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I want James Sutton taken out, Cass.”
Cassie McPherson smiled at her father’s gangster phrasing. It wasn’t that hard to picture Al McPherson toting a Tommy machine gun and issuing orders like the Godfather. As reigning chieftain of the McPherson clan and founder and president of M & M Construction, Big Al wasn’t a man you messed with.
“I don’t think we have anything to worry about, Dad.” She cradled the phone with her shoulder and shifted through the stacks of paper on her desk, looking for her day planner. “We both know that Sutton is low-balling. Either his employees are working for dirt cheap or he’s losing money.”
“Either way, I don’t like it. The Calloway Complex is the fifth project we’ve lost to him this year.” Big Al’s voice became louder, as it always did when he was losing his temper. “And I heard from Michaels that he’s wining and dining Steve Mitchell, hoping to get Slumber Suites away from us.”
Cassie found the planner, but not a pen. “Now, Dad, stop getting upset. It’s been only a few weeks since your heart surgery, and the doctor said you’re supposed to take it easy. I shouldn’t even be talking to you about work.”
There was a loud snort on the other end. “Bullshit! It’s my company, and I’m going to run it. And I’m sure as hell not going to let some young whelp straight out of grade school put me out of business.”
She located a pen beneath a Snickers wrapper. She stared at the small smudge of chocolate on the side and had to stifle the urge to lick it clean. “Calm down. He doesn’t have enough capital or clout to put us out of business. We could buy his company with pocket change.”
Her father snorted again, but this time with less anger and more humor. “That’s my girl. You think just like your dad.”
“I’ve been working on a plan to take care of Sutton.”
“A plan? Dad, it better not be anything that’s going to put you back in the hospital—or worse, in jail. Have you talked to the boys about it?” She used the edge of an envelope to wipe the chocolate off, then flipped open the planner to jot down the meetings she wanted to have after the first of the year. Unfortunately, the planner was only good through December. So instead she jotted down a list of things she needed to get done before the holidays—including her dreaded Christmas shopping.
“Why would I talk to your brothers about business?” her father said. “They aren’t the least bit interested. I have four sons, and it’s my little girl who got the business sense in the family.”
Cassie rolled her eyes and rocked back in the chair, resting her Frye boots on the desk and crossing her ankles. “Dad, they all have good business sense and work their butts off for the company. They just don’t spend all their time thinking about business. Besides, who can blame them when you forced them to spend every summer vacation in high school doing the grunt work?”
“You did it and loved it.” He chuckled. “The guys on the crews used to call you Cast-iron Cassie because you pulled your own weight. Hell, you can even drink them under the table, just like your old dad.”
She sighed. “Okay, old Dad, enough already. Stop worrying about James Sutton. There’s no way that Steve Mitchell is going with Sutton, not when his father was so happy with the hotels we built for him. But after the holidays, I’ll set up a meeting with him just to be sure. No, you cannot be there. Mom would have both our hides.”
“Speaking of your mother,” her father whispered. “The vulture has landed.”
Cassie laughed. “Give Mom my love, and I’ll see both of you tonight at the Christmas party.” She dropped her feet to the floor and leaned forward to place the receiver in its cradle, knocking over a stack of invoices.
She glared at the mess. This was the part of her job she hated the most. Paperwork. She would much rather be on site, whether in Denver or another city, planning and watching as simple steel and hard work turned into an architectural piece of art. She loved the smell of welded metal and the sounds of heavy equipment. Respected every carpenter, electrician, and steelworker. Her father was right: Her brothers might work for the company, but construction was in her blood.
Too bad her mother didn’t think it was ladylike for Big Al’s only daughter to be working on site. So Cassie was given the position of vice president in charge of accounts—pretty much a glorified accountant.
She heaved a deep sigh and bent down to pick up the invoices. It could be worse. Her mother had almost talked her father into sending her to interior decorating school. Which would have been a real disaster. She’d much rather do paperwork for M & M than stand around with some stuffy socialite while she decided between floral or stripes. One day she would get up the nerve to talk to her father about being an architect full-time. But not now, not after he had just gone through triple-bypass surgery. He didn’t need something else to worry about. James Sutton was quite enough.
What was the man up to?
Cassie flopped back in the chair. Everything her father had said was true. They had lost a lot of business in the last year to Sutton Construction. Until recently, she hadn’t been overly concerned; they had lost jobs before and would lose them again. But now she wondered if maybe her father was right. Could James Sutton actually be stupid enough to think he could run them out of business? If so, she didn’t believe in hiding out and waiting for the bomb to drop.
She sat up and reached for her phone just as her executive assistant walked in the door, looking like a cute blond Christmas elf in her green business suit and bright red high heels.
“Hi, Amy.” Cassie placed the phone back in its cradle. “Just the person I wanted to see.”
“Aren’t I the lucky one,” Amy said sarcastically.
“Lucky for you, you’re my best bud or I’d fire you for insubordination.”
“Then who would be your whipping boy?”
A frown wrinkled Amy’s smooth brow. “Did you skip lunch again today?”
Cassie stood up, smoothing out the wrinkles of her jeans while discreetly brushing away any chocolate crumbs from her lap. “No.”
Amy walked over to the desk and lifted the Snickers wrapper. “I wouldn’t call peanuts and chocolate lunch.” She shook her head. “You should learn to eat a little neater, Cass. Then I wouldn’t catch you every time.”
“Okay, so I had a candy bar. Shoot me. I was planning on getting lunch. I just haven’t had time.”
Amy crumpled up the wrapper and threw it in the trash can. “Even when you have time, you get one of those foot-long, artery-clogging dogs from the vendor. Smothered in sauerkraut and hot mustard.”
The mere thought of a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and spicy mustard had Cassie’s mouth watering. God, what she wouldn’t give for a couple dogs and an ice-cold beer. Unfortunately, there were other things to worry about at the moment.
She walked around her desk and leaned on the edge. “Okay, I’ll bring a tuna fish sandwich on Monday.”
“Monday is Christmas.”
“Okay, so I’ll bring a turkey sandwich on Tuesday. Now, what have you found out about James Sutton?”
