#BLUSH by #HelenHardt | #WaitingonWednesday

Blush
by Helen Hardt

ISBN: 9781649372277
RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 24, 2023
PAGE COUNT: 354
IMPRINT: AMARA
GENRE: EROTIC ROMANCE, CONTEMPORARY
TROPES: FORBIDDEN LOVE/OFF LIMITS

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine. this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases we can’t wait to share.


I’m so excited for BLUSH by Helen Hardt! It sounds like such a sexy read about forbidden love between best friends. I’m sure it’s going to be filled with all kinds of emotions and passionate moments. I can’t wait for you to get your hands on it and see how this story plays out.

What he wants from you will make you…Blush

Hi there! It can be tough waiting for something you're looking forward to. And we are waiting on BLUSH by Helen Hardt.  It releases on January 24, 2023.

Amanda Thomas is hopelessly in love with Jackson Paris, but he will never see her as anything more than his sweet and innocent bestie. After being virgin-adjacent for too long, Mandy is officially ready to move on. She wants to learn about hot, dirty sex, so she joins an online dating app where the enigmatic Mr. Dark promises to fulfill all of her wicked fantasies…

Jackson Paris has been keeping secrets from his stunning, too-innocent best friend—like forbidden sexual proclivities and his membership at the exclusive Black Rose Underground club. But Mandy has decided she needs an education—the filthy kind. As Mr. Dark, Jackson can safely give her a taste of what she wants—and deter her from pursuing more—without revealing his identity.

But in the dim, provocative atmosphere of Black Rose Underground, there are no secrets. Here, every wicked appetite is satisfied. And for the first time, Mandy will discover who her best friend really is…just in time to shock him with a secret of her own.

Copyright © 2023 by Helen Hardt. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

CHAPTER ONE

Amanda

My sister, Frankie—short for Francesca—has two settings. High and low. Either she’s going to have incredibly good news or incredibly bad news when she calls. So when her name and number pop up on my buzzing cell phone, my stomach sinks and I assume the worst. If it ends up being good news, it’s a relief. And if it’s bad news, at least I’m a little prepared.

I sigh. I have a headache after staring at my computer screen for ten hours—an average day on the job for me, but now that I’m mentally playing “guess that phone call,” the pain feels sharper.

Relax. It can’t be worse than when she called to say Mom was rushed to the hospital.

Can it?

I look at her name pulsing on my phone screen in time with my pounding head and pick up the call.

“Hey, Frank,” I say into the phone, trying to keep my voice light.

“Mandy, you’re never going to guess what happened!” she squeals.

Good news, then. Thank God. I lean back in my chair, relief washing over me in a pleasant rush.

“You’re right, I’ll never guess,” I say and rub my temple. “So just tell me. What’s up?”

“Penn proposed last night! We’re getting married!”

And just like that, my relief turns to anxiety again.

Pendleton Berry is Frankie’s on-again, off-again significant other. He’s also an overgrown frat brat who sells software systems but actually lives off a trust fund from his grandfather. He and Frankie have been together for more than five years—but with all the breakups, they’ve probably only been together around half of that.

Am I supposed to take this seriously? Maybe, because this is the first time the man actually proposed to her.

Frankie is younger than I am by two years. Even so, she gets everything first. Seriously. She even started menstruating before I did. She was twelve and I was fourteen. Sure, I got the curse a month later, but still, she had to show me up. I was an awkward kid, introverted and hardly athletically inclined. Frankie even learned to ride a bike before I did.

I love my sister, but now that I’m pushing thirty? This shit is getting old.

She’s going to get married, and I don’t even have any prospects.

And if I’m honest with myself? I don’t want any prospects, because I’m hopelessly in love with the one man I’ll never have. But now’s not the time to focus on that one problem. My sister just dropped a bombshell and is likely waiting on me to share her excitement.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Frankie asks.

I inject as much enthusiasm as I can into my voice. “That’s great, Frank. Really.”

She scoffs. “Don’t increase your heart rate or anything, Mandy.”

