Coming to America meets Pretty Woman in Love Match by Laire McKinney, a modern-day fairy tale of finding love in the most unexpected places.
Serena McAllister is devastated to find her fiancé has cheated on her—again. When she learns her newspaper is outsourcing jobs to freelance writers, she’s desperate to land the last remaining staff position. Unfortunately, her rival Jane Childers wants the coveted spot as well, and she’s just as determined.
Vowing to do whatever it takes to get her life in order, Serena decides to join a modern-day harem and write a provocative article about the objectification of women across the world to land her dream job at the newspaper.
When Serena arrives at the tiny tropical paradise known as Birin Island, she meets Prince Shailemon Sharma, who is dealing with his own issues of archaic customs in his homeland.
As sparks begin to fly, they discover that attraction can lead to so much more—and that there are no barriers of culture or country when love is on the line.
“This book has it all, love heartbreak, drama, and rivalry. It’s a fast paced read that you won’t want to put down. LOVE MATCH is one of my favorite books of 2021!”Tammy Feeney, No Shelf Control
Excerpt from Love Match
Serena McAllister could not get her mouth to close despite the unflattering angle at which it was hanging. She had been committed to portraying herself as sophisticated, elegant, and as appealing as a Marilyn Monroe-Jessica Rabbit crossbreed, but she was failing. Miserably.
“Miss McAllister?” someone said, but she didn’t respond.
Who would blame her? No one could look upon this sprawling palace and expect her to react otherwise. It was too gorgeous, with its blush-colored stucco exterior and light beige roof, all shimmering under a burning island sun.
A mirage. A dream. A veritable oasis tucked on remote Birin Island in the southern region of the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, it housed a prince who kept what she suspected was a modern-day harem, known among royalty in this region as a coterie, further known as the reason she was here. Nevertheless, the undercover investigation and eventual exposure of yet another womanizing male and another suppressive institution, and the fact that this was her last attempt at job security made this endeavor nothing but a positive in her eyes. The trip was so last-minute, she’d packed and left just yesterday.
Serena ran her tongue over her parched lips, dehydrated not only by the dry air on the long, overnight flight from New York, but also from the three glasses of champagne she’d had on board and the two bourbons in their tiny, delicate jars.
That had to be it—she was tipsy and hallucinating this palace into existence as a sort of self-soothing. Plus, she was struggling to recover from the nightmare that had been the past week of her life. It was no wonder her mind wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
Who could have guessed she would come away from that week and find herself in this tropical paradise?
Since calling her name didn’t work, whoever was by her side tugged at her arm several times, the last tug more of a curt twist. When she dragged her eyes from the setting in front of her, her gaze met that of a tall, broad-shouldered, wide-smiling man. He was dressed in a white linen tunic with matching pants and tan moccasins—perfect attire for the warm and balmy temperature.
“Miss Serena McAllister, I presume.” He extended his hand. “My name is Tareek. I am Prince Shailemon’s personal assistant.”
“Please follow me.”
Despite the number of speech, acting, and etiquette classes she’d nickeled-and-dimed to afford over the years, all in an attempt to erase any trace of her rural, poverty-ridden upbringing in Kentucky, manners were not in Serena’s repertoire today. This magical island had extinguished her ability to speak.
Tareek took her elbow and guided her past two huge planters brimming with blooming jasmine, through wide ornate double doors, and into an interior that stopped her in her tracks. Tiffany lamps rested on shiny wooden tables, along with a scattering of golden animal figurines. The ceiling was high, the rugs oriental, the window treatments silk. Small yet elegant furniture was positioned strategically to create an opulent ambiance but did not hinder the view of the Pacific Ocean, which shimmered just beyond the crystal clear windows.
Tareek pulled her toward a hallway that extended to the left, saying something about “the coterie wing,” but he could have been taking her to the guillotine for all she was aware. She struggled to drink it all in, not only to add depth to the article she wanted to write for The Daily New Yorker—the real reason she was here unbeknownst to anyone on this island—but for her own personal memories. Never had she seen luxury so, well, luxurious.
