Charming, hilarious, and emotional…
When Sparks Fly is Helena Hunting at her very best!
Avery Spark is living her best life. Between her friends, her sisters, and Spark House, the event hotel her family owns, she doesn’t have much time for anything else, especially relationships. She’d rather hang out with her best friend and roommate, Declan McCormick, than deal with the dating scene. But everything changes when she is in a car accident and needs someone to care for her as she heals.
Declan avoids relationships, giving him a playboy reputation that he lives up to when he puts a one-night stand ahead of a promise he made to Avery. While he may not have been the one driving the car, he feels responsible for Avery’s injuries and is determined to make it up to her by stepping into the role of caretaker.
Little did they know that the more time they spend in compromising positions, the attraction they’ve been refusing to acknowledge becomes impossible to ignore. When they finally give in to the spark between them, neither is prepared for the consequences. Their love is fragile and all it will take is a blow from the past to shatter it all.
When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting
SERIES n/a; standalone | GENRE Adult Contemporary Romance
PUBLISHER St. Martin’s Griffin | PUBLICATION DATE September 21, 2021
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WHEN SPARKS FLY
A Standalone Novel
© 2021 Helena Hunting
YAY OR NAY
My current state of mind hovers between fascination and disbelief. I adjust my sunglasses and turn slightly, so the warm summer sun doesn’t shine directly in my eyes. Across the field, half a dozen adult men lead their “horses” to the “feeding” trough. Two men bump into each other as they approach the trough, which is full of fake feed, for their fake horses.
As a child I wanted a hobbyhorse. As a very young child. It was a fleeting wish, added to my Christmas list when I was about three years old. Probably because I’d seen one in a movie and thought it looked like fun. But the hobbyhorse wish was quickly replaced by soccer equipment, because soccer became my passion as soon as I could kick a ball.
My younger sister London makes a choking sound next to me as we watch a man in his mid to late forties stroke his horse’s mane. Like the rest of the men here, he’s decked out in full equestrian gear: black riding boots, tan breeches, navy blazer, and red scarf—which matches his hobbyhorse’s scarf—black gloves, and a riding helmet. He props his horse against the feeding trough, cooing all the while at the stuffed animal horse head attached to a broomstick.
Apparently, hobbyhorse riding is an actual thing, and a fairly significant one considering we have more than one hundred hobbyhorse enthusiasts from all across the United States currently practicing for their dressage competition.
In planning for this event we’re hosting, I’ve done quite a bit of research on the sport of “hobbyhorsing” and found that it is indeed a very serious sport. After watching YouTube videos on it, I wrongly assumed our guests would be teenage girls. I soon discovered that this sport is certainly not isolated to teens, or girls, as evidenced by the incredible number of men taking up the entire, sprawling, three-acre field behind Spark House. And this group of men is one of the most enthusiastic, energetic, and competitive bunch we’ve had to date, so who am I to judge?
My sisters and I run an event hotel—Spark House—which we recently took over for our grandmother. She’s most definitely earned her retirement and is currently spending the next six months in Italy on a much-deserved extended vacation.
“How are we on the preparations for the bachelorette party next weekend?” Harley asks. She steps up beside me with her camera poised for a candid shot of a group practicing their routine.
“We’re pretty much ready to roll.” London’s eyes light up with glee. “I put the finishing touches on the penis piñata. I think it’s going to be a real hit with the bride.”
“I saw it this morning. It’s almost a shame they’re going to wreck it.” Harley scrolls through her phone and hands it to me.
I nearly choke on a cough at the photo of London with the glittery masterpiece, giving it a one-armed hug and resting her cheek against the shaft. “You had way too much fun with this one.”
“That is absolutely true. And you’ll be happy to know I was able to hunt down the environmentally responsible penis straws. Everything should be arriving on Monday, so we have plenty of time for setup.” London pulls her tablet out of her bag and flips through the schedule. “And you have that meeting with your alma mater that morning. Declan’s supposed to go with you, right?”
“Yup, we’re taking his SUV and heading there Sunday morning so we can meet up with some friends. We should be back early Monday afternoon.” In my grand plan to expand Spark House’s scope, I’m pitching it to the alumni association of my alma mater to host events throughout the year and possibly see if they’d sponsor us. Declan, my roommate and best friend since college, is coming along to see everyone from our old soccer intermural team.
“Perfect. Harley and I will manage takedown, and Tuesday we can start preparing for the bachelorette party. I think this is going to be my favorite event this year. I had so much fun with the centerpieces.” London waggles her brows. Everything for the bachelorette party follows the same theme as the piñata. She’s had a field day putting together the decorations.
“You should consider selling those on Etsy or something,” Harley says. “I posted a picture of one of your centerpieces yesterday in our story, and I must have had fifty people asking where they can get one.”
“Maybe that can be my side business.”
A ding interrupts us, so we all check our phones.