“I’m sorry. I’m happy for you. Really.” Do I sound sincere? Part of me truly is sincere. I don’t wish anything bad on Frankie. I adore my sister and want her to be happy. I’m just not sure Penn Berry is the man who can achieve that.

“I’m thrilled! We’re so happy,” she gushes.

“That’s great, Frank.”

“You just said that, Mandy.”

“Did I? See? I really mean it.”

And I do. Like I said, part of me is truly sincere. Part of me is jealous as all hell. Then that third part of me—the part that would fight to the death anyone who hurt my sister—is worried. She and Penn haven’t had the most stable relationship.

“Sometimes I didn’t think this would ever happen,” Frankie continues. “Things have always been so volatile between Penn and me. But these last six months, everything’s been so great.”

“That’s awesome.”

“You’ll be my maid of honor, of course,” she continues. “And next, I have to call Isabella and Gigi.”

Isabella and Gigi—Frankie’s besties.

As an introvert, I don’t make friends easily. I never have. And since my job as a virtual assistant keeps me behind a computer all day, I don’t have a chance to remedy the situation. I’m happy alone, to be honest. Life is safer that way, and I have always taken the safe route. I don’t need friends.

Well, except for one.

Jackson Paris has been my best friend since we were both in diapers.

He still is my best friend—on his side anyway. On my side? He’s my closest friend in the world. But inconveniently, he’s also the guy I’ve been hopelessly in love with most of my life.

To him, I’m as sexually interesting as a sack of potatoes. At least that’s how it’s felt over the years, when he’s never once looked at me with an ounce of interest or heat.

Unfortunately, I began to see him as something more than a friend when we were in high school. He was busy growing into a gorgeous jock and captain of the football team who of course only dated cheerleaders. I used to tease him that he was a walking cliché, but he’d just wink and say that’s not what he’d call what he did with insert girl’s name here last night.

He continued with more of the same in college, where he played football again, majored in business, and landed an internship with Black Inc., under the tutelage of the blue-collar billionaire himself, Braden Black.

Now he’s climbing up the corporate ladder at lightning speed as he works in marketing with Braden’s brother, Ben Black.

And he still dates all the time. Well, anyone not me. I sigh.

Why would he want a bespectacled, no-makeup-wearing brunette with boring gray eyes? Plus, there’s the fact that he’s never dated a woman for more than three months. I’m not the commitment type, he always says. Perhaps it’s a good thing he’s never seen me as more than a friend. Do I really crave him enough to risk losing a lifetime best friend for only a few months of passion?

Sometimes, on particularly lonely nights, that answer is a hard yes.

Frankie babbles on and on. Engagement party, the bridesmaids’ luncheon, the shower and bachelorette parties, and of course the wedding itself.

“It’s not going to be a long engagement, Mandy. We both feel like we’ve wasted so much time with all our silly arguments and breakups. We want to get married right away. In three months or less.”

I can’t help gasping. “Three months?”

“Yeah, but we can do it. The ceremony will be at Penn’s parents’ house. You know how huge it is. It’s an absolute mansion. And you don’t have to worry about anything. You’re the maid of honor, but Isabella and Gigi will take care of all the details, my shower and everything. They love that kind of stuff.”

Good. That’s fine with me. Isabella and Gigi are social animals. I’m not. I could probably put together a shower—how difficult is it to serve cake and punch and watch Frankie open gifts?— but a bachelorette party? Bridesmaids’ luncheon? So not in my repertoire.

“That’s great.”

“Isn’t it? Gigi has so many social contacts. Everything will be top-notch.”

Top-notch. Great.

“I do need you to come with Isabella and Gigi and me to the gown fitting next week.”

“Sure.”

“I want all of you to be involved in choosing the dress you wear.”

“Great. That’s great, Frankie.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on repeat.

Then my phone buzzes with another call.

My heart pumps wildly when I see Jackson’s name.

“Frank? I’ve got another call. It’s…work.”

“Oh, sure, I understand. I’ll keep you in the loop, okay, Mandy?”

“Yeah. Please do.”

“Absolutely.”

“I’m really happy for you, Frank. Truly.” I do my best to sound sincere. I truly do want my sister happy.

“I know you are. Love you!”

I quickly end that call and take the other. “Hey, Jack.”

