Once Upon a Kiss


By Sara Jane Stone

Foreword by James Patterson

Read by Zoe Hunter

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Is it possible to fall in love in one night?

Ivy Grant has devoted her life to medical research — until she finds out her lab funding is about to be cut, right on the cusp of a breakthrough. She’ll have to convince the billionaire CEO Carter Burke to support her project. But after a one-night whirlwind romance, is Ivy ready to open her life to new possibilities — like love?

BookShots Flames: Original romances presented by James Patterson Novels you can devour in a few hours Impossible to stop reading


Dear Reader,

Everyone loves a happy ending, but as for myself, I find the most satisfying endings are often those where happiness isn’t a given—where there’s tension, tough decisions to be made. And that’s what we have here.

In this sleek retelling of the classic fairy tale Cinderella, Ivy Grant is a scientist on the brink of losing the funding for her beloved lab. She appeals to her boss, the billionaire bachelor CEO, Carter Burke, to help keep her research alive. But Carter has another idea—one that involves taking Ivy on a midnight adventure through New York City.

This story is about two people learning to let go of their inhibitions and live in the moment. It’s something that I think we all need to do from time to time. So here’s your reminder—may you live well, and love well. I hope you enjoy.

—James Patterson

Chapter 1

Beams of light flashed across stainless steel surfaces. Music pulsed as the light bounced around the room, slowly picking up speed.

Or maybe I’m moving faster?

Beneath the mirror ball, Ivy Grant spun in circles. She knew the room’s layout. She lived in this space.

Day and night.

For years.

She could close her eyes, dance like a woman possessed by desire, and still she wouldn’t knock anything over. Her head tipped back, sending her long, blond hair cascading over her shoulders. Her lips parted as her hips found the rhythm. Sort of. She missed a beat as she mouthed the words to her fight song. But she didn’t care.

She’d fought.

And finally, finally, she’d won.

“This is my fight song,” she bellowed. “My—”

The music cut out. Ivy froze with her arms flung wide and her back to the door. Fluorescent lights flickered on overhead. And just like that, the pseudo-nightclub disappeared, leaving behind a windowless room lined with microscopes and centrifuges. The tools of her trade filled the state-of-the-art scientific research facility.

Ivy crossed her fingers behind her back and turned to the door.

If Peter cut my party short to brag about his increased funding again, I’ll…

Sugar. She’d smile and nod. She’d offer her congratulations for the tenth time today because the world needed a cure for cancer. The Burke Initiative should be spending their investors’ hard-earned dollars on Peter’s research.

But Peter wasn’t standing beside her stereo.

Penelope. Thank goodness.

The pale woman with raven hair arched one perfectly plucked eyebrow.

“Dance with me.” Ivy held out her hands to her research assistant-turned-best-friend.

“I don’t think so. I’m a zero on the graceful dancing scale. Plus, this isn’t a nightclub. If you keep moving like that, you’ll knock something over.” Penelope spoke in a low, smoky voice, as if it was designed to send men’s imaginations running to the bedroom. If Ivy’s assistant took her sultry tone to a bar, she could have her pick of eligible dates. But that would involve leaving the lab before ten o’clock on a Friday night. And thanks to the budget cuts, Ivy didn’t have enough staff on hand to be able to send her assistant off for a hot date. Heck, now she didn’t even have any staff aside from Penelope due to a reallocation of funds that had doubled Peter’s budget and eviscerated hers.

But that was about to change.

“We did it.” Ivy crossed the room and reached for her friend’s hands. Forget the music, they could dance for joy just fine without it. “The test worked. We’re one step closer to creating a quick and easy diagnostic test for amyloidosis.”

“What?” Penelope’s grip tightened on hers. “It worked? You did it?”

We did it!” Ivy spun her assistant in a circle. Who needed dancing at a nightclub when you had success, and the high that comes with knowing you’re right? They’d found a way to detect a rare disease early. They were all the closer to finding a cure and saving lives. “We’re almost there. There will be more tests, of course. And clinical trials, once we develop a formula for a cure.”

