Read an Excerpt
Make Me Beg
The Men of Gold Mountain Series
By Rebecca Brooks, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Rebecca Brooks
All rights reserved.
Flipping through profile pictures was like hunting through the sales rack at a bargain-basement blowout. Plenty of options, and all of them bad.
There was the guy who'd once told Mack it wasn't "appropriate" for a woman to work at a bar. Then someone who called himself Killer Pete and dressed as a zombie in every. Single. Picture. And oh look, her dentist. Wasn't he married?
She hovered over a close-up of a hot bearded guy, then saw he lived in Vancouver and was in town visiting friends. Swipe. She never should have signed up for this thing. Five seconds into looking at profiles and already it was clear there were no datable men in this town.
She thumbed through, the faces blurring together, until suddenly one caught her eye. Brown hair messy over bright blue eyes, three days of stubble, a perpetually teasing half smile.
She stopped and looked closer. It couldn't be. Connor?
She'd never go out with him. He was arrogant, a total player, and even though they'd worked side by side at the Dipper in Gold Mountain for years — him in the kitchen, her behind the bar — he still talked like he was going to pack up any second and leave town for something better. In other words, so not her type.
But it was just a profile. What was wrong with taking a peek?
The first picture was of Connor in his chef's jacket, head tilted back, laughing at something somebody — probably Mack herself — was saying. Another one showed him in a T-shirt damp with sweat, messy hair sticking out from under his hat as he carried a snowboard slung over his shoulder, the muscles of his biceps hard and cut in the sun.
The next picture was of him on a hiking trail in a field of wildflowers, squinting up at a snow-covered peak. His face was turned, and as much as she tried to resist it, the angle forced Mack to consider certain things. Like necks. And clavicles. All the possible places to —
"What are you looking at?"
Mack jumped, toppling over the barstool as she clutched her phone to her chest.
When she looked up, she found herself face-to-face with blue eyes. Three days of stubble. And a teasing smile identical to the one she'd just been looking at on her phone.
"Nothing," she said quickly, attempting to slide the phone into her pocket but fumbling and dropping it instead. Connor picked it up with a flourish as he righted the stool.
"Checking up on me?" His bright eyes danced, and he winked.
Fuck. He'd totally seen.
She tried to think fast. "I was seeing if you were coming. The app says how far away a user is."
It would have been a more convincing answer if her voice didn't sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks on speed. She could only guess how red her cheeks were.
She tried to grab for her phone, but he pulled it away. "Since when did you join the meat market?" he teased.
"Abbi did it this weekend," she admitted, ready to throttle her best friend for getting her to agree to it in the first place. Live a little, Abbi had said. Try something new. She'd relented, and now look where it had gotten her.
"And?" Connor asked. "Snagged any catches yet?"
She knew it was coming, and then — yup. He actually mimed throwing out a fishing line.
"Something tells me the women who message you on that app aren't too concerned about personality," she said skeptically as he pretended to reel in the fish.
"Personality? Mack, you're overthinking this. All you have to do is send some messages letting the hot single guys in Gold Mountain know you're on the prowl. They'll be all over you." He made a noise that was maybe supposed to be sexy but sounded more like a cat left out in the rain.
"Thanks," she said, making a face. "But I'll pass."
He reached out like he was going to return her phone and then yanked it back as soon as she went for it. She was so short, all he had to do was lift it up to keep it out of reach. She practically fell on him trying to grab it.
"Come on, Ellinsworth," he said as she smacked his arm. "Let the pros help you out. What are you looking for, anyway?"
"Like I'd tell you."
"You will if you ever want your phone back." He smirked.
She threw up her hands. "I don't know, okay? Somebody smart, for starters. Funny. Interesting. Hardworking, but not at the expense of everything else. Dead sexy wouldn't hurt, as long as I'm allowed to be choosy."
His hand flew to his chest. "Wow, Mack. I'm flattered. I had no idea you felt that way about me."
"Oh, and not a man-whore," she added, giving him an obvious once-over. "Did I mention that?"
"See, that's where you're making your mistake. We man-whores are the ones who make life worth living."
Mack rolled her eyes. "And yet somehow I manage to have a pulse without you."
Connor slid her phone into his back pocket and stepped forward, one hand suddenly on her hip so she couldn't get away. He pressed two fingers against her neck, where she was sure he could feel the leap of her pulse. And then his palm slid down to cover her heart.
Not quite her breast — he wasn't that cheeky. But it was close.
"Would you look at that," he said, head cocked, looking down at her as though making some fascinating, impartial observation. "Your heart is racing."
What the hell was he doing?
She couldn't think with him standing so close. She stammered out something about jogging there, even though she was wearing black boots, jeans, and a slouchy button-down shirt — and was highly allergic to running.