Head raised toward a picturesque ceiling that depicted an island sunrise on one end and a sunset on the other, her feet followed a route of their own. She slipped away from Tareek, who continued on his brisk path toward the coterie wing. A few more steps, an ill-timed stumble— damn her constant clumsiness—and she slammed straight into one of the enormous glass windows.
“Ouch.” She grabbed her head. “Shit, that hurt.” She pulled her fingers away to see if there was blood. There wasn’t.
“Seriously, Serena,” she mumbled to herself. “You’re supposed to be charming and elegant, not an errant elephant in a glass shop…” When she looked up, a man who was not Tareek stood nearby, staring at her as if she were possessed by a rowdy band of demons.
Her hand fell from her aching head. “Oh my God. You’re…you’re…”
“Crown Prince Shailemon Sharma. Who might you be?”
“I’m so sorry.” Serena whipped around to find Tareek scurrying toward them, a look of panic on his handsome face. “I was with him.” She pointed an accusing finger. “It’s his fault.”
The prince did not look impressed.
“But don’t be mad,” she added in a rush. “He’s cool. Um, he was taking me to your…to that place…the coterie.”
Her cheeks warmed as shame washed over her. Even though she would never consider herself graceful and poised, she usually handled herself better than this—better than a blubbering idiot, that is. But there was something about the prince that made the ground beneath her feet shake and her normal thought process to flatline.
Damn this gorgeous man.
And Prince Shailemon was gorgeous. Almost too gorgeous—a god-like version of a steamy Bollywood hunk. He was tall, broad-shouldered, lean-waisted, and dark-eyed with an even darker stare that simmered with something akin to irritation or impatience. She wanted to shrink from him—or throw herself into his arms and beg to know the way to his royal bedroom.
Get it together, Serena. You knew what to expect. You’ve seen the pictures of him.
But what she’d seen on the internet did not capture how handsome he actually was, even though one article had deemed him the hottest man on the planet. She and her Danish roommate, Kir, had ogled over these pictures whilst sharing a bottle of wine merely two days ago.
Serena pulled in a deep breath that wavered more than she cared to acknowledge and released it with a huff. She thrust out her hand. “Let me start over. I’m Serena McAllister.”
Prince Shailemon did not reach out.
Tareek stepped in front of her. “Sorry, Shai. She got away from me.”
Serena peeked over Tareek’s shoulder. “I did. I really did. I slid right out of his needy little grasp.”
Both sets of eyes stared at her, unblinking and unreadable. If she didn’t shut up, they would put her on the next flight off Birin Island, and she would have no content for her article— an article that would push her ahead of rude and vile Jane Childers to nab the assistant editor in chief position she coveted. If she didn’t have an article worthy of national attention, she would be shown the door, and she certainly didn’t have another job lined up. The industry had little space for print journalism these days. To say her level of desperation was glacier-deep was laughable. Why? Because it was so much deeper than that.
The Daily New Yorker was one of the few profitable print newspapers in the United States. If she didn’t get the new position, she’d be up the creek without a paddle or job prospects. Staying in her old position wasn’t an option now that it was being phased out to freelancers. To make matters worse, the source for her original topic—police treatment of prostitutes—suddenly and inexplicably stopped returning her calls, making the investigation of royal coteries— commonplace in this area of the world and possible front for more traditional harems—her only option.
Not to mention the not-so-minor issue of a certain philandering fiancé—ex-fiancé—who was still back in Manhattan. No way she wanted to return to any land that housed that slimy, cheating bastard.
Mick Long III can kiss my little Pilates-toned ass.
She straightened her shoulders and cleared her throat. “Your palace is beautiful. I apologize for getting lost…Your Highness?” Serena dropped into an awkward curtsy like she’d seen British citizens do on television, then glanced at Tareek to see if this was the correct way to greet a prince. Confusion morphed into horror on the assistant’s face, as if she’d just released a resounding belch. A sheen of sweat glistened on his upper lip.
“I presume you are our new American?” Prince Shailemon’s expression was close to blank, save for the slight narrowing of his lids. He exuded authority and a no-nonsense air that only added to his appeal. He was the single most handsome man she’d seen. Ever.
She was barely able to control her tongue and keep from blurting out that little observation, followed by an offer to lick peanut butter off his biceps.
