The Accidental Fiance - Christi Barth


My undying gratitude to Meghan Farrell and Jane Porter, who fell for a one sentence description of this series and actually encouraged me to write the whole thing. They—and everyone at Tule—have been unfailingly supportive and wonderful. To my readers—thank you so much for starting another series with me. I promise the rest of it will be just as fun!

A delicious brunch at the Kent Manor Inn helped solidify my teensy idea as workable. A stay at the Brampton Inn in Chestertown helped me immensely in nailing down, well, everything for my fictional Three Oaks Inn. And if you swing by Maryland, you should visit—it is lovely there. Big thanks to Mary Vaughan for listening to me vent about unworkable plot points, and helping me sprint my way to the finish line. And to all those aspiring authors out there—know that I had people who tried to talk me out of writing this series. I want to say I waited too long to try and pitch it as a result—but on the other hand, waiting clearly brought me to the perfect time for it to find a home with Tule. So listen to your heart and write the stories that you have to get out of your brain. People will want them!


Christmas Eve

Downtown Pittsburgh

Alex Kirkland fisted his hands deeper into his pockets. December in Pittsburgh was no joke. At least, he wasn’t laughing about the below-freezing temps. Although he wasn’t in the mood tonight to be laughing about, well, anything.

“Alex, you’ve kept us in suspense long enough. Tell us what happened at your interview,” his sister pleaded, with a sharp tug on his coat sleeve.

One look at her hopeful face reminded him he wasn’t alone. The moping could wait until he was. But right now, Amelia looked like a smiling angel with her pale skin and her red hair dusted with flakes from the snow she’d tried to throw at him. These Christmas Eve strolls to look at the downtown lights were one of her favorite holiday traditions.

Damned if he’d ruin it for her.

“I went in, I charmed ’em, and proceeded to wow them with my in-depth knowledge of the hotel industry.” He tossed her an exaggeratedly slick, smarmy smile that he would never, ever actually use in an interview.

“So you got the job?”

“Doubtful,” Teague Sullivan cut in, scrubbing his hand over his close-cut light brown hair. “He’d have led with good news. Alex here was stalling on sharing his shit news—am I right?”

The problem with a best friend who had known you since a third-grade playground battle? They knew all your tells. All the ways you hid yourself and your feelings from the rest of the world.

There was no hiding anything from Teague. Especially after his Army Special Forces training. The man could sniff out a weakness or a lie faster than Alex could identify a smoking barbecue grill with T-bones from six blocks away.

“I didn’t get the job,” Alex admitted with a shrug. Then he stopped to stare at a storefront window decorated with elaborate swags of snow and holly. Jolly. Festive. It set his teeth on edge.

“Oh, no!” Everleigh Girard, his sister’s bestie since forever, threw an arm around his shoulders. “How could they possibly ignore the total package of experience and movie-star good looks that you’d bring to their hotel as manager?”

“Maybe that’s what killed his chances.” Amelia waved a fuzzy green-mittened hand at his face. “The chiseled jawline, the icy-blue eyes. The man who interviewed you would’ve felt insignificant, and a woman would’ve known you’d be impossible to resist.”

Alex appreciated the teasing compliments. Because they all knew the real reason he’d been passed over. Again. “Thanks, guys. But it was obvious my résumé didn’t matter. Someone had read the damned article between setting up the interview and today. They know I was fired for covering up a theft at the Grand Orion.”

“You didn’t cover it up.” Amelia poked her finger into his sternum to punctuate each sentence. She could be fierce with her love and her defense of those she loved. Good thing his black wool coat cushioned her attack. “You protected a battered woman in need. You let her get away to save her life, and then you called the authorities. I’m sick of the world treating you like a co-conspirator instead of a hero.”

“The damn magazine made sure that I came off sounding like a criminal in that article. Enough so that nobody will give me a chance to tell my side of the