"Liar," Connor said with a grin.
It was just because she'd been surprised. That was why her face felt flushed, her whole body on edge. There was only one way out of this. Not to run screaming, but to dive right in.
"You smell nice," she murmured and hooked a finger through his belt loop, giving a tug.
Her face was almost to his chest. Another inch and she'd feel the smooth, hard plane of muscle against her cheek. If she raised her chin, she'd be kissing him.
He looked completely stunned — which was exactly the point. Her little stunt bought her just enough time to reach around and snatch her phone from his pocket.
Mack: 1. Connor: 0.
"Thanks," she said cheerfully, waving the phone in his face as she shoved him away.
So she'd grazed his ass a little more than was strictly necessary in the process. They both knew this was just joking around. She pulled up the app so she could log out before he could see how many pictures of him she'd looked through.
"Ouch," he said, rubbing his shoulder where she'd pushed him. "That was cold. I should've known you'd be sneaky."
"Man-whores," she repeated. "Not the brightest bunch."
"Admit it," Connor started, and Mack froze, waiting for what he was going to say.
Admit you were checking me out.
Admit what you want — even though we both know it's never going to happen.
"Admit you're trying to learn from the master how to craft a profile that won't scare off your prospects."
He grinned, and Mack let herself exhale. That's why he thought she'd been looking him up?
"You're so right," she said. "You're the best at all things dating, and I bow to your superior technique."
"Glad to know you recognize greatness when you see it. Coffee?" "In the French press."
He poured a cup and refilled her mug, adding milk to his but not hers. "As black as your heart," he said as he passed hers back.
She raised her mug in mock salute. "And just as bitter."
"Poor Mack," he said. "We'll find you someone."
She wanted to tell him she was fine. She wasn't seriously looking. As much as she'd love to get laid sometime this century, a dating app probably wasn't the way to go about it. Connor could do whatever he wanted, bringing home women one after the other and happily moving on. But Mack had had enough people pass in and out of her life. There were some things she just couldn't do anymore.
Before she could say anything defending her nonexistent love life, though, the door opened and Sam walked in.
Samantha Kane was tall and slender in dress pants and a blouse, with long hair that always looked sleek and put together — unlike Mack, who was short and curvy and wore her dark hair cut unevenly around her face. But no matter how different they were, Mack liked Sam and her no-nonsense attitude. She'd come to Gold Mountain so her company, Kane Enterprises, could buy up the resort and then wound up staying — and falling in love with Connor's best friend, Austin. Mack hadn't seen much of Sam's business side up close and personal, but now that Sam officially owned the Dipper, she had a feeling that was about to change.
"Sorry I'm late," Sam said, sliding her briefcase on a table. "My last meeting with the contractors ran over. You wouldn't believe the building regulations up here." She paused, looking at the two of them with their mugs of coffee. "Are your days just getting started?" Mack shrugged. "Kind of."
Connor said, cryptically, "I was up late."
Mack could guess what that meant, and his wink confirmed it.
"Sam doesn't care about your sex life," she said as she sat down.
"You're so right," Sam said. "Except to marvel at how you keep track of them all."
See? Everybody knew Connor was a dog. And he was proud of it, ducking his head in a bow. "What can I say?" he bragged. "It can be a real challenge."
"Well, I'm about to make you feel better. Or maybe worse," Sam said. "It's sort of a mixed bag."
"What's going on?" Mack asked as Sam gestured for them to take a seat.
Kane Enterprises had recently bought up most of Gold Mountain and was in the process of transforming the sleepy ski resort into a world-class destination. Looking around at the worn wood paneling and antique skis on the walls, it didn't take a degree in real estate — or a degree in anything, really — to know the old bar's days were numbered.
Mack knew it didn't look like much, but she loved this place. Its official name was the Dipper, but nobody called it that. It was known as Mack Daddy's, after the first cocktail Mack had designed herself at Billy's Bar in Portland where she'd gotten her start. She'd brought the cocktail to Gold Mountain, and it had become an instant hit. Even though Mack didn't own the bar, it had come to feel like hers.
"Bad news first?" Sam said, and Mack braced herself.
"I've looked over the numbers, and even with the takeover, things for the Dipper aren't going well. If we keep on the way things have been heading, I give us another year, max, before the bar has to close."
A knot rose in Mack's throat. She knew things weren't great, but a year? If she lost the bar, lost her job, she had no idea what she'd do.
Her eyes flickered to Connor. He probably wasn't planning on staying around for another year, anyway. Maybe this would mean he'd be gone even earlier. But it was impossible to tell what he might be thinking.
"I thought you said there was good news," he said, and Sam nodded.
