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Asking for Trouble
A Line of Duty Novel
By Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Tessa Bailey
All rights reserved.
If he winks at me one more time, I'm going to introduce his nuts to my size seven stiletto.
Hayden Winstead circled her ankle slowly underneath the bottle-laden table, barely repressing the urge to follow through on that visually satisfying thought. With three glasses of wine humming through her veins, it seemed like a reasonable way to wipe the patronizing smirk off Brent Mason's face. Knowing Brent, however, needling her until she snapped was his goal, so she'd be damned before giving him an ounce of satisfaction.
The first time they'd met, in this very pub, he'd hit on her using so little finesse, she'd been forced to ask if he was kidding. Granted, they'd both had a few too many drinks that night, but nothing excused the line, "I'm not drunk, I'm just intoxicated by you." Nothing.
Especially in light of what he said upon bringing her home and seeing where she lived. Ah, now I get it. You only date men in certain zip codes. His comment about her Upper West Side town house still rankled months later. Which is why she'd never regretted her own saccharine-sweet response. Speaking of zip codes, shouldn't you be getting back to yours? Or is the zoo already closed for the night?
That's where their acquaintance had begun. From there, it had gone downhill fast.
Really, they should have never been required to share the same oxygen ever again. Life would have been so much easier that way. Too bad their best friends, Daniel and Story, happened to be disgustingly in love. The kind of love that required them to be together practically nonstop, forcing Hayden into Brent's presence with nauseating frequency.
Case in point, tonight. They all sat in their local hangout, Quincy's, waiting for Story to return from her first day of work. An outing that put Hayden across from three unavailable men wearing her best damn underwear. Pathetic. A lot of women might have already removed said panties and flung them at their choice of the three NYPD Emergency Service officers. Men in uniform, and all that business.
Hayden's were staying put.
Daniel Chase, hostage negotiator and former love-'em-and-leave-'em guru, was Story's boyfriend and therefore strictly off-limits. As if he could even see anyone besides Hayden's best friend. To Daniel's right, staring pensively into his beer, sat former military sniper Matt Donovan. Not technically unavailable, but quiet and mysterious enough to give a girl the shivers.
Then there was Brent, explosives expert, or as he referred to himself, "blower-up of shit." The man in question took a long pull of his beer, watching her the entire time. His confidence that very first night had irked her more than anything. Sure, a six-foot-five police officer built like a brick shithouse probably didn't get turned down very often by women. Daniel might be the smooth, almost-beautiful one, but Brent had a rough-and-tumble quality to him that Hayden imagined drew women like bees to honey. With full, dark-blond hair and moss-green eyes, he couldn't be described as classically handsome. More like a rugged sailor left over from a different time. The kind of man who picked up a woman in Times Square upon returning from war and threw her over his shoulder to take home to bed.
And that's my cue to stop drinking.
Brent saluted her with his beer bottle. "What are you thinking about over there, duchess? Whatever it is looks mighty interesting."
Her smile almost cracked upon hearing the infuriating nickname he refused to drop. "If I thought you had even a remote chance of keeping up, I'd tell you."
"That so?" He leaned forward on his elbows, not stopping to acknowledge Matt's irritated sigh. "Let's see if I can guess."
"Please do." She took a dainty sip of her white wine. "Knock me over with your sparkling intellect."
He stroked his chin. "There's only so many things it could be. Planning your next fancy cocktail party, trying to remember if you made that crucial hair appointment —"
Daniel elbowed Brent in the ribs, giving them both a stern look. "Could you two give it a rest for one night? I've got enough on my mind."
"Like what?" she and Brent asked at the same time, before exchanging a glare.
Daniel opened his mouth to explain, then shook his head, shooting another anxious glance at the entrance to Quincy's. "Nothing."
"Aw, I know what it is." Brent clapped a hand onto Daniel's shoulder. "You're worried how Story's first day went. You're afraid she's going to vamoose back to California."
"No shit," Matt muttered.
"I should have met her at the damn school and walked her here." Daniel ran impatient fingers through his hair, the cool facade he always kept in place beginning to slip. "She has a terrible sense of direction."
"Do you want me to call her?" Hayden offered.
Brent shook his head before Daniel could respond. "Nah, just let her quit that horrible job in peace. Then we'll all go help her pack."
Hayden sent him a withering look, already formulating what she'd say to him when they were alone. Over the last two months, she'd become acquainted with the ball-breaking dynamic between the guys, but when it came to Story, Daniel had always been particularly vulnerable. When the two met in July, she'd only been planning on staying in New York for a couple weeks before returning to her home in California. Now that their relationship had progressed, she had no intention of going back, but Daniel still spent every free moment making sure she never regretted her decision to quit the teaching job she loved and move three thousand miles to be with him.
She tried once more to comfort Daniel. "You know Story. She probably stopped to pet every puppy between here and the school. She's easily distracted."
Daniel leaned back in his chair, eyelids drooping a little, transforming before her eyes into the playboy he resembled. "Don't I know it?"
