Read an Excerpt
Dare to Resist
A Wedding Dare Novella
By Laura Kaye, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Laura Kaye
All rights reserved.
Kady Dresco had just kicked some major ass. She'd probably never done a better job giving a presentation. As she'd spoken, she'd literally seen the officers' enthusiasm for her proposals as they'd sat forward in their seats, asked smart, engaged questions, and then sat back, nodding and satisfied with her answers. Though she was totally squeeing and fist-pumping and Elaine-dancing on the inside, she contained her excitement as she closed PowerPoint, gathered her presentation materials, and stood at the head of the conference table.
"Thank you for the opportunity to present today," Kady said, her heart thumping against her breastbone, especially as a crash of thunder punctuated her words. Rain drummed a steady beat on the roof and windows as she glanced around the long table, making eye contact with the group of army officers responsible for hiring someone to head up the creation and installation of special computer security programs for a new army training facility in the middle of the Nevada desert. The room in which she stood, like the building and the entire base, was brand-new and still under construction, which was why the only decor were the American and army flags standing on tall poles in one corner.
"Very impressive, Miss Dresco," Colonel Jepsen said, rising from his chair and extending his hand. The camouflaged sleeve of the older man's combat uniform reminded her for the hundredth time that her biggest competition for this contract — not to mention biggest nemesis since she was a kid — had the advantage of being former military. Colton Brooks, her brother Tyler's best friend. But Kady had innovation and sheer coding genius on her side, and right now, she was looking forward to a little good-natured gloating when she saw him.
"Thank you," Kady said, forcing her mind back to the task at hand — sealing the deal. She shook the colonel's hand and met his hard blue gaze. "I'd be happy to write up a contract for your review tonight if we have an agreement, sir. Do we?"
For a split second, surprise widened his eyes and lifted his eyebrows, then he smiled and squeezed her hand a little harder. "I like your attitude. We'll move as fast as we can on this decision and be in touch soon. You can count on that."
Kady smiled, gathered her things, and said a round of good-byes to the two majors, one captain, and one second lieutenant in the room. Then, as a booming clap of thunder shook the building, she followed the colonel out of the conference room, through what would eventually be the suite of offices housing the base's top brass, to a reception area where her competition sat.
Two men who couldn't be more different in every way.
Albert Beckstein, a round little man who sweated even when it was cool and who always took potshots aimed at making her feel like she couldn't possibly know as much about computer security as someone who'd pulled off the biggest hack of 1991 and emerged on the other side of a prison sentence to build a career in computer security. That she'd been a toddler then only made her a bigger target, as far as Beckstein was concerned. Not that Kady cared what the little weasel of a man thought, especially since they both knew she'd hacked past two of his security systems, enabling her to steal a contract right out from under him just last year.
No. Albert Beckstein was good in his own by-the-book way, but he wasn't her true competition.
Her gaze swung to the wall of windows where Colton Brooks stood staring out at the driving rain. Before this trip, she hadn't laid eyes on him since she'd gone home for the holidays six months before. Every time she saw him, the pure masculine appeal of the man sucker punched her anew, as if while separated her mind blocked out the memory of him out of self-preservation. But, God, he was beyond gorgeous when he wasn't talking. So gorgeous she could almost forget he was the most exasperating man on the planet. The navy suit jacket emphasized the breadth of his shoulders and his still-trim waist, even three years after retiring from the military. Though you could tell the guy was fit, the suit did nothing to reveal just how damn ripped he was. But she'd seen and felt it with her own eyes and hands, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't make herself forget it.
As he turned, she caught the square cut of his strong jaw and the muscle there that always ticked when he was irritated with her, as he must've been now. And then those intense brown eyes were on her, evaluating and surveying her like he could read her thoughts and command her body as he'd once done several years ago ...
Not going there, Kady. Ever again. Right.
In addition to all that, the guy wasn't just pretty to look at. He was a decorated war hero and one of the best minds in their field. Just, you know, not as good as her. She smiled to herself as she drank him in, from dark-brown hair to black dress shoes. Yep, he was all that and a bag of chips. Man, how she'd love to eat him up and lick her fingers clean.
"Finally done?" Colton asked, arching a brow.
Kady smirked and ignored the question, since she'd waited through their presentations and ignoring Colton had the bonus of being one of the best ways to goad him, and turned to the colonel. "Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you and your staff. It was a very engaging conversation, and I look forward to working with you." She shook the man's hand again and he gave her a smile. This job was so hers. She basked in the rising irritation she could almost feel pouring off the other two men.
"I'll be in touch," Colonel Jepsen said. "Gentlemen." He gave the men a nod and retreated into the office suite. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed bright enough to reflect off the wall in front of Kady.
"How'd it go, Barbie?" Beckstein said as he hoisted himself from his seat and lifted an ancient briefcase into his beefy palm.
