Read an Excerpt
Game for Trouble
a Game for It novel
By Karen Erickson, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Karen Erickson
All rights reserved.
Willow Cavanaugh entered the property management office at precisely five minutes before the scheduled meeting time. The receptionist who greeted her led the way to a small, empty conference room, encouraging Willow to have a seat, make herself comfortable, and did she want anything to drink while she waited?
Considering she might barf from even a few sips of water, she was so nervous, Willow offered a polite no thank you and a smile, watching the very young, extremely chirpy receptionist bounce out of the room.
The moment the receptionist shut the door behind her, Willow collapsed in a chair, placing her sleek black leather portfolio on the table in front of her. She was a wreck. She'd hardly slept last night, no thanks to her worry over today's meeting. How much her life could change if things actually went her way ...
This appointment could be the most important of her career. Of her entire life. She'd finally found the dream location for her catering business: a storefront with tiny rooms she could use to consult with clients and a large room in the back of the building where she could create and package all of her product.
The location was prime. The size of the space — perfect. And the cost of the lease was pretty close to ideal. She couldn't afford to let this location get away from her. There was nothing else on the market that fit her needs more perfectly than this building.
She was running out of room at her little house — her business was growing so fast she could hardly keep up. Five years ago, she'd been drifting, wondering what the heck she was doing with her life. Never could she have imagined creating a variety of both artificial and organic flavors of cotton candy and making them available for birthday parties, wedding and baby showers, graduation parties, and just for fun with her friends could turn into something so much bigger than she'd ever hoped. Not to mention her cotton candy cocktails, which were becoming a major hit at bachelorette parties.
Now she was booked months in advance with a variety of parties. She turned people away and had wait lists, which blew her mind. She needed more space, more employees, more ...
Tapping her foot against the floor, she checked her phone and saw that it was one minute past the scheduled time. She hated being late. Sorta hated those who were late even more. There was nothing worse. She flat out didn't have the patience for being kept waiting. Had little patience for anything lately, really.
Including a certain man who drove her insane. Why did everything have to circle back to him?
Damn Nick Hamilton and his charming, no-good ways. Her former lover and, if she were being honest, the first real love of her life always knew how to barge right back into her life and mess with her head.
Six years ago, for a few blissful months, the summer he'd been in training before he started as a tight end with the San Jose Hawks football team, they'd had a momentous, life-changing affair. She'd fallen madly in love with him. And he'd left her in his dust — a hard, painful life lesson that still hurt every time she saw him.
God, she'd had her hands all over him that night at the restaurant with the team, when she'd been there as a sort of wing-woman for Sheridan after she married the Hawks' quarterback, Jared Quinn. One look at Nick and she'd wanted him. He'd dragged her outside and next thing she knew, she'd been in his arms. His mouth on hers, how he kissed her ... her stomach fluttered just thinking about it. That he could still work her up into a complete frenzy with only a few words, a touch, and a kiss infuriated her. She should hate his guts forever for how easily he made her want him.
But she didn't. More like she feared if he walked into the room at this very moment and demanded she give him a blowjob with that dangerously sexy smile of his, she'd probably do it, no questions asked.
Clearly, her last encounter — hell, all of her encounters — with Nick left her thinking like an idiot.
Nick Hamilton was bad for her. Unhealthy. An addiction.
She'd really not even thought of Nick for years. Fine, the Hawks came to the Monterey area for their summer training, but she never saw him around. But then Sheridan had to go and marry Jared, throwing Willow right back into Nick's path.
He'd been hotly pursuing her ever since.
The door swung open, and a man appeared, dressed in khakis and a white button-up shirt, his wheat-colored hair buzzed short. She automatically stood when he came at her with his hand out.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Miss Cavanaugh. I'm Frank Benson." He gave her hand a hearty shake before he sat across from her at the table.
She settled in her chair and offered him a pleasant smile. This was the property management representative who she'd made the appointment with, but she'd been told the owner of the property would be in attendance as well. "Is the owner coming?"
"Absolutely." Frank nodded, opening and glancing over the manila folder he'd brought in with him. "He just called and said he'd be here in ten minutes."
Fuming quietly, she pasted on her best fake smile. Didn't they realize her career was on the line here? Her future depended on this new location. She couldn't expand if she didn't have the space, and she couldn't afford any other space. "Perhaps we could start the meeting without him?"
