Something Wicked comes your way. It’s the Entangled Get Wicked blog hop!
Leave a comment and I will randomly choose one winner for a little treat (an e-copy of either Breaking the Bachelor or Unexpectedly His…winner’s choice)!
Be sure to join the hop and check out some other fantastic Entangled authors. For now…let’s start with something a little bit wicked and a whole lot of sexy. The original first scene of my debut novel, Breaking the Bachelor. Enjoy!
And…happy trick or treating.
Trouble was in the building.
Charlie didn’t need to see or hear her to know she was in the bar. His Janey-sense tingled loud and clear. Besides which, there were only two people in the world who knew where to find him tonight, his business partner, Nick, and that sister of his, the one who couldn’t keep her damned hands off his jukebox.
He caught her reflection in the mirror. More than a year had passed since he’d laid eyes on her and the woman still had the power to make his heart race. He hated to admit it, but she looked good. Really good. Her dark chestnut-brown hair, a bit longer now, curled around the edges of her ears to frame her deceptively delicate features. She wore a small smile and a jet-black coat that showed off her familiar curves to perfection and as she moved toward him, all amber eyes and midnight swagger, her hips swaying in time with James Taylor’s, Steamroller, her bluesy de facto theme song, he felt old memories stake their claim. He’d seen her steamroll her way through more than one tough situation, but still suspected she’d be surprised to know what usually did him in wasn’t the sway or the swagger, but the fact she kept a softer side, and more than a few vulnerabilities, hidden underneath. But he wasn’t falling for any of her charms tonight.
“We’re closed,” he said.
She ignored that, as he expected her to. He filled a shaker with ice, added a healthy amount of Vintage Rye 21, mixed in the bitters and sweet vermouth, bitter and sweet, like the woman. He tossed it into a rocks glass and set it down. A Manhattan. She gave him a short smile and a nod at his memory.
“How’d you get in?”
She shrugged off her coat, poured herself on to the stool at the end of the hardwood bar and held up a silver arrow shape. “I used my key.”
He turned toward the whiskey voice that could still make him crazy. “Yeah, I’m gonna need that back.”
But when he reached for the key, she tucked it into her cleavage. His eyes followed. That was one helluva dress she was wearing. The kind designed to bring a man straight to his knees. Staying out of trouble tonight was going to be trickier than he thought.
Key safely beyond his reach, she smiled. “I don’t think so, Charlie. I’ll hang onto it a while longer. If you don’t mind.”
Charlie?, he thought. Before they’d fallen into bed together, it was generally Big Guy or Bartender or Hey, you, buddy. Never, Charlie. Never, If you don’t mind.
“I’ll take a cherry tonight. Two, if you’ve got ‘em.” She dipped her index finger into the golden liquid and circled the rim of her glass. Slowly. He bit back a groan. Was she trying to kill him? Heart failure by moonlight and Manhattan. He tossed two cherries into her drink. She looked up at him like an angel. An angel with an agenda.
Her sweet, whiskey voice was a full-on seduction. “The bar looks good.”
“Good crowds? Good receipts?”
The game playing was already wearing thin. “What do you want, Jane?”
Charlie folded his arms across his chest and waited for her to throw down the deal. He already knew the stakes. Yeah, he knew all about the bet. Heard the most of it on the radio this morning. He’d been listening — casually. And ever since, he’d been half-expecting his take-no-prisoners ex to bust through the door ever since. True to form, here she was.
He had to hand it to her. Betting she could find his perfect match in a week took a lot of nerve. Janey-type nerve. But if she thought she was going to stroll in here and wrap him around her little finger as easily as she had when they were kids, then she’d better think again.
“Are you going to tell me what you want? Or am I supposed to wait all night?”
She took a slow, sexy pull from her Manhattan. Her crescent shaped amber eyes sparkled at him as she swallowed the golden liquid, licking the taste of it from her bow of her full lips. Damn, she was a cheater. Never played fair. Charlie bit back a groan. Any second now, she’d be twisting the cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. “What makes you think I want something?”
“Come on, Janey, we both know you never flirt without an agenda.” She wet her lips to object, but he held up his palm. “Don’t even try to pretend that’s not flirting.” He snapped up the cherries from her drink, popped them into his mouth and chewed.
Call it self-preservation.
“Hey —” she protested, swiping off her black beret and tossing it onto the bar.
He handed her the stems. “Go for it, angel.”
Jane tossed the stems down and looked up at him from beneath her long lashes “Am I that predictable?”
He walked away without answering.
“Okay, okay.” Spilling off the red leather seat of the barstool, her heels clicked against the tiled floor as she followed him to the end of the bar. “You got me. I need a favor.”
“You need a favor, huh?” He grinned, ready to tell her to go to Hell. “This oughtta be good.”
“Oh, you can at least be a gentleman about it.”