It turns out to be mine. I make a face when I note it’s a message associated with my dating app. It’s a new thing. London set all three of us up with accounts last month in an attempt to reactivate our social lives. We spend most of our time working at Spark House and hanging out together. My only other hobby is the recreational soccer league I play on with friends.
London has been out with the same guy at least half a dozen times, even with our busy schedule. Harley is exceptionally picky when it comes to men, so she’s turned down more than a dozen prospective dates already.
I try to shove my phone in my pocket before London can see, but she nabs it out of my hand and reads the preview.
“You have a date? You’re supposed to share that information!”
“I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I want to go. It’s tomorrow night and I should be here for the dinner party. Besides, this guy seems way too enthusiastic about drinks.” I’m not a huge fan of being dependent on anyone but myself for my own happiness, so usually any dating I do tends to be casual, and Brock’s exclamation point–laden messages seem like a red flag.
“Enthusiasm is usually a good thing, and we can handle the dinner party.” London holds the phone in front of my face to unlock it and spins away before I can snatch it back. She clicks on the message and pulls up his profile. “Oh wow! This guy is ridiculously hot!” She fans her face dramatically as she scrolls and reads aloud, “Brock Stone? He sounds like a porn star.” Instead of handing my phone back, she tosses it behind me to Harley, who, despite being short and not super athletic, catches it.
“Ooh! Six-two, brown hair, green eyes, loves sports. And he’s smokin’ hot!” Harley keeps scrolling through his profile. “Played varsity rugby? This one’s a winner. London and I will definitely be able to handle the dinner event tomorrow night. This guy is too pretty not to go out with.”
“Are you sure? I can reschedule. I don’t know what I was thinking planning drinks on a Saturday night. I’ll tell him we’ll have to do it another time.” I try to grab my phone from Harley, but she hides it behind her back.
“You will not! You have been all about Spark House twenty-four seven, and you need to take time for yourself. Even if it’s just a couple of hours. You are going for drinks, and if it turns into dinner, you are going to stay and enjoy yourself and not worry. We can totally handle dinner with these guys.” She motions to the field.
“I agree you have to go. When was the last time you went on a date?” London asks.
“I dunno, a while.” Like several months.
“Exactly. You need to go out for drinks. With a hot rugby player,” Harley says.
“It’ll probably only be a couple of hours, and I’ll stop here before I go home. That way I can help with end of the night cleanup.”
“Seriously, we’ll be fine, but I know you’re going to show up anyway because you can’t help yourself.” She passes my phone back. “Message him back and tell him you’re excited.”
“You scheduled some pre-date pampering for tomorrow, right?” London grabs my hands and makes a face at my nails, which are not in the best shape. London is always impeccably put together. She sees her hairstylist every six weeks, goes for bimonthly manicures, and gets her eyebrows waxed, among other parts. If I remember to shave my legs once a week, it’s a miracle. Harley falls somewhere in the middle.
“Oh, come on, Avery, when was the last time you plucked your eyebrows?” She gives the hairs on the right one a little tug, and I bat her hand away. “You’ve been hanging around with bachelor jocks for way too long. Do you even have a dress picked out?” She slashes a hand through the air. “You know what, don’t say a word, I already know the answer.”
I figure drinks at a sports bar call for jeans and a T-shirt, but apparently my more refined, hipper younger sister does not agree. Within ten minutes, I have a waxing appointment and a mani-pedi scheduled for this evening. “I’ll bring dresses tomorrow. If he’s taking you out for dinner, you need to look like you’re dessert.”
“It’s drinks. Not dinner,” I protest.
“Drinks are always subject to change.” Arguing with London will get me nowhere. Besides, my wardrobe consists mostly of workout gear and exactly five pairs of dress pants, two pairs of heels, and the Spark House shirts we had designed to circumvent my having to actually shop for girly clothes.
London always looks professional, as does Harley in her slightly more casual, funky way. I tend to dress for comfort since I’m the one who plans all the physical and group activities, many of which take place outdoors. Wearing heels, dress pants, and blouses is certainly not conducive to hobbyhorse rail jumping. And yes, I’ve run one of the courses. Hobbyhorse and all. It’s harder than it looks.
“I’ll accept the offer for dresses, but I cannot promise I’ll wear any of them.” She’s going to bring them to work tomorrow anyway, so saying no is pointless.
“Come on, Avery. You have this rockin’ body, and you’re always hiding it under yoga pants and hoodies.”
“Because they’re comfortable.”
“You can forgo comfort for style for a few hours.”
“Fine. But it’s a pretty casual place, so none of your night-on-the-town attire.”
London gives me the side-eye. “I’ll be sure to bring only my Sunday finest.”
I’m pretty sure the last time London stepped inside a church was when our uncle Mortimer got married—for the fourth time. And that was when she was still in college.
Commotion from across the field catches my eye. Two of the riders seem to be at odds with each other. The hand on hip, head tip, nose-to-nose business gives me reason to believe there’s some kind of disagreement happening.
“That doesn’t look very friendly.” I nod in their direction.
“Maybe the horses need a time-out,” Harley mutters.
