The Boyfriend Candidate
By Ashley Winstead
On Sale May 9, 2023
A laugh-out-loud rom-com about learning to embrace living outside your comfort zone.
As a shy school librarian, Alexis Stone is comfortable keeping out of the spotlight. But when she’s dumped for being too meek—in bed!—she decides she needs to change. And what better way to kick-start her new more adventurous life than with her first one-night stand?
Enter Logan, the gorgeous, foul-mouthed stranger she meets at a hotel bar. Audacious and filterless, Logan is Alexis’s opposite—and boy, do opposites attract! Just as she’s about to fulfill her hookup wish, the hotel catches fire in a freak lightning storm. In their rush to escape, Logan is discovered carrying her into the street, where people are waiting with cameras. Cameras Logan promptly—and shockingly—flees.
Alexis is bewildered until suddenly pictures of her and Logan escaping the fire are all over the internet. Turns out Logan is none other than Logan Arthur, the hotshot candidate challenging the Texas governor’s seat. The salacious scandal is poised to sink his career—and jeopardize Alexis’s job—until a solution is proposed: he and Alexis could pretend to be in a relationship until election day…in two months. What could possibly go wrong?
Alexis Stone Is Not a Mouse
I’LL SAY ONE NICE THING ABOUT MY EX CHRIS TUTTLE: the man was the entire reason I was here, standing at the entrance to the sultry Fleur de Lis hotel bar, wearing a red dress so plunging I kept it in the back of my closet for fear of scandalizing visitors, on the verge of reinventing myself. The memory of Chris and the still-fresh psychic wounds he’d left me were like a marching drum line urging me forward as I’d left my apartment, Ubered downtown to the Fleur de Lis, and cut a determined path across the lobby to the bar, a place with a reputation as Austin’s Grand Central Station of hookups. Unfortunately, now that I was standing at the entrance, the sight of all the laughing, drinking, dazzling people—dressed to the nines like me, but looking much more at ease about it—had me momentarily cowed.
I thought back to what Chris said the day I discovered he was cheating on me (for the second time): “I do have needs you can’t satisfy. You should really learn to be more adventurous in bed, Lex. You’re like a timid little mouse. It can get really boring.” Remembering those words, I straightened my shoulders, took a deep breath, and stepped inside. I was not a boring mouse—or at least I wouldn’t be one anymore. Starting tonight, I was going to be a new version of Alexis Stone: as bold and adventurous as my flaming-red dress.
I tried to soak in the beauty of the bar while beelining through the crowded tables, anxious to leave the peculiar spotlight of being the only person standing among a bunch of cozy, seated people. But then I realized new Alexis wouldn’t care if everyone’s eyes flitted to her as she walked across a room—in fact, new Alexis would welcome it, because she’d spent nearly an hour straightening and then recurling her hair into movie star ringlets, and maybe that effort should be appreciated. I forced myself to slow and look up at the bar’s gorgeous glass ceiling, shaded a twinkly blue thanks to the night sky. Real palm trees lined the circular perimeter, fronds reaching toward the stars. They made the bar look like a very urbane urban jungle, which actually wasn’t too far off the mark.
My older sister, Lee, and her friends liked to roll their eyes at the entire downtown bar scene, calling places like the Fleur de Lis “meat markets where you go to spend thirty-five bucks on a martini while beating back horny yuppies” (Lee’s words). They preferred the hipster bars on the east side of Austin, where the clientele was cooler yet dirtier (my words). I thought the Fleur de Lis was romantic, so it made sense to come here tonight for my critical but one hundred percent private mission: I, Alexis Rosalie Stone, was going to have my first one-night stand. I was going to sleep with a man with no strings attached, no stakes or expectations: just one night to do whatever felt right. Alexis the unadventurous bore? I’d killed her and buried the body.
The gleaming brass bar was crowded, but I managed to slip a shoulder between two men and catch the bartender’s attention. “Vodka martini,” I said, feeling a sudden rebellious compulsion to do anything that would raise my sister’s eyebrows. By the time my drink came, I’d completed a full three-sixty swivel in my barstool to survey the sea of men for potential candidates. How exactly did one negotiate a one-night stand? Did you lead with it in conversation so all your cards were on the table (“Hi, I’m Alexis; you might be interested to know I’m trolling for a stranger to ravish me”), or did you hold back, let your intention slip out at just the right moment (“I see you’re ordering an Uber home; could I interest you in going splitsies back to my place for a wild night of sex”)?
I braced a hand on the bar, taking a fortifying sip of my martini. Even if I made a complete fool of myself tonight—even if I was roundly rejected by every man I spoke to—coming here alone at least meant Lee and her crew couldn’t witness my flop, then use it to skewer me for all eternity like the jackals they were.