Charlie threw back his head in laughter. “That’s funny, coming from you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you, Ms. Wright, ain’t no lady.” He touched his index finger to the end of her nose and walked behind the bar.
She scrambled after him. “C’mon, Charlie. It’s just one little favor.”
“One little favor, huh?”
“One. Little. Favor.” She climbed onto the bar and her dress rode up her thighs revealing more than a flash of creamy skin. He bit back a groan and watched as she stretched down the length of the hardwood for her Manhattan. Like dying and going straight to Heaven, but there was no way in Hell he was falling for it — any of it. A year ago, the woman had crushed his heart like a paper cup. If she wanted his help now, she was going to have to work a lot harder than that.
His bottle hit the bar.
“Fine. No favor. How about a game of pool?” She nodded toward the tables, her take-me-now heels dangling over the edge of the bar. “For old time’s sake?”
Old time’s sake. His gaze followed the line of her body from the stilettos to the tilt of her mouth. There were a lot of things he wanted to do for old time’s sake, but none of them were legal, and none of them smart. Instead, he nodded. “Nine-ball?”
“You know me so well.” She slid off the bar and sashayed over to the pool table, hips in full sway to Witchy Woman as it played on the jukebox. Charlie groaned. He was going to have that damn thing taken out of here.
She grabbed a pool stick and leaned against the table. Her cleavage dipped just enough to give him a glimpse of what he had missed this last year. Damn. Maybe he should take out the pool tables, too.
“What do you say to a little wager?” she asked, a grin sliding across her face as easy as melted butter.
So, that’s how she was going to play it.
He walked over and picked up his stick. “Sure you want to bet? Because I’m thinking, you’ve already made one too many wagers today. But it’s your call.”
The grin disappeared. “You son-of-a—”
“You gonna kiss me with that mouth later?”
“Not if you were the last man on Earth, Big Guy.”
He nodded, racked ‘em up, and slid into place behind her. His thoughts detoured to the street games they’d played as kids, before returning quickly to the adult games they’d played recently in bed. He drew the stick back and thrust it forward to break, trying to keep his mind on the game and not getting his ex between the sheets again. The nine-ball hit the corner pocket.
She turned to face him and let out a gust. “You cheated.”
“I won, fair and square. Unlike you, sweetheart, I know how to win a bet.”
Her wide eyes blinked and she snatched up the cue chalk like some kind of mini-hustler ready to double-down. That was Janey, the woman never knew when to quit, except when it came to their relationship. She knew exactly how to quit him.
“Why didn’t you tell me you knew about the bet?” She turned to re-rack the balls and muttered beneath her breath. “Might’ve saved me some trouble.”
“Trouble? You love trouble.” He picked up the nine-ball and inserted himself between her and the pool table. She looked up at him, all wide tawny eyes and soft, chestnut curls and it took most of his control not to throw her down on the table. They were exes for a reason and he needed to keep that reason in mind. “Besides, watching you try to work me was so much fun. But whatever you’ve got in mind the answer is, no.”
He stepped closer, crowding her with the length of his body and for the first time in a long time, he felt the flicker of real anger. He didn’t like to admit it, but she’d hurt him. He wasn’t about to let her do it again.
“Charlie, listen, if you could just…”
He shook his head, not wanting to hear it, not wanting to feel the sting of another person in his life who’d refused to stick around. Like he wasn’t worth the effort or the risk.“You never were much of a gambler.”
Her jaw tightened, looking for a fight. “Like father, like daughter, right?”
“That’s not what I said.” He rolled the ball down the length of the table and set down his cue. Game officially over.
“But it’s what you meant.”
Not interested in an all-out throw down with his ex, he stepped away and moved toward the bar. Let her hang around and play the jukebox all night. He was going home. “You know the way out.”
High heels beat a staccato rhythm across the tile floor as she followed him. “Okay, you’re right, maybe it wasn’t such a smart bet.”
“Maybe?” He tossed the word over his shoulder.
“But unlike my father, I plan to win.”
“Glad to hear it.” He flipped off a set of lights behind the bar. He needed to get out of Temptation fast, before she found some way to roll him.
“Listen, Charlie, straight-up.” She climbed onto the barstool, kicked off her sky-highs and set them onto the bar. “I know you’re angry, and after the cocktail napkin, and a couple of other not-so-great moves, I probably don’t deserve your help, but we’ve known each other a long time, been friends a long time, and honestly —
“Friends?” The word ripped through him and his eyes flicked to the mirror to catch her gaze. Talk about a sucker-punch to his heart, not to mention his ego.
He watched her reflection worry her lower lip and the gesture cracked open his heart a little. By the time she spoke, he was already half-wrecked. “I can’t lose, Charlie. I can’t lose this bet. Losing Smart Cupid, losing the chance to prove love can be a logical rational choice, not just some passionate mistake that ends up with somebody left behind like an afterthought.” She looked away and stared into the bottom of her drink, only half-talking to him, half to herself. “An afterthought like my mom. I can’t lose. I won’t.”