Penelope drew to a halt. “We don’t have the budget,” she said flatly. “I’ve reviewed the numbers and—”

“Burke will give us more,” Ivy insisted. “I’ll start on the paperwork tonight. We could also approach the Amyloidosis Foundation. Maybe apply for another NIH grant. But the Burke Initiative has made a fortune this past year off their new vaccines and they’ve supported us this far.”

The corner of Penelope’s full lips shifted into a grin. “You could do more than fill out forms. You could meet with the billionaire captain of the Burke Initiative.”

Ivy cocked her head. “What?”

“Leave behind your mirror ball,” Penelope said, her voice rising as if she were standing center stage in a three-ring circus, introducing the main act—the lion. “And join the man who took the money he made off military contracts and started a for-profit initiative to fund medical research—the one and only Carter Burke. I heard he’s in town for an unrelated charity gala. If you rush to his office now…It’s close to six, but he’s probably still there. You can’t become a billionaire without a little overtime, right?”

“Are you insane?” Ivy challenged.

“I’m not the crazy one in the room.” Penelope dropped the act and her arms drifted to her sides. “Peter’s this close to curing cancer. He’s getting a brand-new state-of-the-art lab at Johns Hopkins, courtesy of billionaire Burke. He’s on the cusp of saving millions and millions of lives. I believe in what we’re doing here. But at the end of the day, amyloidosis is rare.”

But if we’d had a cure ten years ago, I could have saved my father, Ivy thought. Just one man. One life. But saving him would have meant the world to her. And one day her work in this lab might be the difference between life and death for someone else.

“A man who moves from an illustrious military career to being a billionaire businessman to freaking curing the world’s most pervasive diseases must have an ego,” Penelope continued. “He’ll want to take credit for Peter’s work because it’s so important. He might not even give you the time of day. But maybe if you talk to him just right, charm him, he’ll keep funding us, too.”

“Charm Carter Burke?” Disbelief clung to her words.

“Who knows? Maybe he’ll invite you to the party.”

Ivy pictured the hotel ballroom filled with New York City’s elite dressed in designer gowns and tuxedos. Mentally scanning the imaginary gala, she looked for the one woman who didn’t belong—the woman who didn’t even own a little black dress.

I’m not in the picture.

“I’m sure Carter Burke already has a date,” Ivy said lightly, as if Carter’s significant other was the only barrier between her and a dream date at a ball with a handsome billionaire.

“He broke up with his girlfriend last week. They had barely been together a week, but it’s over now,” Penelope said. “I read it on TMZ.”

Hope flickered. How long had it been since she’d gone on a date? Twenty-four long, work-filled months since her disastrous relationship with Robert. He’d never understood her workaholic need to practically live in her lab. Plus, Robert had been downright boring in bed.

After she and Robert broke it off, she resigned to set her sad dating life aside and mentally extinguished the hopeful flames of desire with a bucket of reason. Plus, she just did not belong in Carter Burke’s world.


End of story.

On the other hand…Penelope had a good point. She might secure more funding with a face-to-face meeting. If he saw her passion—for her work—who knows? He might give her everything she needed to continue her research and find a cure.

“I’ll go.” Ivy shrugged out of her lab coat and tossed it onto a steel table. Then she headed for the door. The locker holding her purse and car keys stood in the hallway beyond her workspace. “I’ll meet with him, for the funding. Not for a flippant night of fun. Anyway, he’s way out of my league. I’m a scientist, not a model.”

“With a little mascara—”

“I would still be a scientist.” Ivy placed her hand on the door. “I only need one thing from Carter Burke. The chance to continue our research—and I’m going to get it.”

“By any means necessary?” Penelope followed her into the hall.

“My plan is to bore him with statistics and scientific details. After fifteen minutes, he’ll be so uninterested that he’ll probably write me a personal check just so he can escape and meet up with his picture-perfect date for tonight’s event.” She lifted her purse from the locker and headed for the elevator.

“Bore a billionaire?” Penelope called after her. “That’s your plan?”

Ivy stepped into the elevator and the doors closed. Drive Carter Burke crazy with scientific terms and then ask for money? Penelope was right. She needed a better approach.

And a little makeup wouldn’t hurt.

