Designs on You

December 3, 2024

Designs on You

Sparks fly when an interior designer and a game designer cross paths, but they must learn if they can design a happily ever after in this heartfelt romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Jaci Burton.

Natalie Parker is in her mid-thirties, divorced, and firmly focused on her newly resurrected career and her two children. When her sister asks her to help design the backyard in the new home she shares with her boyfriend, Linc, Natalie’s more than happy to take on the project. What she isn’t prepared for is Linc’s younger brother, video game designer Eugene Kennedy. He’s smart, incredibly good-looking, and constantly flirts with Natalie. He’s also too young for her, which makes him totally off-limits.

Eugene is intrigued by Natalie’s beauty, smarts, and especially her sarcastic wit. When he teases her, she throws it right back at him. Besides that, they have an instant chemistry, but she keeps trying to get rid of him despite the sparks that fly between them. And Eugene never backs down from a challenge.

Natalie is running out of reasons to think being with Eugene is a bad thing. Her kids adore him, her sister loves him, and even her always negative mother does, too. The only person holding her back is…her. Maybe it’s time she take that leap and design herself a love for the ages. After all, if she can create the perfect home, she sure as hell can design a happily ever after.

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Chapter One

Natalie Parker grabbed the housewarming gift from the back of her SUV, along with the enormous houseplant, juggling both as she made her way to her sister’s new house. As she barely made it to the front door without dropping both, she was utterly grateful she’d decided to get a sitter for her two kids. At seven, Cammie was inquisitive and already thought she was an adult, wanting in on every conversation. And four-year-old Christopher was constantly in motion and oh so exhausting.

She adored her children. She also needed a night off, and her sister’s housewarming party was exactly what she needed. A glass or two of wine, conversation of the adult variety, and she’d be happy to settle back into mommy mode again tomorrow.

Pressing the doorbell with her elbow, the only free appendage she had, she waited, listening to the sounds of barking and music and laughter and—oh, for God’s sake, someone answer the freakin’ door already before she dropped everything.

The door opened, and her sister, Hazel, beamed a smile at her. “Oh, Nat. I’m so glad you came. Let me help you with these. This plant is gorgeous. Is it for me?”

“It is,” she said as she followed Hazel inside, past a few people Natalie didn’t recognize. “You have that big window that faces south. The plant will go nicely there.”

Hazel laid the plant down on the floor in the eating area just outside the massive kitchen, and Natalie placed the gift on the island. “The plant is beautiful here. Thank you, Nat.”

“You’re welcome. Happy housewarming.”

“Thanks. We’re excited to finally be moved in. Thank you for helping with the décor.”

“Well, it could use some additional touches, but for now, it’s livable.”

Hazel laughed. “I’m sure you’ll continue to make suggestions.”

“Now that I’m back working again, I always have new ideas.”

“Good ones, too. Are Mom and Paul coming? I asked her, and all I got was a maybe.”

She shook her head. “Paul has a client dinner, and Mom told me she has a headache and she’s going to bed early.” She followed up that statement with a shrug. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. It’s Mom and she’s weird.”

Natalie laughed at how matter-of-face Hazel was about their mother’s quirkiness. “You are so right about that.”

While Hazel opened a bottle of wine, Natalie took a moment to look over the place. After months of house hunting and a lot of arguments, Hazel and her boyfriend, Linc, had finally settled on this twenty-eight-hundred square foot, two-story beauty. And the five acres was perfect for what they needed. Lots of trees and plenty of backyard space for all of Hazel’s dogs.

“It turned out beautiful, Hazel.”

“Thanks to you. And Linc, of course. It was worth living in a reno zone the past eight months. Good thing we set up a kitchen so we could at least eat amidst the mess.”

Nat wrinkled her nose. “I can’t even imagine, especially with all those dogs you have. You haven’t added more yet, have you?”

“Not yet. But now that the house is finished and the backyard is almost done, I’m ready to start fostering again. I know all the pups will be so excited.”

“Right. Like you need more than five dogs.”

Hazel laughed. “I won’t be keeping the ones I foster.”

“Uh-huh. That’s what you said about the five you have.”

Hazel shrugged. “Those are different. Gordon and Mitzi are seniors with health issues and Penny belongs to Linc. Lilith is hard to warm up to people and Freddie is . . . well, he’s just ours.”

“Right. What will you say about the next cuddly creature you’re supposed to find a home for? Decide that one is a keeper, too?”

Her lips curved. “I guess you’ll just have to trust that I’ve got this.”

Trust. Yeah, not one of the things she had in surplus right now. Not after what she’d been through with her ex. But then again, this wasn’t her life, so Hazel could do whatever she wanted. “Hey, if it makes you happy, you can have ten dogs.”

Hazel handed her a glass of wine. “You seem tense. Are things not going well?”

“Actually, things are fine. I’ve got the house to myself, and Sean is finally over having fits about the divorce, and the kids have adjusted, so it’s all just great.” She took a couple of long swallows of the wine, exactly what she needed.

“Then let’s join the party.” Hazel took her hand and dragged her outside. The weather was perfect—a little humid, like Orlando always was. But it was still spring, and the oppressive summer heat hadn’t yet hit, plus Natalie wore a sundress and sandals, so she felt fine. Since her divorce, she’d changed a lot—including her wardrobe. Gone were the smart, crisp slacks and buttoned-up blouses and painful shoes that Sean always preferred, because, after all, one must always be dressed for the country club. To him, appearances were everything.