His resolve weakened when faced with her way of saying something so abruptly, startlingly honest. No more swagger or cherry twisting or batting those gorgeous long lashes. Her amber eyes were serious and the truth in their depth twisted his gut into a solid knot.
Maybe she was still playing him, bringing up their history, her family, appealing to his soft spot, but if so, and he hated to admit it, the last ditch-effort hit its mark. He’d been ready for the game-playing, but he hadn’t prepared for honesty.
Smart Cupid mattered to her in a way he’d never managed to matter and the realization rattled him to the core. Understandable, considering he’d spent his life running a distant second to the needs of his father’s company. Work had always came first for his father, even before a five-year boy who’d lost his mother in the space of a heartbeat. That boy may as well have been invisible. Now, here he stood again. Invisible.
He shook off the painful thoughts and refocused on the inescapable problem sitting at the bar: the matchmaker with an inability to stop her mouth, the one with the amber eyes and soft curls, the one staring into her drink like she’d lost her best friend. Ironically, he knew just how she felt. He picked up the bottle of Jameson, two more of a small batch rye and stashed the whiskey under the bar. The percentage play was to tell her to get lost, to go find some other ex-friend to be her bachelor. But he’d never been very good at playing the odds. He turned back around to face her. “What do you need? Exactly.”
“Well…” Still staring into her drink, she yanked hard on her right ear, the childhood tell of a gambler’s daughter. Trouble was about to up the ante. “I’ve kind of set you up on a couple of dates.”
Now that he hadn’t been expecting. “A couple of dates, huh?”
Her mouth curved into a half-hopeful smile, but he wasn’t about to date half of Manhattan so she could win a goddamned bet. No matter what kind of odds he was playing. He locked up the cash drawer and turned off a second set of lights. “Not interested.”
She opened her mouth, ready with another of her patented objections, but the look in his eye told her to stop. “I don’t date. Not since the woman I considered a friend and made love to for two wild, incredibly memorable weeks dumped me via a cocktail napkin.”
She glanced back into her drink. “Right, the cocktail napkin.”
He pulled the bar towel from his shoulder and backhanded it into the sink. “Hard to believe, but when a man finds a Dear Charlie note shoved under a bottle of Makers Mark, sometimes his will to date doesn’t survive.”
“It doesn’t?” she asked.
“No, Jane, it doesn’t.”
The silence between them grew and he wondered if she’d throw him a bone, maybe an apology. A quick, “I’m sorry. I fucked up.” — anything to ease the hurt that filled his chest every time he thought about the way she’d tossed him aside — literally, like a bar napkin.
But she just swirled the last of her Manhattan around in her glass, ice cubes clinking against the sides. “Maybe you could consider a few dates. —
“Or maybe you could club me over the head and shove me in the dumpster out back?”
“Five dates, that’s all I’m asking.” she said.
“You are totally impossible.”
“Not totally.” Ignoring the disbelieving shake of his head, she pulled a magazine article from her coat pocket and unfolded it onto the bar. “According to New York Magazine, not to mention every single woman in town, you are the year’s hottest bartender. I could sign ten new clients tomorrow based on your profile picture alone.”
A nervous smile belied her no-holds-barred approach. “Your profile picture. A friend at the New Yorker emailed me a copy.”
“Janey, I swear if you—
She linked her fingers together, pleading. “Please, please, please, Charlie. If you do this for me, I promise I’ll never call you Big Guy or Bartender or Buddy again.”
“Now there’s a triple-bonus. I feel like I won the trifecta.”
“Five dates.” Her half-empty glass hit the bar in one non-negotiable motion.
“That’s more than just a few favor dates.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her and met her cool vodka tonic gaze with a look that was all margarita-on-the-rocks. “No.”
“Three. Final offer.”
“Well…” He leaned in extra-close, ran a hand across the stubble on his clenched jaw and pretended to consider the three-date deal. “Since it’s your final offer…yeah, still, no.”
“No. In fact, hell, no.” He ignored her low growl of frustration with an easy shrug of his shoulders. “Did you read the article? Or did you just look at the pictures?”
“Your stunt with the cocktail napkin turned me into a new man, sweetheart. Like the article says, I’m a confirmed bachelor. Confirmed as in pizza is its own food group and football is the fifth season.”
“Three dates. That’s all I’m asking. Three dates.”
He tilted his mouth closer to hers and she lifted her face as though unable to resist the gravitational pull. A smile played at the corner of his lips. “If I remember correctly, you used to love football. A little late afternoon play action…”
She swallowed hard. Oh yeah, his girl had always loved a little afternoon play action.
“Is it a deal or not?”