“American extraordinaire, at your service. Well, not at your service.” She stammered, “Um, I don’t think so at least. Not like that.” Her cheeks burned. “I mean, I hope not. I’m not ready for that just yet.”
Tareek’s head fell forward like he’d just been smacked in the back of it. Shailemon remained immobile except for the pursing of his full, sculpted lips.
What would it be like to kiss lips like that?
Oh, dear God. Maybe I am ready to hop into bed with this man—though I doubt the editor in chief would want my investigation to be quite so thorough.
“Tareek.” Serena clapped him on the shoulder. “You might want to get me out of here before I do something really offensive, like offer him a fist bump.” Serena stepped back. “I’m sorry. I’m usually far more poised than this. I’m not sure what’s gotten into me.”
She felt her blush creep to her hairline.
Shut up, Serena. Just shut up.
Tareek flashed Prince Shailemon a look of woeful apology and grabbed Serena by the arm. “Sorry, Shai,” he mumbled.
She liked Shai more than the longer version of his name and was about to say so when Tareek gave her another tug.
“Come. Now,” he whispered, not dragging her per se, but certainly eager to get her out of there.
“Okay. Okay.” She tried to get her footing. “You don’t have to be rude about it.”
But Tareek was no longer paying attention to her. His attention was on Shailemon, who was staring at a group of men in flowing black robes as they swept down the hall toward them like a swarm of overeager mosquitoes.
“Why is King Ata here?” Tareek muttered under his breath.
Shai heard his friend and assistant’s question but did not acknowledge it. He was wondering the same damned thing.
In this region of the world, customs were adhered to with an iron fist, and dignitaries and rulers never slighted these customs. In fact, one hundred years ago, it would’ve been cause for war if a king showed up on an unexpected visit to another kingdom.
To make matters more interesting, Birin Island had only broken free from Lovaria, the country ruled by King Ata, fifty years ago. The smaller island’s independence was fragile at best. Throw in the unexpected death of Shai’s father, King Arumon, mere weeks ago and Shailemon, along with Birin Island, was in a vulnerable position until he ascended his father’s throne in a month’s time.
He glanced at the American. She didn’t belong in this wing of the palace. Based on his first impression of her, she was a typical American—unpoised and silly—and the last thing he needed was to be embarrassed in front of the rotund Ata.
At least she was beautiful, and beautiful women were the Lovarian king’s greatest weakness.
As the men strode closer, Shai gave her a quick once-over. Her long chestnut hair flowed down her back in loose waves. The tan pencil skirt and white button-up blouse made her look like a 1950s secretary, but he liked the look and easily—too easily—envisioned her shimmying that skirt up over the curve of her hips.
He cleared his throat as he lowered his folded hands over his groin.
Maybe Madame Moreau, the French woman in charge of his coterie, was right in inviting her here despite Shai’s protestations that American women were jealous, crass, and did not fit in with a coterie. Not that he fit with the coterie either. He viewed it as a necessary entity for social and political gains versus its ancient purpose of housing royal mistresses. More than anything, it was a tradition that dated back long before him.
But her sculpted cheekbones alone, with their high, rounded smoothness, were enough to make a man’s resolve falter. Not to mention her eyes—as green and clear as rare gems. And her lips? Plump and full, almost overly so but not quite, and bare of makeup.
She was exquisite.
Shai could tell he was not alone in his assessment. Ata’s blatant perusal of her person was enough to make Shai want to cover her with a cloak.
Then Ata was standing in front of him, his smile broad and artificial, and Shai forced himself to focus.
“Prince Shailemon.” Ata threw his arms out wide.
Ata folded Shai in an embrace that he tolerated for five seconds before sliding away.
“I apologize for coming on such short notice.” Ata released a booming laugh because he had, in fact, given no notice of his pending arrival.
“You are always welcome.” Shai ensured the words were unaffected and monotone, giving nothing away of his inner disturbance.
“I am still grieving over the death of Arumon. Your father was a jewel of the Pacific Ocean.”
“Thank you for your condolences.”
Ata’s eyes rolled away from Shai and returned to the American. “Who is this stunning woman?”
Shai bristled as Ata reached for her and pulled her to his side instead. She seemed fine with being saved from Ata’s embrace, even leaning into Shai like she wanted to be there. She smelled fresh and airy, a mix of lemons and honey and sugar. He inhaled as he closed the two inches separating them, securing her under his arm.