Kady tsked. "Al," she said using the nickname she knew he hated. "Don't you know anything? Barbie was blond and would've been at least five nine. At five three and with black hair, I'm much more of a ... Catwoman." She walked up to him and could nearly look him in the eyes he was so short. "You have something ..." She grimaced and pointed to a crumb stuck to his tie. He batted it away with a deep frown. "Yes, so feel free to call me Selina, if you can't remember Kady. I'd be happy to be named after a character who was a great thief," she said with a pause she knew he'd understand since he'd accused her of that very thing last year, "and a great crime-fighter."
Colton's stifled snicker behind her made the treat of dressing down Beckstein all the sweeter, especially as the little man's face turned beet red. Not everyone in her field was the outright arrogant, sexist asshole Beckstein was, but she'd gotten used to dealing with men who didn't take her seriously in professional situations. Turned out being a young, petite woman mattered more to some people than the fact that she could write complex code half asleep and with one arm tied behind her back. That was part of the reason she needed to win this contract. It was exactly the feather in the cap of her portfolio that would garner her the respect — and the promotion — she deserved in her firm.
"Now," she said, turning to the man she'd crushed on since about the time she got her first bra. Crushed. As in, in the past. Not anymore. Nope. "Do you want to call the transport driver or should I?" Because the facility was new, a few miles from a one-stoplight town, and required special clearances to enter, a driver had been assigned to shuttle them from the airport nearly ninety minutes away to the base and back again after all their presentations were complete. The three of them represented the finalist companies in what she understood had been a quite competitive request for proposals.
"No need," he said, making a big show of checking the chunky black military watch he wore. How a watch could be so damn sexy, Kady didn't know. But the simple movement — from the flick of his wrist that hiked up his suit coat to the way the muscle on his forearm popped — was pure masculine poetry in motion. Bastard. "He's been here for nearly half an hour. We've all been waiting." Colton's eyebrow arched again as he retrieved his laptop case from a chair.
Kady suppressed an eye roll. "Oh, well. Why didn't you say so? Come on already," she said, heading into the hallway and feeling Colton's gaze bore into her back. "And don't blame me that my presentation went longer. I can't help it if they were totally engaged by my plans."
"Sure they weren't asking questions because you'd talked over their heads and left them confused?" Beckstein asked from behind her.
Kady scoffed and tossed a glance over her shoulder. "You know as well as I do that I'm the best there is at boiling complicated concepts into completely accessible explanations, Al. So keep dreaming if it makes you feel better."
No response. Exactly. She smiled at Beckstein's silence.
Walking right beside her, Colton was like a big, gorgeous, brooding mountain. She glanced his way, and sure enough, he was staring down at her in that intense and penetrating way he had. The heat of a flush crawled up her neck. "What?" she asked, hating that he didn't even have to say anything to get under her skin.
He pressed his lips together and shook his head, which of course drew her gaze to his mouth and made her remember how he —
Nope. Don't go there. She blew out a deep breath.
They continued down the hall, the click of her heels on the tile floor and the intermittent thunder the only sounds. Finally, they entered a large rectangular lobby decorated with flags and portraits of the president and the base's commanding officer.
A young soldier stood by the glass front doors talking on his cell phone. He turned when he heard them and gave a nod. "Yes. I understand. What about going east across —" He paused. "Roger that. I'll take them there." He lowered the phone and approached, a troubled expression on his young face. "Sirs, ma'am, I'm afraid we have a hiccup in the plans."
"What is it, Soldier?" Colton asked.
The guy gestured toward the doors. "Looks like monsoon season came a little early this year, sir," he said. "The storm's washed out the roads, which doesn't matter much since the airport's grounded all flights for the rest of the day due to the wind and lightning."
Kady frowned and mentally ran damage control on tomorrow's schedule.
"That's not a hiccup. That's a disaster," Beckstein said, mopping his brow. "I have work to do. A company to run. What exactly are we supposed to do now?" He turned on her. "This is all your fault."
She inhaled to respond when Colton held a hand up to Beckstein. "That's not helping anyone, Al," he said.
Kady bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing at the little man's scowl. She shouldn't like the way Colton always stood up for her, especially when his sense of duty to her older brother played a role in the behavior, but she supposed it was mildly endearing. Sometimes.
"So what's plan B?" Colton asked the soldier.
"I've been authorized to take you to the motel in town whenever you're ready." He slipped his phone into his pocket.
"Lead the way," Colton said, tucking his bag under the flap of his suit coat.
Kady sighed as she followed the soldier out the door and into wind blowing so hard the rain pelted sideways. Hugging her bags to her chest to protect her laptop, she ran for the white government van knowing no matter how fast she moved she was going to be soaked. This was one of those times when it was a good thing she wasn't high maintenance.
"Think it'll rain today?" Colton called over the deluge.
Kady couldn't hold back a smile. "It's the freaking desert, Brooks. Never rains here." She clambered into the van's middle seat, her feet floating in her heels and her cute white blouse plastered to her skin. Which reminded her that she didn't have any other clothes with her.
