in the face of love had incapacitated her. Made her feeble. She didn’t have the will to keep fighting anymore.
I had no intention of putting myself in a position like that. Not ever.
I raised my glass to take a big gulp of my third (or, maybe, fourth?) vodka when a human brick wall slammed into me.
“What the fuck?” I yelled as alcohol dripped down my face and splashed into my eyes. Damn that stung. “Watch where you’re going, asshole.”
“Who are you calling an asshole, you asshole?” the brick wall yelled back. Not too witty, this one, but there was a feral look in his eyes.
And even through my vodka haze, I recognized four definitive things about the other guy:
1. He was at least as wasted as I was.
2. He was at least twice my size—which was impressive because I wasn’t a little man—but this dude was wide and thick-necked, like a linebacker.
3. He was at least a decade younger than I was. A college football player, maybe?
4. And he was at least as argumentative as I was, which let me know that we both wanted the same thing. Had a similar need. The taste for real blood...our own. Something to distract us from the internal pain by replacing it with a physical one.
I shoved him back. “I’m calling you an asshole. Get outta my face.”
“No, you fuckin’ prick.”
I met his gaze and he was laughing at me. His bloodshot eyes pleading with me to land the first punch so he could batter his knuckles against my jaw.
I threw down my glass, shattering it, and pushed my way to standing. Gina yelled, “Take it outside, guys! Right now, or you’ll be tossed out!” A pair of bouncers appeared out of nowhere.
The brick wall pointed to the door.
I pointed, too. “After you, dickhead.”
He lifted me up by the nape of my t-shirt and half-shoved, half-hauled me out of the sports bar. A group of guys, probably his friends, followed us out. They were shouting a bunch of shit that I couldn’t focus on. The dude was bigger and he was stronger, but I was faster, and I managed to land a couple of blows before his first slammed into my stomach, stole my breath, and literally brought me to my knees.
With me so low the ground, I could grab at his legs to try to slow him down, but it was just a delay game, and we both knew it. He rained punches down on my head like a hailstorm. But through the pain, I was calm. All I had to think about was survival, not living. And for the few moments the fight lasted, it was a relief.
But then someone pulled him off me and dragged him away. I caught sight of a police officer’s uniform, some yelling, and a quickly dispersing crowd, including those teachers who were at the wine bar next door. Vicky, that babe of a French teacher, was one of them. As I spit out a mouthful of blood, I caught her staring at me. It was a look of pure disgust.
Well, screw her.
The cop approached me, but I didn’t look at him. It wasn’t until he said, “What are you doing, Blake?” that I recognized the voice.
I’d known Terrance Ryland since second grade. He was black, well built, and bullshit free. I winced, more from embarrassment now than bruises.
“Hey, T,” I mumbled.
“Officer T to you,” he said with a hint of a laugh. “You need to go home. Now.”
“I know. I’m going.”
“Do you need help getting there?” he asked me.
I shook my head, and the world spun in a wild arc. “I live nearby.”
“Well, go right home then, Blake. I can’t have you out here disturbing the peace. I don’t want to have to bring you in, but I will.”
There was no mistaking the seriousness in his voice. A genuine warning.
“I hear ya.” I forced myself to sober up enough to stand up straight and take a stride or two away from him.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Terrance asked, softer this time.
“I will be. I just need some sleep. And, maybe, a few bandages.”
He chuckled. “You haven’t changed one bit since elementary school. Always at the center of a brawl. Take care of yourself, okay? And, please, stay out of trouble.”
“I’ll try,” I said. But I was lying.
I walked away from Harbor Square until I was out of the cop’s view, then I hugged the wall in the alley between the art gallery and the liquor store, needing it to hold me up. I paused to puke into the gutter.
“Pathetic,” I heard someone muttering as they walked by. Or maybe it was just the voice in my head, commenting on my personal state of being.
Somehow I managed to stumble the final block home, and Winston greeted me at my apartment door, tail wagging.
His joy in seeing me filled my heart with a gratitude I knew I didn’t deserve to feel. As I let him out for his last doggy break of the night, I almost broke down right there in the doorway. Here was a creature who loved me without conditions, even in the shitty, drunken, beat-up state I was in. No woman would ever have half of the love and respect for me that this little mutt did. I knew that for sure.
But after we returned to the apartment, that was the last coherent thought I had before I patted Winston’s soft head one more time, collapsed onto my sofa, and blacked out until morning.
Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She won RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart Award (2007) for her debut novel, According to Jane, and was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. The Mirabelle Harbor series is her latest project. Visit her website: http://www.marilynbrant.com
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