And as a rule, his girl wasn’t much for negotiation, so the fact that she’d walked through the door tonight told him a lot. He leaned his hip against the edge of the polished hardwood. At least she wasn’t sucker punching him like when they were kids. Maybe he ought to be grateful, but real life wasn’t Kick the Can. Real life hurt more than a sucker punch. Unfortunately, she was the only woman he’d ever really wanted, a fact that made him want to kick his own ass.
He knew she wanted him, too, despite all the safe, specific criteria on that Ultimate Man List she had tucked away in her wallet like some kind of dating talisman. She needed more than just a safe guy. She needed passion and heat, someone to challenge her and protect her. Too bad she refused to give him a chance.
“No deal, angel. I’m not interested in the tough world of dating in the city…”
Accusation flashed in her eyes. “You heard the interview.”
He twisted the cap off a bottle of beer and tilted it toward her, “You bet your sweet ass, I heard it, the end of it anyway. What did you think? You said, “bet me”, and I turned off the radio.”
“Why did you let me…”
Closing the short distance between them in a few strides, he slid onto the barstool next to her and pulled her close, close enough to see the soft brown flecks in her eyes, the constellation of faded freckles across her nose. He took a long, slow pull from his beer and noticed how her pulse kicked up notch, maybe two. For one crazy second, he wondered how she’d feel about him dating. A smile played at the corner of his lips. He liked the idea of her spending her nights doing the post-analysis of his dates, thinking about him with other women. If she had a little green monster lurking somewhere under the little black dress, maybe he ought to poke at it…and poke at it…and poke at it…until reared its head and bit her right in the ass.
But those kind of thoughts led straight back to Trouble. And he needed to stay out of Trouble once and for all. “Time to go home, Janey.”
“Forget it, angel.” He let his gaze drift to the sweet dip of her dress, the deep v that encased a set of stellar curves and one small silver arrow. When he raised his eyes, she was staring back at him and the heat in her eyes unmistakable. He gave her a short nod and rose to leave. “Lock up the place up when you go. You do have a key, right?”
And then, he was walking away, walking away from her whiskey voice and her heartbreaker lips, her lousy jukebox selections and reckless betting habit.
All of it. Walking away.
“Not if you were the last matchmaker on Earth, angel.” He raised his hand in a quick wave and kept right on going. Let her figure out how to save her own ass for a change.
Outside of Temptation, the cold night air slammed against his chest. He turned back to watch her through the window as she finished her drink, collected the detritus of her seduction, her sexy, dark coat, her ruby red stilettos.
His regular cab pulled up to the corner right on time. He paid the driver and nodded toward the bar. “Make sure she gets home safe.”
“You bet, Charlie.” The cabbie leaned out the car window and tilted his wide jaw at the woman striding toward the bar’s exit. “That her?”
“Yeah, that’s her, all right.” If he stood here any longer, he’d end up hustling her into the back of the car and kissing her until she was breathless, a mistake that could seriously cost him. Instead, he pulled his gaze away from her approaching figure eight and back to the taxi. “Same time tomorrow?”
“Same time tomorrow, Mr. G.”
He knocked twice on the top of the cab and headed down Exchange. When he reached the corner, he turned for a quick look. Standing on the sidewalk, the fierce look on her face illuminated by the bar’s signage, she looked pretty. So damned pretty. Just keep walking. He dragged in a breath of the night air and hoped the cold would knock some sense into him.
He watched her climb safely into the back of his waiting cab before turning the corner to head uptown. He lifted his collar and picked up his pace to remind himself to keep walking.
Do not turn around.
If he was ever going to shake off the memory of the way her hips had swayed into his bar tonight, he needed to keep walking. He dug his hands deep into his pockets. Did she think she could bust into Temptation and steamroll him into signing away his love life? For Christ’s sake, she’d signed away his heart once already. Bailed on him with a flamingo-colored cocktail napkin and a claim they had too much chemistry.
Who the hell did that? What kind of woman ditched a perfectly terrific relationship because of too much chemistry? The kind of woman who knew how to throw a sucker punch. The kind of bonafide heartbreaker currently making off his cab.
Yeah, that kind of woman.
Maybe dating wasn’t such a bad idea. Hell, it’d been an entire year. He was sure there were a lot of nice women out there. Perfectly nice, perfectly sane women.
But he wasn’t about to let Cupid push him into the deep end of the dating pool. No, thank you. He’d find his own perfect goddamned match.
One who wouldn’t leave him on a cocktail napkin.
With a bottle of whiskey.
Without a decent explanation.
One who was less bossy. More agreeable, less rigid.
Maybe a blonde. He’d always liked blondes. Yes, a blonde. A hip-swaying, whiskey-drinking, take-no-prisoners blonde who knew exactly how to play the odds and played to win.
So much for self-preservation. He was in more trouble than he thought. He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, kept his head low and kept on walking.