“You want it from the beginning?” When Cassie nodded, Amy started sorting through the piles of paper, organizing them as she talked. If there was a personality type that came before A, Amy was it. “Sutton was born in Pittsburgh and comes from a lower-middle-class family. His father worked in the steel mills, and his mother was a housewife until she died of cancer when he was fourteen. Which would probably explain why he goes through women so fast.”
Cassie shot her a befuddled look. “Huh?”
“I read this article about how young boys—especially pubescent boys—can be traumatized by the loss of a mother. I guess sometimes it can affect their adult relationships—either they can’t get enough women or they don’t like women at all.”
Cassie rolled her eyes. “Well, I don’t care if Sutton is a womanizer or gay. I just want to figure out how he’s underbidding us. What else did you learn?”
It took Amy a second to remember where she’d left off. “After high school, he went to Penn State, graduating with degrees in business and architectural engineering. Then, after college, he started building houses in Las Vegas. He got in right before the market exploded and made a fortune. After the bubble burst, he moved here and got into the commercial side of things.”
Cassie turned and stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the steel-gray skies. “So the guy has more money than we thought.”
“If he does, he doesn’t show it. He lives in a nice but modest neighborhood. Although maybe he spends all his money on women. From what his assistant said, he has quite a few.”
Cassie whipped around. “You talked with his assistant?”
“Yeah, the Internet can give you only so much info.”
“Who did you say you were?”
“Amy Walker, of course. The woman didn’t have a clue. I told her I was thinking about doing an article on her boss for the business section of the Denver Post. She was more than willing to sit and gab. I think she has a major crush.” She batted her eyelashes. “According to her, the man is a real hottie.”
“Not in my book. In my book, he’s the jerk responsible for my father’s heart attack.”
Amy looked up from the planner she’d been reading. “Right. Along with fourteen-hour work days, bad eating habits, and lack of exercise. Any of that sound familiar?”
Cassie ignored the comparisons. “Okay, so maybe Sutton isn’t entirely responsible, but he played a big role in it.” She grabbed the planner out from under Amy’s nose and flipped to the next week. “Set up a meeting with him on Monday.”
“Right. Then Tuesday.”
“Most people take the holidays off between Christmas and New Year’s.”
“I bet he doesn’t,” Cassie said. “Just try it.”
“Speaking of the holidays”—Amy came around the desk and gave Cassie the once-over—“please don’t tell me that you’re planning on wearing jeans to the Christmas party.”
“Of course not. I brought something to change into just in case I didn’t have time to go home.”
“You never have time to go home. So what did you bring?”
“My burgundy dress.”
“No.” Amy stared her down. “I refuse to let you wear that thing one more time. Not when it belongs in the wardrobe vault for Saturday Night Fever.”
“But it’s a Liz Claiborne.”
Amy looked at her in disbelief. “My God, woman, you need to read some fashion magazines once in awhile instead of Architectural Digest. Liz might be fine for tea with your in-laws. But if you want to make a statement—attract attention…”
She swept out of the office and in less than a minute returned holding a hanger covered in long white plastic. “You need Versace. I took the liberty of shopping for you today at lunch.” She closed the door behind her. “I charged it to your credit card account, of course.” With a smile a mile wide, she whipped off the plastic to reveal a slinky red—
Cassie lifted an eyebrow. “Where’s the rest of it?”
“The shoes and accessories are in my office.”
“No, I mean, where’s the skirt that goes with it?”
“This is it.” Amy held it up to Cassie and nodded her approval. “Perfect.” She reached for the rubber band that held Cassie’s hair back and tugged it out, along with more than a few jet-black hairs. “You desperately need a cut and some highlights.” She plucked at the thick strands. “Lucky for you, men love long hair.”
“Cut it out, Amy.” Cassie grabbed back the rubber band. “I’m not you. The men who work for me would laugh their asses off if I tried to strut around like some froufrou girly girl.” She jerked her hair back into a ponytail.
Amy crossed her arms and glared. “You’re being stubborn again, Cass. Just because you dress femininely doesn’t mean men won’t take you seriously. Besides, you’re the boss’s daughter; no one would dare laugh at you. Not with Big Al as your daddy and four brothers. So live a little. Lighten up. Stop acting like one of the guys and start acting like a woman. A very attractive woman who needs to get laid before her female parts become an exhibit at the Smithsonian.”
Cassie’s eyes widened. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“Try eighteen months.”
Eighteen months? Had it been eighteen months? She turned back to the window and quickly did some mental calculations. Yep, it had been eighteen months since she’d been dumped by Mike. And not really dumped. Their split had been a mutual agreement after she’d come home to find him wearing a pair of her thigh highs. She might’ve forgiven him the hosiery if he hadn’t stretched out her most comfortable pair of black pumps.
She turned back around. “Okay, so it’s been eighteen months. So what?”
“So what?” Amy stared at her. “Are you telling me you’ve been so busy you haven’t had time to miss sex?”
No, she missed it. So much so that she just recently had to clean off all the hard water deposits from the pulse setting on her shower massager.
“So what do you want me to do,” she asked, “grab the first guy that walks through that door and slam him down on the couch?”
Amy laughed. “I would like to see that. Especially if the next guy through the door is Grumpy Gates. But how about just having sex with one of the hot escorts you hire?”
Cassie glanced around to make sure no one had slipped into the room without her noticing. “I told you not to talk about that,” she whispered.
Amy shrugged. “Why not? It was my idea.”
“And a stupid one, at that.”
“If you think so, why do you keep hiring them? Especially when all you do is take them to public functions, then go your separate ways.”
It was a good question. Why had she gotten into the habit of picking up the phone and ordering a guy just like she would chicken teriyaki from Mr. Tokyo? Maybe that was it. It was just so easy and convenient. And as much as she’d told Amy it was a stupid idea, it had worked out pretty well. Especially for a woman who had a family like hers.
If her brothers and father weren’t scaring men off, her sister-in-law and married cousins were trying to fix her up with “the perfect man.” The perfect man who always ended up being some imperfect date that she had to suffer through. She either spent the evening searching for conversation starters or fighting off some sex-crazed guy’s advances. Hiring a man to escort her was much simpler. The escorts were a little young, usually college students, but nice and well mannered. And because they didn’t particularly want anyone to know what they did for a buck, they were discreet. Sometimes she would get the same guy and sometimes she’d get someone different. It didn’t matter as long as her family assumed she was happy playing the field.