"We need to do something different. Something to draw people in. So tell me what you think of this." She paused, making sure she had their attention. "I've gotten my board at Kane Enterprises to agree to a renovation. But I'm not in the restaurant industry, and I haven't been here long enough to have a sense of what Gold Mountain really needs. That's why I'd like both of you to take the lead on the new venture."
"What?" Mack was sure she'd misheard.
"I'm offering you the chance to design a new bar and restaurant and be co-owners with me."
Mack's stomach flipped. This was crazy. She wasn't losing the bar. Instead she was being asked to —
She shook her head. Nope, this still didn't make any sense.
"I get the feeling you're not talking about a menu upgrade or some new paint," Connor said.
"I want to go big," Sam said. "If you're interested."
"You're serious?" Connor asked.
"I know it's a lot to take in. But before you decide, there's more."
Mack was glad she hadn't let herself get too excited, because wasn't there always a catch?
"My team will foot most of the bill. But not all of it. If we're going to be partners, there needs to be a financial stake," Sam said.
Mack bit her lip. "How much?"
Sam slid a piece of paper across the table. At the top were the words "Dipper Renovation." Then a bunch of details Mack skimmed over. Then a number.
A very, very large number.
Sam went on to describe the parameters of the deal. "In exchange for your investment, you'll be in charge of everything from the name to the menu, the concept, the whole design. The bar and the kitchen have to work together, though. And the plan you decide on should be something my board will agree looks profitable." She looked at each of them, underscoring her point. "I'm not here to play arbitrator. If you don't think you can handle that, it's better for us not to move forward at all."
No, Mack wanted to shout. She couldn't bear the thought of having this opportunity dangled in front of her only to see it yanked away. "That won't be a problem," she said, and kicked Connor under the table, shooting him her best don't fuck this up for me look.
"Mack and I always agree," Connor deadpanned, and Sam sighed.
"That's what I'm afraid of."
But Mack was serious. She could only hope Connor was, too.
"What about the money?" Sam asked.
"I can come up with it," he said right away.
Mack stared at him. Of course he could. He'd probably call up his dad as soon as they were done here and find the money in his account by the end of the day.
His parents had paid for college, culinary school, even floated Connor for the time he was "taking a break" from the New York restaurant scene, which as far as Mack could tell meant hitting the road and sleeping with anything that crossed his path. If this didn't work and he lost their investment? No big deal, there was plenty more where that came from.
Mack didn't have parents to ask for money. She didn't have parents at all. Billy and Todd were the closest thing she'd ever had to family and Billy's Bar her best approximation of home. She'd gotten her first job there when she was underage, washing pint glasses in exchange for a place to sleep. It wasn't until later that she'd realized they had a dishwasher to do that — Billy only gave her the task because he knew she'd bolt if she suspected him of charity. As she worked her way up, Billy joked she was going to leave him to open her own place and give him some competition.
Only it turned out he hadn't been joking. He'd left her what he could to make it happen — not an enormous amount, but a start. She'd sunk most of it into trying to keep Billy's Bar open, until Todd said he was closing for good.
So she didn't have enough to open her own place outright. Even with a bank loan, she couldn't shoulder that kind of risk on her own.
But a third of a place? With the backing of a company like Kane Enterprises in case things went south?
She could be an owner.
A co-owner, she corrected herself.
But an owner nonetheless. She could already picture the sign in the same stained wood and slanted script as Billy's. Only this time, the name would be hers.
"It's no small amount," Sam said. "I'm not trying to put you on the spot. Take a few days to think about it, but I have to be honest. We want to move fast to get the new place open in time for the summer tourist season."
Connor looked at Mack. "If you can't handle it, you can always turn the reins over to me."
"Are you kidding?" she said. "I can't let you run this place into the ground."
So what if it emptied her bank account? So what if she'd lose the safety net she'd worked so hard to build? She didn't even know what Connor would say about the bar she had in mind, but she couldn't lose this chance.
She turned to Sam. "I'm in."CHAPTER 2
Connor opened the app on his phone as he waited for his best friend Austin to meet him at the bar. Not the Dipper, but a dark, seedy-looking spot on the outskirts of Gold Mountain. He'd called Austin as soon as he could get away. He had things to talk about, and in a small town like this, he didn't want word getting around.
He had four new messages — not bad for a Monday. But he skipped them and pulled up the search bar. Mackenzie Ellinsworth.
He didn't know what shocked him more about his day — that he'd agreed to open a new bar and restaurant, that he'd agreed to open a new bar and restaurant with Mack, that Mack was on a dating site, or that Mack had been looking up him.
But there she was, definitely testing the waters.
Excerpted from Make Me Beg by Rebecca Brooks, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2017 Rebecca Brooks. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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