Frank flicked his gaze up to meet hers. "Of course. I could answer any questions you may have in regards to the property, though regarding any financial dealings, the owner stated specifically he wanted to be here before we get to those discussions."
Right. Those discussions. Problem? The lease amount was still a bit high for her rather limited budget, though still cheaper than what she'd looked at in the recent past. The location was perfect, the biggest selling point in her eyes. And she refused to ask her dad for help. Walter Cavanaugh was a successful sports attorney who represented many famous athletes, including plenty of Hawks players. He had more money than he knew what to do with, and he always stressed how much he wanted to help her.
But there would be no more "loans" from Daddy. She needed to do this on her own.
She'd hoped to knock the owner down a bit, even as little as a few hundred a month, though she preferred more, especially since the location had sat empty for a while. She'd done her research, gathering every piece of information she could about the building. The only bit of info she couldn't figure out was who the owner could be.
A secret investor had been brought in well over a year ago to fund and refurbish the entire shopping center. The location she wanted had an interior structure that wasn't what the average business owner was looking for. In her eyes, it was ideal. Perfect. A wedding and event planner's office was located in the same shopping center. A bakery that specialized in wedding cakes was across the street, right next to the bridal gown and accessory store. It was like the four corners of wedding central. She needed to be in this location just to increase business.
Yet she couldn't quite afford it.
Letting her smile grow, she adjusted her thick, black-framed glasses. She wore them when she worked, when she wanted to be taken seriously. There was no getting around it — people took one look at her face and judged her. Too pretty, too spoiled, too ... everything.
Fine. She was pretty. She had been destined to be from the moment she was born — her mother had been a beauty-queen-slash-supermodel. Her father had exquisite taste. All of his ex-wives were gorgeous.
Sometimes Willow's pretty face got her nothing but trouble, so she downplayed the looks. She didn't want to intimidate men and make women hate her.
"I have no problem waiting for the owner before we discuss the financials, but I would like to know a few more details." She opened her portfolio, thumbing through the lists she'd scribbled on a notepad when the door cracked open and the receptionist stepped into the room, all flushed cheeks and dreamy-eyed.
"Sorry to interrupt, but the owner has arrived." Giggling, the receptionist stepped aside ...
And the very bane of Willow's existence strode into the room, looking as if he hadn't a care in the world.
Horror rendered her still for one infinite moment. She stared at him, saw the smug smile on his face, and her fist instantly curled. If she had the balls to slug him, she would.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Willow snapped the moment the receptionist shut the door.
"Uhhh," Frank mumbled but she ignored him. Her eyes were focused on stupid, irritating Nick Hamilton standing there, larger than life, gorgeous as all get out, clad in jeans and an untucked black button-up shirt, sleeves rolled to reveal those strong, sexy forearms that shouldn't do a thing for her.
Nope, not a damn thing.
"Well, I'm a little late but not enough to have you cursin' at me." He smiled, revealing straight, white teeth. The tingles that swept over her at the sight of his irritating-as-hell smile irritated her further. "I'm here for my appointment. With you."
* * *
Willow gaped at him, those ridiculous black glasses she wore somehow making her look cuter. She pressed her full, luscious lips together then opened them again, though not a sound came out.
Look at that. He'd just rendered her silent. A miracle he needed to note with the date and time because he never thought he'd see the likes of Willow Cavanaugh at a loss for words. She'd given him an unending rash of shit since they came back into each other's lives a few months ago.
When they weren't lip-locked, that is. Kissing Willow was his only guarantee he could shut her up.
He'd been following Willow Cavanaugh around for what felt like fuckin' forever, though it had only been a few months. Chasing after her like a dog with his tongue hanging out, tripping over it every time she gave him the finger, both literally and figuratively. Plenty of that sort of rejection had been going down since the moment he set eyes on her again, after they'd done everything to avoid each other for the past six years.
"W-what are you talking about, your appointment with me? We d-didn't have an appointment," she stuttered. That smooth, glossy composure he caught a glimpse of when he stepped into the room was gone — shattered by his presence. And damn if he didn't love that.
"The building you're interested in. I own it." He held his hand out as if he wanted to shake hers. Really, he wanted to take that slender hand with the perfectly polished pink nails in his and yank her to him. Whisper in her ear all the dirty, wicked things he wanted to do to her. With her.
That first sight of Willow after having her absent from his life had nearly knocked the wind clean out of him. He'd gone to some local festival thing with Jared, shocked all to hell to see Willow Cavanaugh in the flesh, working a catering booth. She owned the business, she'd told him.