A whistle cut through the bar’s ambient noise, followed by a loud, “Now that’s a dress.” Out of nowhere, a man appeared and sidled up beside me. One look at him and my mind blurted forehead! Probably because his was shiny as a disco ball, framed by waggling eyebrows, and tilted all the way to the side. The next second, I realized his head was turned that way so he could get a clear view down my dress.
“Thanks.” I placed a protective hand over my chest and swiveled in the opposite direction. Hoping my body language would signal my disinterest, I took another sip of my martini and studied the empty corner of the room like it was fascinating.
No such luck. “I’m Carter Randall,” the man said, jutting out his hand. “What’s your name?”
My deep desire for him to go away warred with my silly lifelong compulsion to be nice. “Um…” I twisted back to shake his oddly moist hand and searched for inspiration. My gaze snagged, as his clearly had, on my dress. “Ruby…” The next word came unbidden. “Dangerfield. Ruby Dangerfield.” Curse my polite hardwiring that had me sitting here inventing a new name instead of dismissing him with something cool and clipped like, “Not interested.”
Carter gave my hand a little squeeze. He was twice my age, probably well into his fifties. Well-dressed, with a massive gold watch on his wrist, and—now that I squinted—a strangely sweaty face, like he’d just done a lap. Was he on party drugs? He used his sleeve to mop his forehead and I pulled my hand away, resisting the urge to wipe it on my dress. Carter’s eyes drifted down the length of my body yet again. “Well, Ms. Ruby. Can I buy you a drink? A stiff one?” He grinned.
“Oh,” I said. “That’s very nice. But—um—no thank you.” Inside, I burned with the fire of a thousand suns. Saying no to anyone, even a stranger, stretched the limits of my bravery.
“Aw, come on.” Carter leaned in closer and I scooted back so fast I nearly tipped over. “Look at you, sitting there in that dress. Clearly fishing for attention. Well, you caught me. Let’s get you drunk and see what happens.”
Apparently, I was going to get a lesson in how not to proposition someone tonight. But my cheeks were burning, because in a small way Carter was right—I had come here to put myself on display and find someone, just very much not him. Be the new Alexis, I urged myself. Stop prioritizing this stranger’s feelings and tell him to leave you alone. But I couldn’t—at the slightest provocation, old, sad, doormat Alexis had quickly jumped back in charge.
“I’m not trying to be rude,” I said carefully, feeling my heartbeat spike. “I would just like to be by myself tonight.” Well, shoot. Now that I’d committed to that, would I have to leave the bar so Carter didn’t catch me talking to anyone else later? My palms started sweating.
“One drink—” he started.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” came a voice, tinged with an accent I couldn’t place—British mixed with Texas panhandle? I nearly knocked over my martini. “She said no, mate. Get it through your thick skull and leave the poor woman alone.”
Carter spun to get a look at the man who’d interrupted us, and without his body blocking the view, I got a clear line, too. My stomach flipped over and released a conservatory’s worth of butterflies. Even wearing a look of contempt, the man on the other side of Carter was stop-in-your-tracks, tongue-tyingly handsome. He was around my age, maybe a little older—he certainly radiated an older person’s authority—with a head of dark curls cut close and tight, brown eyes that were currently blazing, and thick eyebrows arched, waiting to see how Carter would respond. He had on a dark suit like most of the other men in the room, but he’d taken off his jacket and hung it on the back of his seat. He was sitting hunched over his drink in a white dress shirt with the sleeves messily rolled back, wearing a dark slim watch that was the antithesis of Carter’s flashy gold one. The wrinkles in his suit, creases under his eyes, and day-old stubble gave the impression of a weary business executive after a long, hard day at work. His eyes flitted to mine for the briefest moment before returning to Carter, but the charge that ran down my spine was enough to root me to my chair.
Carter shifted his weight. Apparently, he was going to play the tough guy. “Why don’t you mind your business, pal?”
The beautiful, tired man rolled his eyes. “Oh, good. You’re one of those.” He got to his feet so fast his barstool made a screeching sound as it scraped across the floor. “Then let’s go ahead and get this over with, because I’ve had a shit day and I would like to kick your ass and get back home at a reasonable hour. So come on. You’re the one campaigning for Most Punchable Man in the Bar. Let’s have your prize.” The dark-haired man spoke calmly and quickly in his hard-to-place accent, like he invited people to get their asses kicked at least once a day. He made a little “come on” gesture that conveyed utter boredom.
People around us had stopped talking to watch. The extra attention only made me feel like I was going to melt into the floor at twice the speed. But if I had no idea how to respond to this turn of events—what to say or even where to put my hands—Carter was even more clueless. I could see his eyes dancing, doing quick calculations. On the one hand, Carter was thicker around the middle than the dark-haired man. On the other, the dark-haired man had revealed himself to be tall and well-built when he stood up.