“So why don’t you just have sex with one of them and get it out of your system?” Amy asked.
“Because I could catch some fungus or worse, that’s why.”
“And you don’t think you could’ve caught something from Mike? If a man is sneaking into your underwear drawer, he’s sneaking into other places he doesn’t belong. Besides, haven’t you ever heard of a condom?”
“Those aren’t fail-safe, you know.” Cassie walked over to the couch and flopped down.
“Okay, so you don’t want to screw the hunka-hunka-burnin’-loves,” Amy said. “So stop hiring them and try to find a nice guy to date. Or do you just like the control so much that you’re addicted?” Her brown eyes narrowed. “That’s it, isn’t it? You can’t control your dad or your four brothers, but you can control some young sap for money.”
Man, the truth hurt.
“Shut up, Amy. Just because some of us have found the man of our dreams doesn’t mean the rest of us can be as lucky.”
The sparkle faded from Amy’s brown eyes, and she seemed to deflate right in front of Cassie. “I wouldn’t say I’ve found the man of my dreams.”
“What do you mean? Did you and Derek break up?”
“No.” Amy flopped down next to her and smoothed out her wrinkle-free skirt. “I just wouldn’t call him the man of my dreams.”
“But I thought you said he would make a perfect husband.”
“He would—I mean, he will.” Amy picked at a piece of lint on the arm of the couch. “He might not be the man of my dreams, but he’s dependable and very organized. Besides, I learned a long time ago that dreams don’t always come true. It’s much better to plan out your life and work toward things that are achievable. Derek is a great guy who loves me and Gabriella. What more could a girl ask for?”
Cassie thought she could ask for a lot more. “So you don’t love him?”
There was a long pause before Amy shook her head. “But love isn’t everything. I loved Gabby’s dad and look where it got me.”
It had gotten Amy pregnant and then cast off like a dirty shirt, not only by her high school sweetheart but by her own family. Amy was nineteen when she showed up at M & M with nothing but a GED, a baby girl, and a heart the size of Texas. Since then, she’d worked hard to be a good mom and put herself through college. After all she’d been through, she deserved to be happy. But since Cassie was struggling to find happiness in her own life, she wasn’t about to give advice. So she kept her mouth shut and stared down at the scuffed toes of her boots.
After a few minutes, Amy spoke. “Look, I’m sorry for getting on your case. I guess I’m just worried about you. Since your father’s heart attack, you’ve looked so lost.”
Cassie wanted to say “you don’t know the half of it” but instead she forced a smile and said, “I’m okay, really. I just need a little time off. And possibly some good sex.”
“Now you’re talking.” Amy stood up and forced a smile almost as fake as Cassie’s. “I’m going home to eat dinner with Gabby, so I’ll see you at the party. The rest of your outfit is on my desk, along with a few little Christmas gifts.” Before she closed the door, she issued one last order. “Live a little.”
Once Amy was gone, Cassie leaned back on the couch and looked at the tiny garment that lay across her desk. Maybe Amy was right. Maybe she was spending too much time at work. But since her father’s heart attack, she felt as if the weight of the company was on her shoulders. Her uncle and brothers helped, but her oldest brother had a family to worry about, Rory had just returned from Chicago, Patrick liked working on site, and Mattie was still in college. Which meant that she was the only one her dad could count on. She wasn’t about to let him down.
Getting to her feet, she walked over to the desk and lifted the dress up to her body. But certainly one night wouldn’t make a difference.
What the hell; it was almost Christmas.
Maybe it was time to get a little festive.
A few hours later, Cassie wasn’t sure if she looked festive or like a desperate hooker. The dress was a shirt with a hem and neckline that ran at opposite angles, showing off her right shoulder and a whole lot of left thigh. The “few little Christmas gifts” Amy had left included a strapless bra that shoved her boobs together and a satiny pair of panties that covered very little of the front and none of the back. Then there were the shoes, which weren’t shoes at all, but some kind of torture chambers that imprisoned her feet in skinny, crisscrossed red straps that ran from ankle to toes and kept her feet from sliding off the skyscraper spiked heels. Mike would have drooled over these puppies, she thought. Not that his size thirteens would’ve fit in them.
The entire ensemble made Cassie feel like a tall, flashing red light that said something like SEX FOR SALE; COME AND GET IT or DESPERATE, SEX-STARVED WOMAN NEEDS BREAK FROM SHOWER NOZZLE.
But Cassie didn’t have much of a choice. Her burgundy dress and shoes had mysteriously disappeared from the executive bathroom. Or not so mysteriously, considering how devious Amy was. Cassie could’ve gone home and changed, but her escort for the evening was bought and paid for and hopefully on his way to the office to meet her. There was no way she was going to dole out five hundred bucks so some college kid could go home and play video games for the evening.
So Cassie did what she always did in a no-win situation—she went with it, applying more makeup than she normally wore and leaving her hair to fall down her back in long dark waves. The only thing she didn’t apply was lipstick. Her lips were full enough without drawing attention to them. She gave her reflection in the mirror one last annoyed look. If this wouldn’t degrade and undermine her authority in front of all the employees, nothing would.
On the way back to her office, the phone rang, and since everyone else had left for the night except for Juanita the cleaning lady, Cassie wobbled over to the receptionist’s desk and picked up the receiver.
She adjusted it around her dangling diamond earring, the only thing she had planned on wearing, and answered, “M and M Construction.”
“Hi, Mama’s angel. I’m glad I caught you.”
“Hi, Mom. What’s up?”
“I wanted to let you know that I’m making your father stay home tonight.” In the background, Cassie could hear her father ranting something about how her mother and the damned doctor had ruined all his plans.
“Should I come over?” Cassie sat down on the edge of the desk and examined the last of Amy’s gifts, a red beaded clutch purse. She fiddled with the rhinestone latch, trying to figure out how to open it.