Chapter 2

Reality set in with each passing floor. Ivy would probably be turned away before she met the famous billionaire. She wasn’t exactly dressed to impress in her white button-down shirt and plain black slacks.

She opened her purse and searched for lipstick, mascara, something to boost her courage. If she walked into Burke Initiative’s Manhattan office looking as if she’d lived in her windowless lab for the past year, she’d never get a chance to bore the one man who could help her cure the disease that had stolen her father.

Her fingers closed around a thin tube as the doors opened onto the basement-level parking garage. Oh, thank goodness. She stepped out of the elevator and looked down at her hand.

Lip balm.

But this was not just any balm. Her hopes of securing a meeting with Carter Burke were tied to a glossy stick she’d borrowed from her four-year-old niece last weekend—Sparkle Berry Kiss.

What are the chances Carter Burke has a thing for sparkling lips?

One in a billion.

But that wouldn’t stop her. She opened the tube and slathered it onto her lips. Then she marched to her car, ready to drive to New York City to take on the billionaire.

The first few bars of “Let It Go” emanated from her purse and drew her newfound resolve to an abrupt halt. Pausing beside her beat-up sedan, she plucked her cell from the purse. Her older sister’s name flashed across the top of the screen above a request to FaceTime. She hit Accept, ending Frozen’s hit song. Her impromptu meeting with the billionaire could wait a minute or two.

“Kate?” Ivy said as her face filled the small box at the bottom of the screen. But her sister’s familiar face wasn’t staring back at her.

“Auntie Ivy,” her niece bellowed. “I’m Queen Elsa today. Who are you?”

Ivy caught a glimpse of the little girl’s princess costume before her niece’s face filled the screen.

“Today I’m…” Ivy bit her lower lip, tasting the berry lip balm. She had played the princess game countless times with her niece. Most days, she tossed out Belle, the bookworm. But she didn’t feel like the star of Beauty and the Beast right now.

Nothing like a call from Queen Elsa to remind me that my life isn’t a fairy tale.

Her prince wasn’t waiting at the end of her adventure. Her happy-ever-after ending featured a cure for a rare disease. The “prince” in her story provided funding, nothing more.

“Meggie?” her sister’s voice called from the background. “Who are you talking to, sweetheart? Do you have Mommy’s phone again?”

“I’m playing princess with Auntie Ivy,” Meggie said.

A second later, her sister’s face filled the frame. “Sorry. I was getting dinner in the oven and she took my phone.” Kate’s eyes widened. “Wait. You’re not in the lab.”

“I have a meeting in Manhattan,”

Her sister squinted at the screen. “You’re wearing lipstick.”

“It’s Meggie’s balm,” Ivy corrected. “My lips were dry.”


“I did it,” Ivy cut in. “The test works. I’m one step closer to a cure.”

“Oh, Ivy.” Her sister looked as if she might burst into tears. “I’m so proud of you. Dad would’ve been proud, too. Please tell me you are taking the night off to celebrate in the city.”

“Not exactly.” Ivy drew a deep breath. Her sister would find out about her meeting with the billionaire, anyway. Kate’s super powers included learning all of Ivy’s secrets, whether she wanted them to be kept secret or not. “I’m going to the Burke Initiative’s Manhattan offices to ask Carter Burke for additional funding.”

“Princess Workaholic,” Kate said dryly. “Which one is she again?”

“The scientist princess,” she corrected, opening the driver’s side door. “They haven’t written her story yet.”

“Because she never leaves her lab,” Kate replied.

“I’m out tonight,” Ivy said. “Because the scientist princess finds the cure first so she can give other families a happy-ever-after ending free from a disease. Then she worries about finding her prince.”


On Sale
Feb 6, 2018
Page Count
144 pages
Hachette Audio

Sara Jane Stone

About the Author

Sara Jane Stone lives near New York’s Hudson River with her real-life hero, two young children, and their four-legged friends. To learn more about her sexy contemporary romance series, visit http://www.sarajanestone.com.

James Patterson has had more New York Times bestsellers than any other writer, ever, according to Guinness World Records. Since his first novel won the Edgar Award in 1977, James Patterson?s books have sold more than 375 million copies. He is the author of the Alex Cross novels, the most popular detective series of the past twenty-five years, including Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

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