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Fool Me Once (First Wives #1)
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From Weekday Brides to First Wives, a dazzling series about four women and their alliance of newfound friendship, unexpected love, and second chances.
Cynical divorce attorney Lori Cumberland lives by one motto: Love is grand, but divorce is a hundred grand. With one failed marriage under her own personal belt, Lori had fallen hard and early—and it isn’t something she plans on repeating. She’s content focusing on the temporary marriages of her rich and famous clients. When she joins some of her recent divorcées on a celebratory cruise, her only vow is fun, sun, and new friends. But Lori finds herself tempted by a jury of one.
For Reed Barlow, falling into the world of private investigation was easy. He knows the law and knows how to avoid breaking it—all while doing his job. His rule to live by? No emotion, no involvement…until Lori. His charming smile and cocky attitude distracts Lori and lowers her guard, which is exactly what Reed desires.
But what appears as a one-time-only flirtation may be a plot orchestrated by Reed. As he’s taking his investigation to a dangerous level, it’s Lori who could end up in jeopardy. Reed has only one shot for Lori to grant him a second chance. But if he comes clean with her, he blows his cover. And that just might cost him the opportunity for an alliance of family…and of love.
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Divorce cake was so much sweeter than wedding cake, and when that cake was served to a room full of women celebrating the freedom of a newly single, incredibly wealthy thirty-year-old, it tasted even better.
Lori lifted her tumbler in the air and caught the gaze of Samantha Harrison from across the room.
Another successful Alliance contract executed.
Another payday for the both of them.
Avery Grant, the divorcée of the hour, laughed over the volume of the music pumping through the expansive speaker system in the high-rise condominium. The unit sat several floors above Lori’s in the same Los Angeles complex.
The lofty space had been stripped of most of its walls before Avery moved in. She wanted it open, with massive views of the city twinkling below after sunset. Her husband of sixteen months liked his living space to resemble a Civil War–era colonial home, complete with cubicle-style rooms and drafty halls. It wasn’t surprising to see Avery make a completely opposite choice for her home.
“You’re Avery’s attorney, aren’t you?”
The voice on Lori’s right belonged to Avery’s mom, Adeline.
Lori extended her hand. “I am. It’s Mrs. Grant, right?”
“Did Avery speak of me?”
No, but Lori had sat on the sidelines of Avery and Bernie’s wedding nearly a year and a half before. She hadn’t stayed for the reception. A divorce attorney at a wedding sometimes created gossip, something Lori and Sam’s team avoided like socks on newly polished toes.
“Avery showed me pictures from the wedding,” Lori lied.
Mrs. Grant lifted her nose a little higher. “Disgraceful. Who shows a divorce lawyer pictures of what failed?”
They both glanced at Avery, who was working her way into a wicked hangover.
“Their split was amicable.” A direct quote from the tabloid that blasted the finality of the divorce earlier that week.
“Amicable or not, it shouldn’t have happened. Avery always was impulsive, making the wrong choices. Bernie was perfect for her, grounded, good family.”
“He was a bit older than your daughter.” Eighteen years, to be exact. Not to mention the male-pattern baldness and five foot ten height. When Avery appeared at his side in anything but flats, she towered over him. Not that Bernie had minded. He had wanted a trophy wife, and with Avery, he’d gotten what he ordered.
Laughter caught their attention again.
“This is disgraceful. Who has a divorce party?”
In Lori’s line of work, lots of women.
“If you’ll excuse me, Mrs. Grant, I see someone I need to speak with.”
The older woman pinched her lips a little tighter and pivoted toward the kitchen.
Lori worked her way to Sam’s side and lifted her cocktail. “Cheers.”
“Looked like Mom wasn’t happy.”
“Not at all.” Lori lowered her voice. “If I remember right, Avery wanted a reprieve from her parents nagging her to settle down.” Her brief marriage and subsequent divorce had given her that.
“I wonder how long Mom will wait before going at her again?”
“Well.” Sam placed her half-empty glass on a nearby table. “At least Avery has the financial freedom to avoid her overcontrolling parents.”
“I’ve never seen domineering parents loosen their grip on their children.”
“Perhaps Avery will pry their fingers off.”
A fast-paced song had the woman of the hour bouncing to the beat. “She is certainly breaking loose tonight.”
“What is she drinking?”
“It’s called a ball and chain, otherwise known as Fireball and tequila shots.”
“That’s gonna hurt in the morning.”
A chattering of women increased in volume and brought both their attention to the front door. A tall, muscle-bound twentysomething walked in wearing the fakest cop’s uniform Lori had ever seen.
Sam shook her head. “When the stripper arrives, that’s my cue to leave.”
Lori waved her off. “Go home to your hot man. I’ll stick around and make sure our client doesn’t do anything tabloid perfect.”
Sam kissed the side of Lori’s cheek before skirting around the crowd.
Someone handed Lori a plate full of cream cheese frosting smothered cake.
Strippers and sugar.
It could be worse.
The sound of glass crashing to the floor brought Lori’s eyes wide open.
In front of her, the world shimmered into focus.
Bright light glared.
Avery’s condo . . . commando stripper . . . it all came back in a breath.
Fuzzy pain sat in the back of her neck and threatened serious pain if she didn’t change position.
She shifted and closed her eyes.
The guttural sound of someone attempting to empty their stomach shot her into action.
Lori zeroed in on the noise.
Avery, God love her, had made it halfway to the stone and lacquer bathroom before losing the previous evening’s indulgence.
Choking back the involuntary desire to follow Avery’s stomach, Lori swallowed hard, moved past the mess, and grasped the girl’s hair as she found the toilet.
Lori wasn’t sure who was praying to the porcelain throne, Avery or her . . . but one of them was exclaiming something.
“I got ya,” Lori said as she closed her eyes and thought of rainbows and unicorns.
Avery emptied her stomach, the hard way, into the pristine white Kohler toilet.