Can’t Escape Love
by Alyssa Cole
Series – Reluctant Royals
Publisher – Avon Impulse
About the Book
Alyssa Cole delivers another fun, sexy romance novella in the Reluctant Royals series!
Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She’s finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.
Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime…except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love?
Dear Mr. Kendoku,
I hope this email finds you well. You may not remember me, but three years ago I used to tune in to your Streamlive.com channel, The Puzzle Zone. We chatted quite a bit over the course of three months, or rather I sent messages in the live stream chat function and you responded.
I’m writing with what I’ll admit is an unconventional proposition. I’d like to request approximately ten hours of audio recordings of you speaking. I’m willing to pay a more than reasonable amount for this product, and will have a contract drawn up specifying that it is for my personal (noncreepy) use, protecting you from any unlawful dissemination of said product. I look forward to hearing back from you.
There. Nice and formal and businesslike, so there was no reason for him to think she really needed his voice, even if she did. But maybe it wasn’t the right tone? They’d spent every night together for three months after all—that was longer than any of her relationships had lasted. They’d kind of been friends.
Not enough for him to want to keep in contact, though.
Kakuro Kendoku’s email address had been unearthed by Reggie’s twin sister, Portia, Jill-of-all-trades and amateur internet detective. Portia, who was off on some kind of Eat, Pray, Swords journey of self-discovery in Scotland, had accidentally found out her boss was the secret love child of a duke using those same skills. Reggie was not in royal watchers fandom, but even she was intrigued, and the hits to Portia’s blog posts on GirlsWithGlasses were a bonus.
Reggie was certain she’d weirded her sister out by asking for anything from her, let alone information on a guy, since they usually didn’t talk about dating and personal stuff like some twins did. She’d let Portia think whatever she wanted because the reason she needed Kakuro was embarrassing.
His voice was the only thing that could help her sleep when her insomnia got this bad. She’d discovered that over the course of their short online friendship, a friendship in which neither knew the other’s real name, age, or location—their knowledge of each other was limited to what they’d revealed in the privacy of a totally public online live stream. The thing was, it had been private, since no one else had ever tuned in.
Whenever she couldn’t sleep, she’d revisit the stream’s archives; it’d still been up six months ago when she’d had her last battle with a recalcitrant Sandman. But it was gone now, deleted, and though she’d hoped that she wouldn’t need his soothing voice for a good long while, she needed her auditory Ambien now.
It pissed her off—she shouldn’t have to rely on a stranger like this, though he wasn’t exactly a stranger at this point. She didn’t know what he looked like, had never seen higher than his chin and mouth because his camera had been set up to focus on his hands, creating a kind of reverse Kakashi-sensei situation, but they’d “talked” almost every night after a couple of weeks of her lurking on his stream. She’d stumbled across it while looking for stuff to post on her fledgling website; his voice helped her focus as she worked late at night, searching for content and writing articles, figuring out how to turn her hobby into a hustle.
She had a great memory, but she hadn’t really known him then. It was her repeated bedtime listening sessions of his archived videos had led to her inadvertently absorbing things about him and his life. His relationship with his younger brother, who would sometimes walk around in the background of the videos and try to distract him. How often he mentioned his grandmother. His love of crunching on shrimp chips like his mic wasn’t picking up the sound, how he’d gone to school for architecture and been in between jobs. He’d also had a really nice mouth, not that it mattered. So he wasn’t a stranger, but she’d let herself turn his voice into a necessity, and now she was paying for it.
What if he says no?
About Alyssa Cole
ALYSSA COLE is a science editor, pop culture nerd, and romance junkie who lives in the Caribbean and occasionally returns to her fast-paced NYC life. In addition to writing, she founded and hosted the Jefferson Market Library Romance Book Club and taught Romance Writing for Beginners. She speaks on topics such as writing erotic romance, writing multicultural romance, and self-editing. She has contributed romance-related articles to publications including RT Book Reviews, Heroes and Heartbreakers, Romance at Random, and The Toast. She has also started a bi-monthly column in the Romance Writer’s Report, Romancing the Globe, in which she chats with romance writers from around the world. When she’s not busy writing, traveling, and learning French, she can be found watching anime with her husband or tending to her herd of animals.