Satisfied that she'd taken his mind off the possibility her best friend hated her new job, Hayden took another sip of wine and continued to ignore Brent's unwavering gaze. She hated it when he did this. Fixated on her and refused to look away. He looked like a hungry wolf stalking a lamb. As though he also couldn't wait for the opportunity to tell her once again how pampered and pointless he found her posh, Upper West Side lifestyle.
Daniel, all restless energy once again, hopped up from the table. "You guys want another drink? I'm buying."
"I'll come with you," Matt said, shooting a knowing look between Brent and Hayden.
The second Daniel and Matt moved out of earshot toward the bar, Hayden's glass clunked down on the table. "Could you try just a pinch harder to be less of a spectacular asshole? He's worried enough. You don't need to make it worse with your douche-bag sorcery."
"I'm making it worse? Why don't you sew his name into his underwear and send him off to summer camp?" He tilted his head. "Not all of us had nannies growing up. Some of us can take care of ourselves."
She felt her neck flush as the barb struck home, but she refused to let her reaction show on her face. It would be a cold day in hell before she let him know how much being summed up as a helpless socialite bothered her. "There's a time and a place for insults. Learn the difference, dickhead."
Brent leaned across the table, his jaw tight. "I don't need lessons on how to talk to my friend."
"Disagree. I think you need lessons on quite a few things."
If she'd blinked, she would have missed the telltale tic in his cheek, a sign she'd come to recognize as his temper stirring. Brent might be lacking in polite social skills and empathy, but he made up for it in pride. "Yeah? And who's going to teach me those lessons? You?"
His expression transformed with the sensual challenge, and he drawled the final word with such skepticism, her spine went rigid. Dammit, he always made it sexual. He knew it shut her down. Forced her to back off. She could throw around insults with the best of them — just not about sex. Though she was far from a blushing virgin, she'd never hit her stride in that department. When she dated, it was usually to keep her mother off her back. The dates very rarely ended up in bed. And if they did end up "shaking the sheets," it frequently ended in disappointment.
Hayden couldn't quite put her finger on what she needed. She just knew she needed more. Not love. No, no. Nor did she want polite sex. Or affectionate sex. She needed something else.
"What's wrong, rich girl?" Brent grinned and sipped his beer. "Afraid you'd like it too much?"
"No," she responded a little too quickly. "I'm afraid you would like it too much and I'd never get rid of your lumbering ass."
Hayden's mouth snapped shut. It was the first time she'd ever responded to one of his endless sexual innuendos in kind. She tried not to panic when he did an interested double take.
"Is that right?"
She raised her chin in response, frowning when his gaze briefly landed on her lips.
"How exactly would you make me like it, duchess?"
A sarcastic brush-off sat poised on the tip of her tongue, but she held it back. This game had gotten old and he'd grown too sure of himself. A new idea began to formulate in her mind. One Brent wouldn't see coming. She'd call his bluff. He insisted on turning their arguments sexual to quiet her down? He didn't think the spoiled debutante could keep up? Well, this time she'd see just how far he was willing to take the game. Not far, she guessed. Hoped. The idea of voluntarily touching each other had to be just as abhorrent to him. Which is exactly what she wanted.
Tonight, they'd finally declare a winner of this ongoing battle of wits and wills.
When she unbuttoned the top two buttons on her shirt and let the material gape, Brent's beer bottle froze halfway to his mouth. His Adam's apple bobbed a little as he glimpsed her exposed flesh. That's right, I'm wearing my best matching underwear set, sucker. And I'm finished backing down.
Her voice dropped to a seductive purr. "It would be so much more fun to show you."
* * *
Well, I'll be damned. She's not completely made of ice.
Brent tried not to be obvious as he shifted in his seat to accommodate the swelling flesh between his legs. Unfortunately, tonight didn't mark the first occasion Her Highness had made him so hard he couldn't sit still. It did, however, mark the first occasion she'd done it intentionally.
Across the table, her eyes issued an unmistakable challenge. What the hell was her game? Any other night, she would have turned her pert little nose up at his baiting question and given him her patented ice-princess frown. Something was definitely up.
Since the night they met, the two of them had mixed about as well as orange juice and toothpaste. He rigged explosives for the NYPD Emergency Service Unit. She flitted about all day organizing charity functions and dinner parties for Manhattan's elite. He lived in a blue-collar neighborhood in Queens. She lived in a massive town house in one of the wealthiest parts of the city. He wore jeans and T-shirts. She wore tight, knee-length skirts and expensive blouses. If the circumstances were different, she would never share a table with him.
That was the part that got to him the most. Every word out of her mouth, every haughty glance in his direction, was designed to let him know she had better things to do. Better people to spend her time with.