“No, sweetheart. He’s fine. But if he goes to the party, all he’ll do is talk business and Dr. Matheson doesn’t think it’s a good idea.” This time Cassie heard exactly what her father thought of Doc Matheson. “Listen, dear, I need to go and calm him down. I’ll talk to you later. Have fun at the party.”
“Yeah, Mom. I will.” Cassie hung up the phone. Maybe it was best if her father didn’t come. If talking business didn’t give him another heart attack, her outfit certainly would.
Frustrated with the entire evening so far, she yanked at the latch on the purse. It flipped open, spilling its contents all over the floor. Cassie looked down at the pile of red and black foil-covered condoms surrounding her high heels.
She laughed. “I’ll get even with you if it’s the last thing I do, Amy Walker.” She squatted down and began to scoop the condoms back into her purse, heedless of her unladylike position.
A deep and very masculine cough had her teetering on her heels and almost falling backward on her butt. Grabbing on to the edge of the desk, she regained her balance and got to her feet. Although the sight that greeted her had her reaching out for the desk again.
A man stood by the Christmas tree in the foyer. Not a man really, more like a vision. The clear lights that twinkled around his dark head made him look like something straight out of a dream. A wet dream. Man, Elite Escorts had outdone themselves this time. This was no gangly college boy in an ill-fitting rental tux, but a mature man in a tuxedo that looked made-to-order for his tall, muscular frame.
Like James Bond right before he bopped a shapely beauty, his bow tie was undone and lay flat against the front pleats of the crisp white shirt that was unbuttoned at his tanned throat. He stood looking at Cassie with a slight smile on his firm lips and one brown brow arched over an eye that was the exact color of her Aunt Wheezie’s favorite Scotch.
Cassie forgot to breathe.
“Hi.” The smile deepened, along with two dimples. “I didn’t mean to spook you.” When Cassie still didn’t say anything, the smile dropped and both brows lifted. “Are you okay?”
He walked toward her, and she was reminded of the black panther at the Denver Zoo, his movements sleek and predatory. She swallowed and tried to get her mind off his hot body and back in her head. It was difficult, especially when this wonderful eye candy stood so close and when she and Amy had just been discussing how long it had been since she’d had sex. But hot or not, she needed to remember that this man was one of her employees. She dealt with men all day long. Alpha men. She could handle some pretty boy who worked for an escort service.
She plastered on a smile. “Yes, I’m fine. It’s just that you’re early.”
The quizzical look remained, and he tugged up the sleeve of his jacket and glanced at a watch that looked an awful lot like her father’s Rolex. “No, I’m right on time.”
She waved him off. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here.” She grabbed the car keys from the desk and brushed past him. He smelled really good, like hot spiced cider and primitive lust. Or was the primitive lust her?
“My truck’s down in the parking garage.” She kept talking as she headed toward the elevator. “We’ll take it. The party’s at a house about thirty minutes away, so it’s probably good you got here early.” She pressed the button of the elevator, then turned to steal another peek.
He wasn’t there. He still stood at the receptionist’s desk, although his head had turned to follow her. Okay, so he looked great, but he was a little slow on the uptake. No wonder he worked for an escort service at his age. The elevator doors opened, and she pointed at them.
“Are you coming?”
He tipped his head to one side. “Who are you?”
Oh, so that was it. She just hadn’t introduced herself. She laughed and held the door of the elevator. “I’m Cassie McPherson, your employer for the evening.”
He didn’t move. “My employer?”
Back to the mental deficiency theory. She tried talking slowly and clearly. “Yes, I called Elite Escorts and hired you for the evening to take me to my office Christmas party. I paid in advance, so I expect a little service here. Like maybe you getting a move on.”
His whiskey eyes twinkled, but he still didn’t move. “You’re Cassie McPherson, the daughter of Al McPherson, and you called for a male escort?”
“Right. So are you coming or do I need to get a refund?”
“Your father’s not here, I take it?”
“Not that it makes a difference, but no. He’s at home.”
He might be a simpleton, but, man, the flash of those white, even teeth and dimples were flat-out sexy. “Then I guess I’m all yours for the evening.” He walked over and reached above her head to hold the elevator door. “Here”—he held up a foil-covered condom—“you forgot one.”
Cassie jerked the condom out of his hand and then nearly fell flat on her face as she stumbled over her feet on the way into the elevator. He reached out and steadied her.
The door closed, and he pushed one of the buttons while she rubbed the warm imprint he had left on her arm. Her heart thumped wildly against the tight band of her push-up bra. And suddenly she worried if all her high-cholesterol lunches and lack of exercise were catching up to her and besides inheriting her father’s bad disposition, she had also inherited his clogged arteries. She couldn’t bring herself to believe that it had anything to do with the man who so casually leaned back against the rail that ran along the wall of the elevator. Cassie McPherson didn’t go all weak-kneed over men. Even re-e-e-e-ally good-looking ones who belonged in magazine ads for expensive men’s cologne.
She turned away from the hot picture he presented and took two deep breaths, willing her heart to resume its normal cadence. It was hard to do with those eyes pinned on her with such intensity. Hard, but not impossible. She wasn’t called Cast-iron Cassie for nothing. She never let emotions get in the way of business. And this was business.
Clearing her throat, she explained the terms of his employment. “So here’s what I expect.” She opened her clutch and dropped in her car keys and the condom. “Keep a low profile. Be attentive, but not clingy. And try not to talk. If you’re asked a question about our relationship, simply say that we’ve just met.”
His eyes narrowed, and one side of his mouth tipped up at the corner. Definitely not a smile, more of a smirk. “How about if I just say that I’m not the kind of man who kisses and tells.”
Heat flooded her cheeks, but she held it together. “Just stick to the plan.”
“It seems you have a lot of plans.” He lifted an eyebrow in the direction of her purse. “I’m not sure I can keep up.”
Cassie ignored the innuendo and stayed on track. “The old relatives are the worst. They’ll try to get you to commit to family gatherings and such. Decline gracefully. Don’t drink with my Aunt Louise. She’ll drink you under the table and then interrogate the hell out of you. She looks very sweet, but she’s a barracuda.”
The elevator doors slid open, but not at the parking garage. He stepped out and held the door.
