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Title: The Boyfriend Candidate
Author: Ashley Winstead
Publisher: Graydon House
Publication Date: May 9, 2023
Page Count: 365
My rating: 4 stars
About the book:
A laugh-out-loud rom-com about learning to embrace living outside your comfort zone.
As a shy school librarian, Alexis Stone is comfortable keeping out of the spotlight. But when she’s dumped for being too meek—in bed!—she decides she needs to change. And what better way to kick-start her new more adventurous life than with her first one-night stand?
Enter Logan, the gorgeous, foul-mouthed stranger she meets at a hotel bar. Audacious and filterless, Logan is Alexis’s opposite—and boy, do opposites attract! Just as she’s about to fulfill her hookup wish, the hotel catches fire in a freak lightning storm. In their rush to escape, Logan is discovered carrying her into the street, where people are waiting with cameras. Cameras Logan promptly—and shockingly—flees.
Alexis is bewildered until suddenly pictures of her and Logan escaping the fire are all over the internet. Turns out Logan is none other than Logan Arthur, the hotshot candidate challenging the Texas governor’s seat. The salacious scandal is poised to sink his career—and jeopardize Alexis’s job—until a solution is proposed: he and Alexis could pretend to be in a relationship until election day…in two months. What could possibly go wrong?
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Alexis Stone Is Not a Mouse
I’LL SAY ONE NICE THING ABOUT MY EX CHRIS TUTTLE: the man was the entire reason I was here, standing at the entrance to the sultry Fleur de Lis hotel bar, wearing a red dress so plunging I kept it in the back of my closet for fear of scandalizing visitors, on the verge of reinventing myself. The memory of Chris and the still-fresh psychic wounds he’d left me were like a marching drum line urging me forward as I’d left my apartment, Ubered downtown to the Fleur de Lis, and cut a determined path across the lobby to the bar, a place with a reputation as Austin’s Grand Central Station of hookups. Unfortunately, now that I was standing at the entrance, the sight of all the laughing, drinking, dazzling people—dressed to the nines like me, but looking much more at ease about it—had me momentarily cowed.
I thought back to what Chris said the day I discovered he was cheating on me (for the second time): “I do have needs you can’t satisfy. You should really learn to be more adventurous in bed, Lex. You’re like a timid little mouse. It can get really boring.” Remembering those words, I straightened my shoulders, took a deep breath, and stepped inside. I was not a boring mouse—or at least I wouldn’t be one anymore. Starting tonight, I was going to be a new version of Alexis Stone: as bold and adventurous as my flaming-red dress.
I tried to soak in the beauty of the bar while beelining through the crowded tables, anxious to leave the peculiar spotlight of being the only person standing among a bunch of cozy, seated people. But then I realized new Alexis wouldn’t care if everyone’s eyes flitted to her as she walked across a room—in fact, new Alexis would welcome it, because she’d spent nearly an hour straightening and then recurling her hair into movie star ringlets, and maybe that effort should be appreciated. I forced myself to slow and look up at the bar’s gorgeous glass ceiling, shaded a twinkly blue thanks to the night sky. Real palm trees lined the circular perimeter, fronds reaching toward the stars. They made the bar look like a very urbane urban jungle, which actually wasn’t too far off the mark.
My older sister, Lee, and her friends liked to roll their eyes at the entire downtown bar scene, calling places like the Fleur de Lis “meat markets where you go to spend thirty-five bucks on a martini while beating back horny yuppies” (Lee’s words). They preferred the hipster bars on the east side of Austin, where the clientele was cooler yet dirtier (my words). I thought the Fleur de Lis was romantic, so it made sense to come here tonight for my critical but one hundred percent private mission: I, Alexis Rosalie Stone, was going to have my first one-night stand. I was going to sleep with a man with no strings attached, no stakes or expectations: just one night to do whatever felt right. Alexis the unadventurous bore? I’d killed her and buried the body.