“Hey, my little Mandy Cake,” he says.

Mandy Cake. He’s called me that since we could both talk. Pancakes were Jackson’s favorite breakfast as a kid. His mom would make them in the shape of a bear, and his favorite bear was a panda. He called them pandy cakes, so I became Mandy Cake.

And I’m still Mandy Cake, which tells the truth of our relationship. He’ll never see me as anything other than that toddler in diapers who used to eat pandy cakes with him.

“I thought I’d come over and take you out to dinner,” Jackson continues.

That’s code for, I don’t have a date tonight.

Don’t get me wrong. I know Jack loves me as much as I love him. Just in a totally different way. In a “we’ve been friends forever” kind of way. And most days, I convince myself it’s enough.

“Sure, that’d be nice.”

“Dress up. There’s a new sushi place I want to try downtown.”

Jack and I love sushi. It’s our guilty pleasure whenever we’re together. “Sure.”

“Great. Pick you up in an hour?”

“I’ll be ready.”

As the line goes dead, I can’t help but feel the finality echo in my bones.

My sister is getting married…and I am going to be alone forever. Living for the occasional night Jack isn’t hooking up with his flavor of the month and wants to try a new restaurant with his dorky best friend.

And just like that, I realize I can either feel sorry for myself…

Or I can do something about it.

On impulse, I pull up the app store on my phone. I need to swallow my fear and put myself out there—and move the hell on from this unrequited hole I’ve been napping in since high school, for God’s sake. There are only about a thousand dating apps to choose from.

My hands shake as I type “lustr” into the search bar and pull up the app.

I create a profile quickly but then realize I don’t know what to do after that. Nothing about me is remotely interesting. And a photo? God help me.

Jackson. I’ll ask Jackson to help me. He’s always finding someone new to hook up with, so he’ll know exactly how to help me set up my profile to get the most action.

I smile. This will work out after all.

“Lustr?” Jackson shakes his head as he spears a piece of spicy tuna roll with his chopsticks. “Seriously, Mandy Cake?”

We’ve had the “Mandy Cake” discussion many times. I’ve asked him to stop calling me that, and he’s said, “Really? You’ll always be Mandy Cake to me.”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Which is the problem. I’ll always be Mandy Cake, despite the fact that he stopped being Jackie Lantern to me when I hit puberty.

I have to work to not stare at Jackson. He’s gorgeous—all chiseled jawline, sandy-brown stubble, and dark-blond hair that swoops over his forehead in a way he hates but only makes him more enticing. And those long-lashed eyes—sometimes they’re emerald green and sometimes they’re the light brown of cognac.

He calls them hazel.

I call them spectacular.

I could gaze into them forever and never tire of their beauty.

I clear my throat. “Yeah, really. Frankie just got engaged. I’m not getting any younger, Jack. I’m a virtual assistant. I sit behind a computer all day. When am I supposed to meet anyone?”

“Anywhere. How about here?” Jackson glances around the dining room at Sushi Palace and then nods to a table of three guys. “How about any of those guys?”

I follow Jack’s gaze and roll my eyes. “First of all, they all have gray in their hair. They’re too old for me.”

“I have a few gray hairs.”

“Not enough to matter. Those guys are in their late forties, I’d bet.”

Jackson takes a sip of his sake. “You don’t know that. They dress well, look interesting.”

“Exactly how can you tell they’re interesting by the way they dress?”

He smiles his dazzling smile—the one that makes my heart soar.

“They dress like I dress. And I happen to think I’m a very interesting person.”

The dazzling smile again.

My God, could I lust for this man more?

“I’m an introvert, Jack. Besides, what kind of woman walks up to a table of three men and starts flirting?”

He raises his eyebrows. “The kind of woman who’s looking for a date?”

“I’m not that woman. You’ve known me forever. You know how shy I am.”

He doesn’t reply. Instead, he focuses his attention on popping the beans out of an edamame pod.

Doesn’t matter. If I can’t have the man I want, I can find one exactly like him on Lustr. Right? It’s a virtual smorgasbord of eligible men, and one might be looking for Amanda Rose Thomas.

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