“You pushed the wrong button.” She punched L for the lower level. “I’m parked in the garage.”
He took her arm and gently but firmly pulled her out. “I know, but I’m parked right out front. So we can take my car.”
“I’d rather drive,” she stated as she caught the elevator door before it closed.
“But then you’d be escorting me, and that’s not what I’m getting paid for.” He caressed the underside of her arm. The tingling sensation caused her to pull away.
She turned on him as the elevator door slid closed. “You’re getting paid to follow my orders.”
In her heels, Cassie was only a few inches shorter than he was. So she shouldn’t feel intimidated by his size, not with four brothers who were just as tall, if not taller. Yet there was something about this man that had her taking a step back. She wasn’t frightened, but she was smart enough to be wary.
“And I bet you’re pretty good at giving orders.” He tucked her hand in the crook of his arm and tugged her toward the glass doors. “But right now, it’s my job to get you to a Christmas party, and I intend to do it. After that, you can order me around all you want to.”
She tried to dig in her heels, but she wasn’t exactly stable in the sky-high shoes. The slippery marble floor of the lobby didn’t help.
“I like driving,” she stated through clenched teeth as he pulled her along.
“No doubt.” He reached for the large gold handle of the glass door. “But I’m kinda old-fashioned about that. When I take a woman out, I like to drive.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
He glanced down at her. “Nope. Not at all. I don’t like women to pay, open doors, or drive.” He shrugged. “Call it a character flaw.” He pulled open the door.
“Obviously, one among many. Let’s not forget arrogance and stubbornness.” The toes of her shoes hit the threshold, and he was brought up short. “I want to drive.”
They both turned and stared at the worried face of the security guard who had come up behind them. “Is everything all right?”
Cassie thought about saying no and getting her arrogant, stubborn escort tossed out on his ear. But then she wouldn’t have a date for the evening and would have to suffer through all the wives feeling sorry for her and trying to hook her up with some desperate relative. Of course, how much more desperate could you get than hiring an escort for the evening?
She stopped pulling away. “Of course. Everything is fine, Scotty. How is that new baby of yours?”
The tension left Scotty’s face, and he grinned. “As cute as they come. Although he’s not so cute when he keeps me up on my nights off.”
“He’ll outgrow it. My nieces and nephews all did.”
“I hope so.” Scotty moved over to the door. “Let me get that for you, sir.”
“Thank you.” Her escort flashed Scotty one of his megawatt smiles. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, sir.” Scotty nodded at her. “Ms. McPherson.”
The frigid air hit Cassie like an ice-cold fist in the face. With it came the realization that she’d forgotten her coat. She stopped dead in her tracks. And her wallet. And her cell phone. The wallet she could live without, but she never went anywhere without her phone. It was her lifeline. How could she have forgotten it?
She glanced at the man who turned to look at her, and a shiver that had nothing to do with the cold raced through her body. Great! Now, all because of some pretty face, she was freezing her posterior off with nothing in her purse but her car keys and a gross of condoms.
She tried to pull her hand away, and this time he released it. “I forgot my—” Before she could finish her sentence a heat-infused tuxedo jacket slid over her shoulders, along with a very possessive arm. The warmth that enveloped her melted the rest of her resistance.
Maybe she could go one night without her cell phone.
“This way.” He led her right out to the street, where a brand-new black Land Rover was parked in the no-parking zone. The locks clicked, and he opened the door and waited for her to slip inside. Once the door closed, Cassie was surrounded by the spicy scent that emanated from his jacket and overcome by a feeling that could be described only as… feminine.
Feminine? Cassie McPherson?
She shook her head to clear it. She needed to be careful. This guy was a bona-fide gigolo who knew how to make a woman feel like a woman. A sexy, feminine woman. Which was why he could afford to drive a new Land Rover. The man probably had every wealthy housewife in Denver lined up with their wallets and legs wide open. Which brought up the next point. She waited until they had pulled away from the curb before broaching it.
The SUV swerved slightly, and she quickly glanced over at him. He didn’t look shocked as much as amused.
“What about sex?”
She stared straight ahead and tried to keep her voice steady. “I don’t want any.”
She looked back at him. “No, not ever. It’s just that I don’t have sex with escorts.”
“Why not? You’re paying for it.”
Suddenly, her reasons for not having sex with escorts didn’t seem valid anymore. Why shouldn’t she have sex with an escort? Not just anyone, but this one. This tall, hot, arrogant, and slightly dumb escort who probably needed no sexual instruction at all, who probably could make her come just by looking at her.
An expert lover.
Which was the main reason she couldn’t have sex with him. The guy had probably screwed half the female population of the city.
“Because I don’t want some nasty disease.” She mentally kicked herself for blurting out the truth. “Not that you have some nasty disease, but just in case.”
“Then why all the condoms?”
“Those are a joke.”
Her head swiveled around to look at him, but his gaze was pinned on the road. “So you hire escorts just for the company?”
“No, believe me. With my big family, I have plenty of company. I hire escorts to keep that big, loving—and sometimes smothering—family from matchmaking.”
He glanced over at her. “That bad, huh?”
She laughed, relieved to be on a less intimate subject. “You don’t know the half of it. I’ve been on so many blind dates, I could write a book on the dos and don’ts.”
“But it must be nice to have a big family.”
She sighed. “Yeah, sometimes. No, I take that back, most of the time. But it would be a lot nicer if I were married.”
“And why aren’t you?”
“I’ve been told I work too much. And I guess they’re right.” She turned in her seat and looked at his profile. He really was perfect. His features were strong and masculine, but not too prominent. “And what about you? And please don’t tell me you have a wife and five kids at home.”
He laughed. “I guess I’ve been told the same thing.”
“You work too much?”
He tipped his head and winked at her. “A true workaholic.”
The fact that the man sitting next to her had screwed half the female population of Denver and loved every minute of it should have cooled Cassie down. It didn’t. Instead, her pulse shot into overdrive, and she had to clamp her legs together and shut her eyes just to get a grip on her rioting libido.
“Hey, you okay?” he asked.
