EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Playing For Keeps by Julie Hammerle

If there’s one thing we love, it’s fake dating. The chemistry? Them having to awkwardly keep up with the bit? It’s the perfect combination of sweet and spicy. And we’re got just the fake relationship for you: Jake and Bryce will leave you squealing in Playing for Keeps by Julie Hammerle, releasing May 8th!

To tie you over until release, enjoy this exclusive excerpt:


Jake made a sharp turn onto Territory Drive, the main road in the resort. He’d driven Jeeps across the dunes in Arizona. Driving on this perfectly smooth asphalt was kid’s stuff. 

He spun into the ice cream parlor parking lot and screeched into the nearest parking spot. 

All he saw there was a family of four huddled together at one of tables on the patio and a lone woman standing outside the door, happily taking alternating licks on a double-decker ice cream cone and a chocolate-covered ice cream bar. 

“Is that the vagrant?” Kat squinted at the woman.

“We’ll see.” Jake needed more info before he’d saddle her with the scarlet V. “Wait here. I’ll handle this.”

As he exited the car, Jake assessed the woman as objectively as he could. 

She was probably about his age—early thirties or so. She wore dingy, ill-fitting clothes, and her blond hair, which was in desperate need of a touchup at the roots had been pulled into a messy, grimy bun. She had eyes only for her two-fisted ice cream treat. 

The parents at the nearby table watched her warily. 

A pang of sadness and compassion hit Jake hard. 

Yeah, maybe her attire was a bit out there, but she wasn’t bothering anyone, and she seemed happy enough, slurping away at her sweets, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. 

Jake could relate to that. He knew all about following one’s own bliss. They weren’t so different, this woman and Jake. 

Still, he approached her with caution. “Excuse me, ma’am?”

Her eyes snapped up, full of blue fire and anger. “‘Ma’am?’” she repeated, one eyebrow arching with contempt.

The mother at the table pulled one of her kids closer.


Though Jake was technically the lawman here, he instinctively raised his arms in surrender, desperate to prove that he came in peace, that he, probably more than any other resort security guard on staff, understood what she was about. “Just making sure you’re okay.” 

“Are you here to arrest me”—she looked him up and down, unimpressed—“Officer?”


“Is it illegal to eat ice cream outside a store that expressly sells ice cream?” She paused a second as if waiting for an answer, but then barreled on before Jake could give her one. “Loitering isn’t illegal in Illinois, and even if it were, I have a purpose for being here. I have to eat my ice cream before it melts. Also”—she raised both hands—“I can’t very well drive like this with my hands full, can I?”

Jake backed up instinctively. He was a resort security guard. He’d barely been trained to deal with a rabid raccoon, let alone an angry woman wielding two fistfuls of ice cream. He’d spent almost two decades avoiding interpersonal conflict like this. It wasn’t in his wheelhouse. 

Jake liked to go along to get along. “No,” he said. “Again, I’m here to make sure everything’s okay.”

“Which means someone called the fuzz on me.” Her eyes shot daggers at the family nearby. “I’m a paying customer. Why were you brought in to harass a paying customer?”

“Um…” How to tell a woman she looked like the main character in every child’s recurring nightmare? 

She glared at Jake. “‘Um?’” she said. “Was that ‘um’ a comment on my general appearance? I’ve heard it all from the mail carrier and my next-door neighbor and”—she pointed to the ice cream parlor—“from Sharon at the register in there. I don’t need to hear it from you, too. I’m fully clothed. I’m wearing shoes.” She gestured toward her fuzzy beaver slippers. “Neither my hoo-ha nor my hooters are hanging out. Is it a crime to wear dirty sweatpants to a store?” 

“It’s not,” he said, glancing around. The two children were staring at them, terrified. She’d be making a recurring appearance in their nightmares for sure. “Maybe we should take this conversation elsewhere.”

“No. I have every right to be here, and I want you to admit it.” She asked again, “Officer of the ‘law,’ is it a crime for me to be enjoying my dessert while wearing beaver slippers?” She put the word “law” in awkward quotes, since her hands were full of dessert. But she wasn’t wrong. Jake was no more an officer of the law than the small child at the table with chocolate ice cream all over her face. He was a thirty-year-old vagrant, larping as a security guard. “Is it a crime?” she repeated.

Jake shook his head. “No…no, ma’am.” He winced. Bad answer, Jake. 

USA Today bestselling author Julie Hammerle’s quirky romantic comedy about two strangers, a fake relationship, and a teeny mid-lie crisis…

Bryce Barrett has disappeared off the face of the earth. Well, technically she’s just temporarily hiding out in a teeny Midwest town, away from her ruined marriage and professional demise…at least until she can figure out her next steps. But when she bumps into her ex—dressed in what could be only described as “dumpster chic”—she does the only reasonable thing a woman can do: panics and pretends the cute security guard on the scene is her new boyfriend.

Free-spirited nomad Jake Warner knew returning to his hometown was a bad idea. It’s bad enough that his family’s pressuring him to step into his dad’s hypercompetitive shoes and settle down, but when a complete stranger (cute, though possibly unbalanced) enlists him as her fake boyfriend, Jake knows he’s making some questionable choices…especially when he inexplicably goes along with it.

Now these two mismatched misfits are temporary allies against a town filled with happy, normal, and annoyingly stable people. Fake dating keeps everyone off their back while they plot their respective escapes. But nothing botches a plan more than unexpected chemistry…

USA Today bestselling, RITA (R) nominated author Julie Hammerle writes romantic comedies focused on women over forty. She is the author of Knocked-Up Cinderella and Write Before Christmas, as well as four novels for teens. Before becoming a writer, she studied opera, taught Latin, and blogged about TV shows like American Idol and The Walking Dead. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two kids, and their dog, Bucky.

You can follow Julie on Facebook, Twitter, and check out her website to stay up to date on the latest news!

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