With her rich-as-hell bastard of a father, she could have anything she wanted, but she was running her own catering business. Talk about a surprise. The Willow he remembered had no problem playing the spoiled rich girl role.
She'd looked different. More ...grown up. Besides the obviously gorgeous curves that were more defined and made his hands itch to explore, there was that woman's face. Skeptical, with narrow dark brown eyes and an expression that said she'd seen it all and wasn't impressed.
Damn if that expression didn't make him want to work his hardest to wrap her around his little finger. She'd been so easy the first time; hell, so had he. They'd fallen foolishly in love — yes, he wasn't afraid to say the word love, damn it. She'd been the one for him.
Then Walter Cavanaugh had come to him and warned Nick to stay the fuck out of his daughter's life. Insulted him up one side and down the other, insisting his daughter was too good for the likes of some no good dumbass football-playing hick from Texas.
Thinking about that little speech Walter gave him all those years ago still hurt like hell. His chest ached with the memory.
He still remembered that first moment he came to Monterey for his rookie season of summer training camp. The area was nothing like the dusty little town he'd grown up in, smack dab in the middle of Texas.
He'd been in awe of the pretty little thing he first caught sight of hanging around the football field, with those long, tanned legs, long, dark hair and a smile that she flashed special just for him.
Well, he'd tossed that right in the can, hadn't he?
An idea had bloomed in his mind a few days ago when he'd discovered he owned the very building she wanted to lease for her growing business. She wanted it real bad, too. For whatever reason, word on the street was Ms. Independent refused to take any money from her father to help with her business. She'd been such a daddy's girl back in the day, this surprised Nick. But no, she was looking for a reasonable business space to lease, and she was having a hell of a time finding it, especially since she wanted to move her business into a specific area of town.
Nick had invested in a few properties in the Monterey Bay. He happened to own a shopping center in that area — with the space she was interested in. Very interested in, though she would die if she knew he was the owner. And wouldn't that just eat at her daddy's soul if he knew Nick Hamilton was his daughter's landlord?
But damn it, he truly believed Willow was worth the aggravation. Which meant Nick had a fight on his hands. He loved a fight. Lived for the damn fight. Look at what he did for a living. Went to war against another team over a stupid ball. Fighting was in his blood. Miss Sassy and Gorgeous-as-hell Willow Cavanaugh did not scare him.
Well. She might scare him a little bit.
"You're lying. How do you know about my interest in the building?" she asked after clearing her throat.
"Considering I'm the owner like I just said, I know exactly who's interested in leasing my building." He settled into the seat next to hers, barely able to restrain the laugh that wanted to escape when she scooted her chair away from him. It was almost entertaining, the lengths she took to keep a certain amount of distance between them.
"Please. I don't know how you found out about this, but quit trying to trick me. I'm rattled enough. I don't need you here trying to shake me up further," she said.
Interesting. So he shook her up, huh? And here she seemed cool, calm, and collected every time he came around. Well, sorta. He'd shaken her up a few times. Always when he touched her, laid a big kiss on her that left her in a near stumbling state. She usually composed herself quickly, though. She was damn good at that.
He had no idea he'd been blowing her ever-lovin' mind these last few months. This sort of information could only help, not hinder, his plan.
"I'm not playing any sort of trick on you, Will," he murmured, leaning in so only she could hear him. He inhaled her sweet-like-candy scent and let his gaze wander over the length of her elegant neck. Her long, silky dark hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail, and he had the sudden urge to grab hold of it, jerk her head back, and kiss her until they were both stupid with wanting each other.
She'd probably nail him in the nuts and leave him writhing on the floor if he so much as touched her.
He was so lost in his thoughts of how he could actually get his hands on Willow, he didn't notice her penetrating stare until it was too late. Moving away from her, he slowly shook his head. "It's not what you think."
"You own the building." She didn't phrase it as a question. "You. You're the mystery owner."
It was like she had to reiterate that he was indeed the owner so the information would sink into her stubborn brain.
"I didn't realize I was such a mystery you were hoping to solve." He smiled, but when she only scowled back, he let the smile drop.
He was lying. Hell yeah, he'd made sure no one knew who he was when he bought the property. Not that he'd been trying to entice Willow in any way — that ended up pure dumb luck. His favorite place in the whole damn world was the Monterey Bay.
Excerpted from Game for Trouble by Karen Erickson, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Karen Erickson. 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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