No, she wasn’t. But she would be, just as soon as they got to the party and she could get some space between her workaholic hunka-hunka-burnin’-love and her own quivering, sex-starved body. Or maybe she wouldn’t feel better until she got back to her shower. Either way, things weren’t looking good.
She opened her eyes and glanced over at him. “Yeah, I’m okay. I just need to eat something.” Like a delicious tanned neck. Firm, smiling lips. And whatever else was hidden beneath that crisp white shirt and those black tuxedo pants.
He pulled up at a stoplight, his gaze dropping to her mouth. “Yeah, I’m pretty hungry myself.”
It was difficult to swallow when her mouth had suddenly gone dry. Her tongue swept across her lips. It was a mistake. His eyes followed its path. Then his gaze lifted, and she found herself drowning in a swirling pool of amber heat. Every coherent thought melted right out of her brain. All except for one.
Kiss me. Kiss me now.
The car behind them honked and instead of kissing her he pulled away from the stoplight. It took a little longer for her brain to congeal. She sat back against the soft leather seat and closed her eyes.
Man, the guy was good. And she was screwed. Or would be, if she couldn’t pull her mind out of the gutter. He cleared his throat, but she refused to open her eyes. Maybe if she kept her eyes closed for the entire ride, she wouldn’t find herself with her legs in the air and her morals out the window.
“What kind of music do you like?” He turned on the radio and scanned through the stations. She really didn’t care what he chose as long as she didn’t have to look at him while he was choosing it.
“This is good,” she blurted out when he landed on a Christmas song she recognized. It took only a second to realize it was the Chipmunks singing about huuu-la hoops. That got her eyes open. She glanced over at him.
One eyebrow lifted. “A favorite of yours, I take it?”
Her face heated up, but she refused to let him know just how much she wanted to open the door and dive out into the snow-packed gutter. She was a McPherson, and a true McPherson would never admit to being wrong. So she cleared her throat and sat up straighter in her seat.
“As a matter of fact, it is. Everyone loves the Chipmunks.” To prove her point, she sang along with Alvin in her off-key voice for a full two minutes. After she was finished, she turned and glared at him, daring him to say one word about her performance.
His eyes twinkled, and a huge smile lit his face, but he didn’t laugh. Not once. The man had unbelievable self-control. Or he just knew who buttered his bread. Another Chipmunk Christmas song started, but before she could sing one note, he reached over and turned off the radio.
“So tell me about yourself. What do you do at M & M?”
The question surprised her. Not one of the other guys had asked it, which was why she was bluntly truthful. “I do a lot of bookkeeping.”
“By the sound of your voice, I would say you don’t like bookkeeping.”
“You’d be right.” She looked out the side window.
“So what do you like doing?”
By the time they reached Mark Hillshire’s house, where the party was being held, Cassie had her sex-deprived body under control. Not because of anything she did, but because her date was actually a pretty intelligent guy and a great conversationalist. He engaged her in a discussion about construction that demonstrated a fairly competent knowledge of business and architecture. Somewhere along the line, he had learned a few things besides how to make a woman sizzle. She found herself telling him things she talked about only with her brothers.
“So I don’t get it. Why don’t you just tell your father that you want to design buildings and work on site?” he asked.
“You don’t know Al McPherson.”
“I guess I don’t.” He nodded at the large brick home on the right. “Is this it?”
“Yes. They have parking attendants, so just pull into the drive,” she said. He ignored her, bypassing the long driveway, and found a spot down the block.
With his hand gripping her seat, he looked over his shoulder and zipped next to the curb. Her gaze caught on his tanned throat, the knot of his Adam’s apple and the shadowy indention at the base.
She swallowed. “You forgot your tie.”
He slipped the car in park and turned off the engine. “I didn’t forget. I still haven’t mastered the bow tie. You wouldn’t know how, would you?”
“Face me,” she ordered as she turned in the seat. “With four brothers, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.” Of course, that had been with her brothers, not with a man whose amber gaze caused her stomach to flutter and her hands to shake as she slipped the top button into the hole. Beneath the collar, his throat felt hot and smooth.
“Are you cold? Your hands are like ice.” He continued to watch her. “What is it they say about cold hands?” His breath was warm and smelled of peppermint. “Cold hands, warm heart.” He brushed a piece of her hair back from her eyes. “Is your heart warm, Cassie?”
Luckily, she’d finished with his tie, because her entire body trembled at his touch. “Most of our employees don’t think so.”
He ran his fingers along her jawline and tipped up her chin. “Mmmm, I wonder.”
Then, just like that, he released her and opened his door. She was so stunned, she didn’t even try to get out. Instead, she remained frozen to her seat until he reached her side. Between her trembling knees and spiked heels, she could barely walk. Thank God he held her elbow.
“Where did Cassie come from?” he asked as he slammed the door. “Isn’t that more Irish than Scottish?”
Amazed that he knew the difference, it took her a moment to answer. “My mother is Irish and Italian. Mom chose all the first names. Jake, Rory, Cassandra, Patrick, and Matthew. Dad chose the middle names. Douglas, Camran, Catriona, Neill, and Lachlan.”
“Ahhh.” He studied her dark hair. “Italian. That would explain it, Cassandra Catriona.”
“What do you go by?” she asked as they turned and walked down the sidewalk. “I mean, what name do you use when you’re working?”
“James?” She sent him a skeptical look. “Let me guess, your last name is Bond.”
He laughed as he guided her around some shrubs. “Exactly.”
“Not very original, if you ask me.”
“I would imagine that you’re used to names with a little more blatant sex appeal like Lance or Rod?”
There had been a Lance and a Rod from the escort service. Ironically, neither one of them had half the sex appeal as this plain James did. But if he was going to work for an escort service, he should come up with a better name.
“How about Dirk?”
“Dirk?” He laughed. “I think James will do.”
Before she could ask what his last name was, her oldest brother, Jake, pulled up in his Lexus and hopped out.
“Hey, Cass. Did Mom call and tell you about Dad?” He tossed the keys to an attendant before holding the passenger door for his wife, Melanie. It wasn’t until he’d slammed the door that he noticed James. His eyes narrowed briefly; then he held out a hand. “Jake McPherson.”