Maybe there was a store in town where she could pick up a few basics? If not, she'd be putting the blow-dryer to good use so she at least had something to sleep in. No matter. It was just one night. She could make do. As long as she had her laptop and her personal hot spot, she could be happy just about anywhere.
When Beckstein took the front passenger seat, Colton tugged the sliding door to the back shut and shifted into the seat in front of her. He gazed over his shoulder, his mouth half open with some smart-ass comment no doubt, when he did a double take and turned toward her, a scowl darkening his expression. The next thing she knew he was shrugging out of his suit jacket and handing it over the seat to her. "Put this on," he said in a low voice. "Now."
"Excuse me?" she said. His bossiness was totally not one of his more endearing qualities.
He arched a brow and gave her a pointed look.
Kady gazed down at herself. Oh. Oh, shit. The rain had turned the crisp cotton of her favorite white button-down with the square neckline and the ruffle collar absolutely sheer. So sheer the pattern in the lace of her bra showed through. Meeting his gaze again, she rolled her eyes but accepted the jacket. "Thanks," she said, muscling back any embarrassment. After all, it wasn't like this was the first time he'd seen her breasts.
Before she had the suit coat halfway on, she already knew agreeing to wear it was a huge mistake. Because it smelled frickin' fantastic. Like clean soap and spicy aftershave and something entirely Colton — in other words, something entirely intoxicating. Her mouth watered and her heart raced, and that irritated her because damnit she hated that he had this kind of power over her body. And it wasn't even him touching her. Not that he would. Or that she would let him.
She was pretty sure he'd met and exceeded her tolerance for humiliation this decade, thank you very much. Not that she cared anymore. Their one night together was ancient history as far as she was concerned. And she'd be surprised if he ever thought of it at all.
"It's wet," she said as the rain-chilled wool settled on her shoulders.
"Not as wet as you," he murmured.
She gaped up at him and ... yup. His blazing eyes and ticking jaw told her he was fully aware of the double entendre of his words — and that those words had the power to heat her cheeks — and other places. Kady bit down on the snarky response that flew to the tip of her tongue: Wouldn't you like to know? Colton had always given good banter, but why the hell was he pulling out the innuendo when he'd been the one to back off and decide the two of them together was a bad idea? She tugged the jacket closed. It was so big, it easily crossed over her chest in overlapping layers. "Happy?"
"Ecstatic," he deadpanned, lips pressed tight and eyes narrowed. As the van got under way, he glanced forward, allowing her to drink in his profile. The rain had turned his hair nearly black and she had to fist her hands against the urge to catch the droplets of water running down his jaw with her fingers. Or her tongue.
They hit an alignment-destroying rut in the road and Kady threw out her arms to steady herself on a surprised cry. One hand grasped the back of the seat in front of her, brushing Colton's forearm in the process.
His gaze cut back to her and his eyes narrowed at the gap in the front of the suit jacket her position had created. "Better hold on tight, cupcake."
"Oh, don't worry, Colt, I will," she said, returning his annoying term of endearment with the nickname she knew he found equally grating. His gaze was almost a physical caress on her face and breasts, but Kady refused to meet it because she didn't want him to see that his words had affected her again. But in truth, the stupid little term of endearment curled anger into her belly because it took her right back to the night three years before when the competitiveness and tension between them had flashed red hot and led to the single most intense sexual experience of her life. And they hadn't even had sex. Not because she hadn't wanted to, but because Colton had developed second thoughts and declared the whole thing a mistake.
The wheels caught in another pothole that tossed Kady in her seat.
Their hookup had happened at the party welcoming Colton home from the military. Before that night, she'd only seen him now and then when he'd come home on leave and hung out with her brother. But that night, from the moment she'd seen Colton out on the back deck leaning against the railing, beer in hand and absolutely glorious smile on his suntanned face, he'd totally stolen her breath. During his two tours in the army, he'd gone from a gorgeous boy to an incredibly hot man who had the filled-out, muscular body, survival skills, and wartime experiences to justify the arrogance that had always been part of his personality. Her friend Regan, who had a knack for summing people up in just three words, didn't refer to Colton as a loyal, driven badass for nothing.
Kady could certainly agree with the "ass" part anyway.
"Well, damn. Is that really you, cupcake?" Those were the first words he'd said to her that night. The nickname had been cute for about five minutes when she'd been, like, thirteen, and afterward he'd continued to call her that simply because he knew it annoyed her.
And though she'd teased right back that eight years in the military apparently hadn't changed him at all, it hadn't taken her long to realize that wasn't actually the case. Because all night, Colton had looked at her differently. Like, for the first time in their lives, he actually saw her, and not just Tyler's little sister. Her. Kady. The twenty-three-year-old woman.
Excerpted from Dare to Resist by Laura Kaye, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2014 Laura Kaye. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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