Ugh. Now she wore sundresses and shorts and capris, and she even let her hair grow out and wound it up in a bun on occasion. Anything and everything that was the opposite of her ex’s expectations of her. She’d never felt more free. More herself. More like her old self, the person she’d been before her ex had tried to mold her into who he’d wanted her to be.

But that part of her life was over.

There was a crowd outside. She recognized a few of Hazel’s friends, including Sandy who ran the foster animal organization. She also saw some of Linc’s friends that he’d made since he officially moved in.

Her lip curled in a sneer as Hazel led her over to the group. Linc’s brother, Eugene Kennedy, was here, too. He was telling some story, or, knowing him, probably a joke since he seemed to find everything funny. A couple of younger women were hanging on his every word as if he was some kind of . . . prophet or rock star or something.

Whatever. Sure, he was pretty and all. Ridiculously tall, with lean muscle, glorious black hair, and piercing blue eyes. Any woman would be instantly attracted.

Any woman but her, of course. She was older than he was, and she didn’t do that instalust thing. Plus, he liked to joke around and act like a kid, and she had way too many responsibilities to fall for that nonsense.

“Is everyone having a good time?” Hazel asked as they stepped outside. “For those who don’t already know her, I want to introduce you to my sister, Natalie.”

Eugene’s head jerked up at the mention of her name. Their gazes met, and his lips curved into a sexy smile that shot right to all her feminine parts. Damn her betraying body, anyway. Why was he holding eye contact with her? And why didn’t she just look away?

Finally focusing her attention elsewhere, she greeted the people she didn’t know, and Linc hugged her. “Glad you could make it,” he said. “Where are the kids?”

“Babysitter. I needed a free night.”

“Yeah, you did,” Hazel said.

Linc put his arm around Hazel. “Babe. I want you to meet some people.”

“Sure.” Hazel looked over at her. “You’ll be okay?”

Natalie nodded. “I’m fine. Go.”

Hazel wandered off, and she did as well, heading toward the kitchen where there were several charcuteries set up. She grabbed a plate and some fruit, nuts, and cheese and took a seat in the eating area, watching the people wander in and out of the house.


She could have sworn she was sitting in a dark corner where no one could see her. Leave it to Eugene to find her. “Shouldn’t you be out there picking up women?”

He pulled up a chair next to her, stretching out his long legs. “Pretty sure you’re a woman.”

“So that’s your pick up line?”

He let out a low chuckle. “I wasn’t trying to pick you up. Unless you’d like me to, in which case I’ll give it my best shot.”

She took a swallow of wine. “Don’t bother. I’m not interested in boys.”

“So you like women, then?”

“That’s not at all what I meant and you know it.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“I like men just fine.” She gave him the once-over. “Not . . . boys.”

Not at all insulted, he picked an almond off her plate and popped it into his mouth. “Don’t knock me until you’ve tried me.”

Rolling her eyes, she got up. “You’re ridiculous.”

As she started to walk away, he said, “You’re only saying that because you want me.”

Every single time. Ever since Eugene moved here, there’d been this . . . back-and-forth thing between them. It had been instantaneous, like a constant buzzing around her. Antagonistic, electric, infuriating.


She hated it.

Eugene circled the house, thrilled for Linc and Hazel to be finally settled. He knew living in another renovation zone had been a hassle for them this past year, but they hadn’t once complained about it. And while he’d stayed in California to finish up a project before officially moving out here to start his new job, he’d been back and forth a lot, getting to know Hazel better. And all five of the dogs, of course.

He’d never figured his brother for the settling down type, which was why Linc had previously lived a vagabond lifestyle of renovating a house, then moving to another state to do the next one. Eugene had barely been able to keep up with what city Linc had been living in.

Not that he’d really cared. He had his own world and that had kept him happy. But seeing his brother in love? Yeah, that had been a shocker. After meeting Hazel, he could see the reason why. She was perfect for Linc, had turned the freewheeling workaholic into someone who seemed more caring, more settled. And definitely in love.

Eugene took a long swallow of his beer and walked outside, finding Linc sitting at a table with Hazel next to him, all five of the dogs either on their laps or lying on the ground next to them.

Yeah, pretty good life for his brother.

Eugene wasn’t anywhere near ready for a life like that.

His gaze tracked to where Natalie sat chatting with some older guy who could be her grandpa. He shook his head. Leave it to her to play it safe. He’d have to fix that.

He’d learned plenty about her from listening to Hazel and Linc talk. Natalie had been through it with her shitty ex-husband, who not only treated her like she worked for him, but then he fought her every step of the way in the divorce. But instead of breaking her, it only made her more determined to never let a man control her life again.

A woman like that was just the kind of woman Eugene found attractive. He had to admit he found her fascinating as hell. And beautiful, with her dark hair and piercing green eyes, not to mention her incredible body. Plus she had the smart mouth to go with the already perfect package. What more could a guy want?

They’d tussled since they first met, and he’d been happy as hell that she’d thrown his teasing comments right back at him. He could tell he got under her skin, but he hadn’t even given her his best stuff yet.

That was yet to come.

End of Excerpt

Designs on You

is available for preorder in the following formats:

December 3, 2024
Penguin Group
ISBN-13: 978-0593439616

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