“Nah, man.” Carter put his hands up. “We’ve got no problems. Just making new friends like you’re supposed to at a bar, for Christ’s sake.”
“Great,” said the dark-haired man. “Then kindly fuck off as suggested.”
Carter didn’t wait to be told a third time. As he hightailed away from the bar, a woman nearby muttered, “What a douche.” And with that judgment rendered, the room dialed back to a normal volume.
“Thank you,” I said to the dark-haired man. He waved me off with a grunt and settled back in his barstool, leaning comfortably over his drink, apparently hoping to resume his night like nothing had happened.
I stared at him. The adrenaline was draining out of my system, which left me feeling hollow. I should have been the one to tell Carter to fuck off. I should have had the guts, but instead I’d tiptoed around and this man had to step in and do it for me. How humiliating. It hit me like a ton of bricks: from the moment Carter arrived, I’d been unequivocally mousy. Exactly like Chris said.
Excerpted from THE BOYFRIEND CANDIDATE. Copyright © 2023 by Ashley Winstead. Published by Graydon House.
“Winstead  brings both hilarity and heartfelt moments to this rousing rom-com….Readers will cheer Alexis on her path to discovering her inner strength and swoon over idealistic Logan. This is a winner.” -PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, Starred Review
“This slow-burn, fake-relationship romantic comedy has likable protagonists with instant chemistry….This is a fast-paced, hard-to-put-down novel whose happily-ever-after isn’t what readers will expect; it’s better.” -LIBRARY JOURNAL, Starred Review
“Charming….Told in Alexis’ fresh first-person voice, this heartwarming romance has both poignant introspection and a hero who sacrifices his dignity when faced with kittens and gerbils.” –BOOKPAGE, STARRED REVIEW
“Mixing political and romantic intrigue, Winstead’s novel combines the darker side of politics with the lighter side of life. With a few steamy encounters and a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, The Boyfriend Candidate will appeal to fans of Lianne Moriarty, Ellen Meister, Amy Mason Doan, and anyone looking for a little more escapism in their political diet.” – BOOKLIST
“The Boyfriend Candidate is everything I’ve ever wanted in a romance. Charming, swoony, and utterly unputdownable. I LOVE this book (and also Logan Arthur)!” -Lynn Painter, New York Times bestselling author of Better Than the Movies and Mr. Wrong Number
“THE BOYFRIEND CANDIDATE is my favorite kind of romance: one where the couple learns to fall in love with themselves as much as they fall for each other. Winstead seamlessly weaves romantic tension and tenderness, with her signature comedic timing and a charming cast of characters. Ashley makes it easy to vote for Logan Arthur as your next book boyfriend.” -Ruby Barrett, author of The Romance Recipe
“The Boyfriend Candidate catches fire, sizzles throughout and then bursts into flames. Highly recommend!” -Abby Jimenez, New York Times bestselling author of Part of Your World
“An introverted children’s librarian and a modern-day reformed rake come together in THE BOYFRIEND CANDIDATE, a romance that’s simultaneously sexy and sensitive, brimming with keen humor, impeccable romantic tension, and a lively supporting cast that leaps off the page. It’s a story about breaking rules, reclaiming control of our internal narratives, and having the courage to rewrite expectations for ourselves–and for love. With Alexis and Logan, Ashley Winstead has written my favorite kind of opposites-attract romance: the kind where the leads aren’t really opposites at all–they’re simply two different halves of the same whole.” — Jen Devon, author of Bend Toward the Sun
“I devoured THE BOYFRIEND CANDIDATE in one sitting. Ashley Winstead effortlessly creates an atmosphere that is both grounded and goofy, characters that are both flawed and lovable, and a romance that feels both heightened and real—plotted and paced like the master she is.” -Ava WIlder, author of Will They or Won’t They
“I am feral for The Boyfriend Candidate. With delightful banter, steamy chemistry, and ridiculously yummy characters, this book is what fake-dating dreams are made of. Ashley Winstead once again proves she’s an absolute force in the rom-com genre, every book becoming a new favorite.” —Mazey Eddings, author of A Brush with Love
“As sexy as it is sincere, The Boyfriend Candidate is an absolute winner. Laugh out loud funny, and full of heart; I adored Alexis and Logan’s love story. The Boyfriend Candidate is a romance worth rooting for: sexy and sweet, with characters that stay with you long after the last page. I couldn’t put it down.” –Kate Spencer, author of In a New York Minute
Ashley Winstead 2021 breakout thriller was In My Dreams I Hold a Knife. Her 2022 romance debut, Fool Me Once, was an Amazon Editor’s Best Romance as well as a USA Today, PopSugar, New York Post, and Goodreads best or most anticipated romance of the year. Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages and optioned for film/TV.
Author Website: https://www.ashleywinstead.com/
This looks like fun!