James shook his hand. “James.”
Cassie knew Jake was waiting for more, but James didn’t appear to notice. Instead, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and slipped a hand in his pocket. Jake looked like he wanted to say something, but decided against it. Being a tough corporate lawyer, he knew when to push and when to leave things alone.
“Hi, I’m Melanie.” Jake’s wife stepped forward, her face lit with its usual kind, welcoming smile. Except there was approval in her soft brown eyes that hadn’t been there for the other escorts Cassie had introduced. Of course, what woman wouldn’t approve of a man who looked like James?
Melanie shivered and took Jake’s arm. “Let’s get inside before we freeze to death.”
Excerpted from Hunk for the Holidays by Katie Lane Copyright © 2012 by Katie Lane. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted November 12, 2012
Posted September 21, 2012
Flat out, if you are looking for a fun and entertaining holiday read, this is a fabulous book to pick up. Cassie is working at the family construction company as a glorified accountant, although she'd like to be and works like so much more. Her father has just had a heart attack and while she and all four of her brothers work at the business, Cassie handles most of it. And they are all struggling with the new construction company in town headed by James Sutton, but none of them have ever met James.
With the fact that Cassie devotes her life to the family construction company, she doesn't have time to date. As a result, she hires escorts for all her social needs. It's her deep dark secret, but it keeps her matchmaking mama and aunts off her back. When it's time for the family Christmas party, she is pleasantly surprised to find a much older and more good-looking escort than normal...she just doesn't realize that her "escort" is actually the family enemy James Sutton.
For his part, James is kind of blown over by Cassie...both by her looks, but also by her take-charge attitude. She doesn't give him much of a chance to correct her incorrect assumption about who he is and that's where the story truly becomes fun.
Everything about this story is fun too! From all of Cassie's brothers...who were so well-developed, I am hoping that means that we are going to get their stories from Katie Lane too. To her 90 yo interfering Aunt. To James' Christmas-crazy and nosy neighbors. I giggled all the way through the scene with him and the steak knife out in his front yard. There were many moments throughout this book where I was simply grinning with the fun story.
And while I have a hard time believing a Happily Ever After that comes after only two days, I still enjoyed this book and the chemistry between Cassie and James. Cassie is tough, but extremely business savvy. I love that she drives a truck and a motorcycle. James has worked hard to make sure that his construction company is a success. I love that he recognizes Cassie's talent. I also really love how much he respects Cassie's family and their business. He doesn't see them as the competition at all. He completely looks up to what they have built.
BTW, that cover for this book is one of the most perfect covers I've ever seen. All through the opening scenes between Cassie and James, I kept imagining this cover and model with his bow tie undone...such a great visual.
I received a complementary copy of this book in return for an honest review.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 12, 2012
Cassie McPherson is vice president of her family’s construction company and always puts business before pleasure. Which is why she does not have a date to the company Christmas party. Also doesn’t explain why she is crazy to hire an escort for the event…or even crazier for wanting to unwrap him like a present…
With a killer smile and whiskey-colored eyes, James is one of those men who can fill out a tuxedo very nicely. He is able to charm absolutely everyone…including Cassie. The night has ended, but the party isn’t over yet. Cassie is falling, literally into his bed, James can not help but fall head over heels in love. He’s now got to figure out how to tell her the truth: he is not an escort. He actually is her family’s fiercest business rival. Yea all he wants for Christmas is her…
How can anyone not want a gorgeous hunk as a Christmas present? I am sure every women who picks up this book would all agree. Katie has such a creative author. We all know that rivalries especially in business can go good or bad when a personal relationship is formed…to find out if Cassie and James work out, you will have to pick up this book and see for yourself.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 12, 2014
Posted March 1, 2014
Posted December 12, 2013
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Posted January 31, 2013
Posted December 22, 2012
Posted November 12, 2012
Reviewed by Alice DiNizo for Readers Favorite
Cassie McPherson works long hours as vice president in charge of accounts for her father's construction company, M&M. They keep losing work to their chief competitor, Sutton Construction, and now the rumor is that their account with Slumber Suites is being taken over by Sutton Construction. Cassie knows that tonight is the night for the annual Christmas party and she does not have the proper attire. Cassie's assistant, Amy, comes up with the perfect red and sexy outfit. Cassie has not had a man in her life for eighteen months and always calls an escort service to supply her with "dates". Ready to head for the party, Cassie finds the most gorgeous man, older than most of her escorts, waiting for her at the elevator. James insists on driving Cassie to the party; they quickly become esteemed friends. James and Cassie are attracted to each other. Who is this happy man?