Then there were those fucking stockings. The thing about her that drove him absolutely crazy. An anomaly he couldn't figure out. From her perfectly styled chocolate-brown hair down to her knees, she looked prim and proper. Like she spent hours at the gym, all the while refusing to give anyone a peek of what all that hard work had yielded. But that careful polish ended with her legs. Tonight, tightly woven fishnet stockings disappeared up underneath her skintight gray skirt. Other days, she wore sheer black tights with a thick line running down the backs of her calves. Frankly, it infuriated him that she couldn't just stick to one look. Die-hard prude or closet sex kitten. Which was it?
His mind drifted back to the gauntlet she'd just tossed down on the table. It would be so much more fun to show you. If she thought he wouldn't accept her challenge, she was in for a huge surprise. If for no other reason, he'd swallow his dislike of her for a chance to mess up her artfully coiffed hair. There was another reason, however. Hayden might irritate him at every turn, but damn if he didn't spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what it'd be like to have her beneath him. All that holier-than-thou hostility channeled into something productive for once.
Oh yeah, he'd love the chance to pound out this ridiculous, inconvenient attraction for someone he didn't even like. Maybe then he could stop fantasizing about her every time they were in the same room. Picturing her bent over his dining room table in her stockings. Only her stockings. Giving him that look that said I've been such a bad girl, Brent.
When he didn't answer her question right away, he saw her confidence falter. Yup, definitely up to something. Bluffing him? Maybe she thought it would be funny to get the non-Ivy League-educated roughneck hot and bothered, then prance out of the bar, leaving him with an epic cockstand. Not going to happen, baby.
Well, the epic cockstand was unavoidable, but at least it would be on his terms.
"What exactly is your idea of showing me, duchess?" He smirked. "Silk sheets, candlelight the gentle strains of Kenny G. I'd love to see how the other half fucks."
Something flared behind her eyes as she sat straighter in her chair. Brent barely had the willpower to keep his eyes off her breasts as they pressed snugly against her blouse, putting her smooth cleavage on display for him. When her tongue skated across her lips, leaving them glistening, he swallowed hard. "On second thought, who doesn't love a little saxophone in the bedroom?"
Hayden's finger slid through the condensation on the side of her wineglass. "How do you know?"
Her eyelids drew up slowly as if weighed down by arousal. "How do you know we'll even make it to the bedroom?"
His mouth went dry. "Come again?"
"That would be the plan."
As soon as the heat-inducing words left her mouth, Daniel and Matt returned with their round of drinks. Brent wanted to growl at his friends' shitty timing. He and Hayden both retreated, him reluctantly leaning back in his chair, Hayden crossing those mysterious legs. Damn. Just how far was she willing to take this game? He might not like her, he might resent the hell out of her superior attitude, but he'd sure as hell love to find out once and for all what lay at the top of those stockings. No way would she let him get that far, though. Wouldn't want his dirty, workingman's hands on her perfectly toned thighs.
Daniel's chair scraped back, snapping him out of his thoughts. "She's here."
"Thank God," he and Hayden muttered at the same time, followed by a mutual eye-roll.
Brent stood, unable to stop his sigh of relief when he saw Story walking toward them wearing a huge smile and waving in their direction. Daniel lifted her into a bear hug, then sat her down on his lap. Two months later, Brent could still hardly believe how fast and hard his womanizing best friend had fallen. If he wasn't so damn happy for the guy, he would have groaned at the way Daniel couldn't stop staring at the sunny, fedora-wearing blonde perched on his lap.
"You guys like the hat I bought on the way here?" Story looked between the guys and Hayden. "Am I hat girl?"
Hayden tilted her head. "You could definitely be hat girl. I'd like to see more options, though. Top hat, beanie maybe the kind with the spinner on top?"
"A Mets hat," Brent interjected.
Story laughed and stroked the back of Daniel's neck. "So what are we doing tonight? Mexican food? I could drink my weight in sangria —"
Daniel shook his head, "My place."
"Already? I just got here." Story looked surprised, but when Daniel whispered something against her ear, she took a shaky breath and nodded. "Your place it is."
"Brent, Matt, can you —" Daniel started.
"Don't worry." Brent gave Hayden a slow grin. "I'll make sure Ms. Winstead gets home."
Daniel didn't wait for a response, taking Story's hand and dragging her from the bar.
"Bye, guys!" Story called over her shoulder.
Hayden gave her friend a halfhearted salute, then refocused on Brent. "I'm not letting you drive me anywhere. You've been drinking."
Brent held up the bottle so she could see the label. "Nonalcoholic." He barely contained his laughter when her chin only went up another notch. "I don't drink during the week."
"Lucky me," she said under her breath.
"That would be the plan."
Hayden's eyes widened as he tossed her words back in her face, right in front of Matt.
Matt not-so-discreetly checked his watch. "Damn, would you look at the time?" He pushed back his chair, then followed in Daniel and Story's wake. "Try not to kill each other. I like this place."
"You ready to call it a night, too?" Brent picked up his fresh beer and winked at Hayden. "Or do you want to keep going?"
"Call it a night?" She tossed her hair back over one shoulder. "We're only getting started."
Excerpted from Asking for Trouble by Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2013 Tessa Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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