I give her the side-eye, and she fights a smirk.
“Uh-oh, we have hand and hobbyhorse flailing,” London says, pulling my attention back to the field. The argument seems to be heating up, not cooling down.
“You need to deal with that.” London gives my shoulder a shove. She’s amazing with finances, and she’s great at connecting me with the right vendors, but dealing with conflict is not her strong suit.
“Not in the mood to mediate stuffed horses?” I drop my bag on the ground beside Harley’s feet and briskly cross the field as the argument escalates to yelling. I’m about twenty feet away when one of the men hauls off and whacks the other one with his hobbyhorse.
“Whoa! Whoa! Gentlemen! Time-out. That’s not very sportsmanlike conduct!” I call.
My admonishment goes unheeded, and the two men begin dueling with their hobbyhorses. The bigger of the two jabs the other man in the stomach and snatches his hobbyhorse when he loses his grip on it.
“Gentlemen! Please!” I shout, but it’s hard to be heard over their yelling and the newly formed crowd of hobbyhorse enthusiasts who have gathered and are now heckling the fighters.
Two other men toss their hobbyhorses to the hobbyhorse-less man with shouts of “Kick his ass!”
And here I thought this was a chill sport. Apparently I’m very, very wrong.
The hobbyhorsers face off again, each one holding a broom horse between their legs and another like … a sword, maybe? It reminds me of medieval jousting. Especially when they start stomping their feet, pawing at the ground, and prancing in place. I know things are about to escalate when they shake their heads back and forth, braying loudly and breathing out through their noses in a hardy snort.
Then they run toward each other, while yelling. Even if they’re beating on each other with stuffed horse heads, I’m not interested in anyone ending up with a concussion.
I jump in between them before they collide, which I realize a second too late puts me in a very perilous position. However, the man on my right swerves at the last second and ends up crashing into the trough, toppling it and at least half a dozen of the “feeding” hobbyhorses. The other man skids to a stop mere inches from me, loses his balance, and falls backward onto the ground. It rained yesterday, so while it’s sunny and dry now, the ground is still soft and mucky. And he happens to land in a seriously squishy pile of muddy grass.
He also manages to hit himself in the family jewels with the hobbyhorse. He rolls onto his side, clutching the muddy horse head and his junk. It’s quite the spectacle. Before it turns into absolute mayhem, I grab the megaphone from the group emcee and shout, “Whoa, Nelly!” like an idiot.
However, it does the trick. Every single one of them freezes. “Riders number seventeen and twenty-three, you are disqualified from this round for roughhousing and inappropriate use of your hobbyhorse!” I’m totally making this up on the fly, but someone needs to get these guys under control, and they don’t seem to be able to manage it on their own.
The guy who nut slapped himself—number twenty-three—picks himself up off the ground and hobbles gingerly over to the bench, which is now assigned to disqualified hobbyhorsers. Number seventeen throws himself down on the other end with a huff.
I lower the megaphone and cross my arms. “This is supposed to be about team building and sharing something you’re passionate about. If you want to joust, I suggest you either join a club or interview for a position at Medieval Times.” I motion between them. “Now apologize to each other.”
They look from me to each other and back again.
I cock a brow.
They mutter a half-assed “Sorry.”
“You’re going to have to do better than that if you want to earn the right to compete again. You’re adults, not children, and I expect you to conduct yourself with class and grace.” Man, I’m glad I watched all of those YouTube videos in preparation for this.
“I’m sorry I attacked you with your hobbyhorse,” number seventeen says.
“And I’m sorry I called yours a cheap knockoff.” Number twenty-three seems appropriately chagrined by his juvenile insult.
I force a smile. “There. Doesn’t everyone feel better now?”
Honestly, no one would believe the weirdness I deal with on a daily basis.
I hang around for a while to make sure the situation is under control before I head to the mani-pedi-waxing appointment London so graciously set up for me. I have no idea how she managed to get me in with no notice, but I suppose I’m somewhat appreciative.
I feel a little bad about leaving my sisters with all of those apparently high-strung hobbyhorsers tomorrow night, but I’m hopeful I embarrassed them into submission and that they’ll behave themselves.
Once I’m at the appointment, I almost instantly regret it. I’m not awesome at stillness at the best of times. Add in the discomfort of someone picking at my nails and my eyebrows and ripping hair out of my lady bits—I’m not sure what the purpose of that is since there is zero chance I’m letting Brock into my pants on date number one—and I’m practically crawling the walls by the time I’m done.
I have to admit, my nails look nice, though. I didn’t want anything too vibrant since I usually keep my nails completely naked, so the woman convinced me to go with a French manicure. And once the redness around my eyebrows calms down, I’m sure they’ll look good too. Hopefully.
NYT and USA Today bestselling author, Helena Hunting lives outside of Toronto with her amazing family and her two awesome cats, who think the best place to sleep is her keyboard. Helena writes everything from emotional contemporary romance to romantic comedies that will have you laughing until you cry.