Author Katie Lane's "Hunk for the Holidays" is a delightful and well-written book. All characters, both major and minor, are totally believable and suit the story well. There are additional subplots that compliment the story line. "Hunk for the Holidays" is a story that belongs in Christmas stock everywhere.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 17, 2012
For Read Your Writes Book Reviews Things I’ve learned from Hunk for the Holidays: 1. You probably SHOULDN’T drink anything while reading this book. (You never know when the humor is going to sneak up on you.) 2. Your heart knows what your heart wants, even when your mind refuses to believe it. 3. Sometimes you have to be willing to go after what you want, without being afraid of getting hurt, beat up, or frostbitten. 4. Never use a steak knife to cut down a large spruce tree. 5. It’s probably not the best idea to go dumpster diving for a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. 6. Be careful of leary ninety-year old women, they’re sneaky little creatures. 7. Children are smarter and craftier than they appear. 8. Don’t mix cocktail shrimp with eight glasses of champagne. 9. Sometimes it’s better to ask someone a question and let them answer, instead of always cutting them off. You just might learn something important. 10. Always get the last name of the person you go out with. I don’t think it’s a secret I’m a HUGE Katie Lane fan. When I found out she had a Christmas book coming out I couldn’t wait. Since I’ve read of all Katie’s books, I had high expectations for Hunk for the Holidays. I have to say, it DID NOT disappoint. Hunk for the Holidays is funny and hot at the same time. The cast of characters are all people you wish you could actually know. Cassandra “Cassie” McPherson is the middle of five kids, and the only girl. She’s a twenty-eight year old glorified accountant for the family’s construction company. Being the only girl in the family, she’s STILL a tomboy and would much rather be at a construction site working, instead of being in the office. Work is all she does, thus explaining why she feels the need to hire escorts for various events. James Sutton is the thirty-five year old founder and owner of Sutton Construction. After losing his mother at an early age, James put all of his effort into going to college and making something of himself. Like Cassie, James is a workaholic, who isn’t looking for anything serious or meaningful. Adding to the cast of characters, there’s Cassie’s parents, her brothers Jake, Rory, Patrick, and Matthew, Cassie’s best friend Amy and her daughter Gabby, and last but certainly NOT least Aunt Louise “Wheezie”. I’m a fan of romances because you tend to always get happy ever afters. That’s what you get with Hunk. Personally, I always like the adventure to get to the HEA. Trust me, the adventure Katie takes you on in this book is hilarious. As the countdown above mentioned, you shouldn’t drink anything while reading this book. Yes, my tablet and I found that out the hard way. It’s not often that you can have two stubborn, strong willed people together, but Cassie and James are good together. It’s also probably part of the reason they never gave up on each other. The two characters that stood out the most in this book were Aunt Wheezie and Gabby. For a ninety-year old and an eight-year old, they surely know how to get people to thinking like them, without them knowing it. One surprise was that Hunk for the Holidays wasn’t just about Cassie and James. It’s also a romance for Cassie’s friend Amy and Cassie’s brother Rory. If the people from Grand Central/Forever are listening, I’m thinking another McPherson book is in order... (Just one of my personal Christmas wishes.) I love Christmas romances and with this book you get a good romance with a lot of humor.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 24, 2014
Posted January 1, 2013
Oh my god some stories are just like a train wreck... but in the best possible way. With Cases of
mistaken identity, falling for the enemy, naughty things done against doors with said enemy, wild
tempers and trees getting set on fire Hunk for the Holidays was an entertaining ride and one I couldn't
pull my eyes away from for a single second. It provided me my favorite new phrase..."penis-pilot" too!
Some books, I think, are just meant to be fun. They can be a little ridiculous, a little predictable, full of
crazy, passionate characters and do it all in a way that really just...works. This was my first time reading
Lane and it really hit the spot, both warming my heart and making me chuckle which is the best type
of Christmas read in my opinion.
James and Cassie have an interesting meet, seeing she thinks he's the escort she hired to take her
to the family's company Christmas party and he decided to go along for the ride and not tell her he's
her families main business competition and public enemy number one. Oy, right? You just know
there are going to be some fireworks down the line with that one!
James is pretty much sex on two legs. He's got the whole alpha sexiness going on and is old
fashioned about opening doors and such. *rawr* and Cassie is most definitely a handful. She's
a control freak and used to bossing men around which pretty much stops with James. *rawr* again.
LOL I loved the head butting their similarities in personality caused and the control exchange
between them. The relationship goes at warp speed but the chemistry between the two definitely
works and things get down right steamy. The two make some lovely blunders that'll make you laugh,
make you cringe and make you want to lock them in a room until they get it right.
One of the things I found interesting was the secondary storyline of Cassie's brother, Rory, finding his
happily ever after. What caught me with it was that I got just as lost in his and Amy's story as I did
in the main one. I'd completely forget about the other while I was reading this one or that one. Not
sure if that's a good thing or not but Lane had a way of getting me so incredibly focused on what I
was reading that all else kinda of left my brain for a while.
After spending a little time with Cassie's big, crazy, wonderful (and very involved) family I'd really love
to hear some of their stories one day. They're a wild group, and yeah if they were yours they'd probably
make you twitch, but damn from the outside looking in they're a real trip.
*A copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest opinion
Posted December 9, 2012
Cassie McPherson come from tough stock, a family who have become successful in commercial building and who watch out for each other, sometimes a bit too much. Cassie always wanted to be an architect in the family business but need comes first and she's more of a family accountant for the business. Right now she's extremely ticked off because another company seems to be outbidding her family on jobs and taking away customers. Her Dad is recovering from a heart attack and she's determined to find out who this upstart guy in this new company in town is. Her philosophy is to meet the enemy before you figure out how to deal with the competitor!
Before that can happen, however, she has to show up at a company Christmas party and hires an escort who will act like he's her date and current boyfriend as her family also wants to see her settle down and marry, sooner rather than later! That she's not buying at all. The chemistry between her and her escort, who initially is nameless, is electric and snappy! Cassie's in "boss" mode mentally but her body is reacting to this "hunk" of a sexy male that seems created to be kissed, etc!
The "Hunk" as well is not used to being bossed around but refuses to reveal who he is; add to it he normally chooses, loves and dumps the ladies he meets but is magnetically struck by this feisty woman. Little by little, he realizes she's got him thinking about his past affairs and if that's really all he wants out of a relationship.
So as both readjust their thinking, they begin to get to know each other, that is when they're not hopping into hot, hot, hot bedroom action! The pain each has known from the loss of a family member begins to wane as they realize what a holiday gift they truly are for each other. No, it's not without some turmoil and some fast aced action about the business, but it's a lovely holiday romance sure to delight romance fans who will be attracted by this sexy cover and not disappointed inside its pages! Hunk for the Holidays is a must romance fiction read for the holidays!
Posted November 30, 2012
I really had a fun time reading this book, with lots of laughs, and a late night romance with my own "Hunk".
This book was cleverly written. I fell in love with the Cassie's aunt and found her family very entertaining.
I found the part about James and his mother very touching. I agree, I hope their are more books on this group of very loveable characters.
Posted November 26, 2012
## This book was really fun to read. I enjoyed most of it (hence 4 stars instead of 5). The hero and heroine had a good connection and were good together. The family banter was witty and extremely enjoyable. There were even several laugh out loud moments. Spoiler alert: the part I didn't like was that the hero James made everything Cassie's fault and treated her really badly when she didn't deserve it, yet she had to crawl to him to seek forgiveness. Twice! He should've been the one to crawl after the way he acted. Just a small pet peeve of mine. But still a fantastic read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2013
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Posted February 5, 2014
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Posted October 18, 2012
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