“Allow me to introduce Serena McAllister,” he said as Tareek slid to his other side.
With a flourish, Ata captured her hand and kissed it, his fat lips leaving a visible wet mark on her skin. If the king noticed her cringe, he didn’t react.
“It is a distinct pleasure to meet you, my dear,” Ata said.
“It’s nice to meet you as well.”
Ata tugged at her arm, but she wouldn’t budge, tilting her head toward Shai until her cheek brushed against his shoulder. He made sure his satisfied smirk didn’t show on his face as his arm flexed around her. He would relish her nearness, if only to taunt Ata.
Serena studied the overweight king. There was something behind his beady stare—hunger, desire, a feral instinct to devour—that made her recoil farther into Shailemon. If she could, she would have slid behind the prince’s back, taking the shelter his powerful body could offer. But his arm was solid and secure around her shoulders, and if his embrace was not warm and cozy, at least it offered her a sense of protection—no matter how fleeting it might prove to be.
“I can tell by your accent you are American.” Ata yanked on her hand again, not getting the hint that there was no way she was moving from Shailemon’s side.
“I live in Brooklyn, New York, United States of America.” The place with bombs and guns and a government that has a cowboy complex…
She wasn’t sure why the sight of this man put her on edge, but it did. She needed to be careful. What if this coterie indeed was a traditional harem, like her worst fear and dreaded instinct told her? What if they believed they owned women…shared them…traded them…?
“Ah, New York. When was the last time I was there?” He tapped a finger against his temple. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, I love America, except for the food. I do not like anything fried. I prefer fresh foods simply prepared.” He clapped his hands. “Shailemon, invite this beauty to dinner tonight. We can show her the most decadent dishes from our side of the world. I assume there will be the traditional dignitaries’ banquet?” His brows raised, expectant, challenging.
Shailemon tensed, and she wondered why, assuming it had something to do with why King Ata looked like a cat teasing its prey. But something about the anger emanating off the prince suggested he was anything but easy prey. She wondered if this King Ata knew who he was dealing with.
“Of course.” Shailemon’s voice was as smooth as chocolate mousse. “And tomorrow we will sit down to discussions, which I’m sure is why you are here.”
“Yes, and this beautiful American?” Ata’s eyes sparkled with an unspoken intention that made Serena wilt. “You will invite her to the banquet? I should like more time with her. I do so love Americans.”
Serena’s knees buckled as Shai offered a curt nod. More time with me? Shailemon was going to lend her to this awful man like a book to be shared.
Nausea washed over her. At least she’d get her story, but at what cost?
“Tareek, please see Serena to the coterie. She seems fatigued from her travels.” Shailemon transferred her to Tareek’s arms.
Ata swooped in and snatched both her hands, planting wet kisses on the back of each. “Please rest. I would not want the evening to pass without the pleasure of your company.”
Serena tried to offer a smile, but even her lips were shaking. Coming here was the single worst mistake she’d ever made. How could she have thought this would be safe? That she could come halfway across the world to enter what was likely, for all intents and purposes, a modern- day harem and leave unscathed?
Exposing this type of institution, and the prince who supported it, might not be worth it after all. Clearly, the recent events of her life have deluded her ability to make sound choices.
Tareek had to practically carry her down the hall. Just before they rounded the corner out of sight, Serena twisted in Tareek’s arms. King Ata was staring at her bottom, his pudgy hands wrenched together, his heavy jaw slack with distraction. If she were wearing a potato sack, she still wouldn’t be covered enough.
But it wasn’t Ata’s expression she wanted to read. It was the prince’s. He, too, was watching her, though his gaze was settled on her face.
If a look could smolder, his did—with lids hooded and eyes focused like a tiger’s. Standing there, stoic and impenetrable, he reminded Serena of a Greek statue, molded and carved and smoothed to perfection.
She didn’t know if the intensity behind his gaze was from pleasure or distaste. She hoped for the former more than she cared to admit, but based on the distinct look of dissatisfaction spreading across his face, she predicted the latter.
Has the prince of Birin Island piqued your interest? You can preoder Love Match at the links below!