The gleaming brass bar was crowded, but I managed to slip a shoulder between two men and catch the bartender’s attention. “Vodka martini,” I said, feeling a sudden rebellious compulsion to do anything that would raise my sister’s eyebrows. By the time my drink came, I’d completed a full three-sixty swivel in my barstool to survey the sea of men for potential candidates. How exactly did one negotiate a one-night stand? Did you lead with it in conversation so all your cards were on the table (“Hi, I’m Alexis; you might be interested to know I’m trolling for a stranger to ravish me”), or did you hold back, let your intention slip out at just the right moment (“I see you’re ordering an Uber home; could I interest you in going splitsies back to my place for a wild night of sex”)?
I braced a hand on the bar, taking a fortifying sip of my martini. Even if I made a complete fool of myself tonight—even if I was roundly rejected by every man I spoke to—coming here alone at least meant Lee and her crew couldn’t witness my flop, then use it to skewer me for all eternity like the jackals they were.
A whistle cut through the bar’s ambient noise, followed by a loud, “Now that’s a dress.” Out of nowhere, a man appeared and sidled up beside me. One look at him and my mind blurted forehead! Probably because his was shiny as a disco ball, framed by waggling eyebrows, and tilted all the way to the side. The next second, I realized his head was turned that way so he could get a clear view down my dress.
“Thanks.” I placed a protective hand over my chest and swiveled in the opposite direction. Hoping my body language would signal my disinterest, I took another sip of my martini and studied the empty corner of the room like it was fascinating.
No such luck. “I’m Carter Randall,” the man said, jutting out his hand. “What’s your name?”
My deep desire for him to go away warred with my silly lifelong compulsion to be nice. “Um…” I twisted back to shake his oddly moist hand and searched for inspiration. My gaze snagged, as his clearly had, on my dress. “Ruby…” The next word came unbidden. “Dangerfield. Ruby Dangerfield.” Curse my polite hardwiring that had me sitting here inventing a new name instead of dismissing him with something cool and clipped like, “Not interested.”
Carter gave my hand a little squeeze. He was twice my age, probably well into his fifties. Well-dressed, with a massive gold watch on his wrist, and—now that I squinted—a strangely sweaty face, like he’d just done a lap. Was he on party drugs? He used his sleeve to mop his forehead and I pulled my hand away, resisting the urge to wipe it on my dress. Carter’s eyes drifted down the length of my body yet again. “Well, Ms. Ruby. Can I buy you a drink? A stiff one?” He grinned.
“Oh,” I said. “That’s very nice. But—um—no thank you.” Inside, I burned with the fire of a thousand suns. Saying no to anyone, even a stranger, stretched the limits of my bravery.
“Aw, come on.” Carter leaned in closer and I scooted back so fast I nearly tipped over. “Look at you, sitting there in that dress. Clearly fishing for attention. Well, you caught me. Let’s get you drunk and see what happens.”
Apparently, I was going to get a lesson in how not to proposition someone tonight. But my cheeks were burning, because in a small way Carter was right—I had come here to put myself on display and find someone, just very much not him. Be the new Alexis, I urged myself. Stop prioritizing this stranger’s feelings and tell him to leave you alone. But I couldn’t—at the slightest provocation, old, sad, doormat Alexis had quickly jumped back in charge.
“I’m not trying to be rude,” I said carefully, feeling my heartbeat spike. “I would just like to be by myself tonight.” Well, shoot. Now that I’d committed to that, would I have to leave the bar so Carter didn’t catch me talking to anyone else later? My palms started sweating.
“One drink—” he started.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” came a voice, tinged with an accent I couldn’t place—British mixed with Texas panhandle? I nearly knocked over my martini. “She said no, mate. Get it through your thick skull and leave the poor woman alone.”
Carter spun to get a look at the man who’d interrupted us, and without his body blocking the view, I got a clear line, too. My stomach flipped over and released a conservatory’s worth of butterflies. Even wearing a look of contempt, the man on the other side of Carter was stop-in-your-tracks, tongue-tyingly handsome. He was around my age, maybe a little older—he certainly radiated an older person’s authority—with a head of dark curls cut close and tight, brown eyes that were currently blazing, and thick eyebrows arched, waiting to see how Carter would respond. He had on a dark suit like most of the other men in the room, but he’d taken off his jacket and hung it on the back of his seat. He was sitting hunched over his drink in a white dress shirt with the sleeves messily rolled back, wearing a dark slim watch that was the antithesis of Carter’s flashy gold one. The wrinkles in his suit, creases under his eyes, and day-old stubble gave the impression of a weary business executive after a long, hard day at work. His eyes flitted to mine for the briefest moment before returning to Carter, but the charge that ran down my spine was enough to root me to my chair.
Carter shifted his weight. Apparently, he was going to play the tough guy. “Why don’t you mind your business, pal?”
The beautiful, tired man rolled his eyes. “Oh, good. You’re one of those.” He got to his feet so fast his barstool made a screeching sound as it scraped across the floor. “Then let’s go ahead and get this over with, because I’ve had a shit day and I would like to kick your ass and get back home at a reasonable hour. So come on. You’re the one campaigning for Most Punchable Man in the Bar. Let’s have your prize.” The dark-haired man spoke calmly and quickly in his hard-to-place accent, like he invited people to get their asses kicked at least once a day. He made a little “come on” gesture that conveyed utter boredom.
People around us had stopped talking to watch. The extra attention only made me feel like I was going to melt into the floor at twice the speed. But if I had no idea how to respond to this turn of events—what to say or even where to put my hands—Carter was even more clueless. I could see his eyes dancing, doing quick calculations. On the one hand, Carter was thicker around the middle than the dark-haired man. On the other, the dark-haired man had revealed himself to be tall and well-built when he stood up.
“Nah, man.” Carter put his hands up. “We’ve got no problems. Just making new friends like you’re supposed to at a bar, for Christ’s sake.”
“Great,” said the dark-haired man. “Then kindly fuck off as suggested.”
Carter didn’t wait to be told a third time. As he hightailed away from the bar, a woman nearby muttered, “What a douche.” And with that judgment rendered, the room dialed back to a normal volume.
“Thank you,” I said to the dark-haired man. He waved me off with a grunt and settled back in his barstool, leaning comfortably over his drink, apparently hoping to resume his night like nothing had happened.
I stared at him. The adrenaline was draining out of my system, which left me feeling hollow. I should have been the one to tell Carter to fuck off. I should have had the guts, but instead I’d tiptoed around and this man had to step in and do it for me. How humiliating. It hit me like a ton of bricks: from the moment Carter arrived, I’d been unequivocally mousy. Exactly like Chris said.
Excerpted from THE BOYFRIEND CANDIDATE. Copyright © 2023 by Ashley Winstead. Published by Graydon House.
The Boyfriend Candidate by Ashley Winstead is a contemporary romance that had one of my favorite romance tropes in fake dating but one of my least favorite topics in politics. I was a little concerned with taking a chance on this one but having read this author before and enjoying her work my curiosity obviously won out and I gave this one a chance and was quite happy that I found myself ending this one at four stars.
Alexis Stone is a shy librarian that would rather curl up with a book that go out and mingle with strangers. When Alexis gets dumped being told she’s too meek she decides to get out of her comfort zone and go out and find a one night stand for the first time in her life to cheer herself up and prove her ex wrong.
Alexis finds herself at the bar feeling awkward but pushes herself to converse with a handsome stranger. Of course the night became steamy but apparently the hotel was even hotter than the hook up with fire alarms sounding. Alexis doesn’t realize until later that the man she had met was none other than Logan Arthur, a local politician, when the pair of them make the news in their late night escape.
The story in The Boyfriend Candidate by Ashley Winstead was a fun one despite my dislike for politics with me even rooting for Alexis’s agenda of help for education. The characters were likable and the story definitely started off with me laughing which is always promising in a rom-com. After the opening chuckles I quickly became engaged in the relationship and enjoyed the twists that came along the way to make a fake relationship become real. Glad I took a chance on the story and will definitely return to this author again in the future.
I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley
About the author:
Ashley Winstead 2021 breakout thriller was In My Dreams I Hold a Knife. Her 2022 romance debut, Fool Me Once, was an Amazon Editor’s Best Romance as well as a USA Today, PopSugar, New York Post, and Goodreads best or most anticipated romance of the year. Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages and optioned for film/TV.
Author Website / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads
Glad you enjoyed this one, Carrie. Nice review.
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