Read an Excerpt
Once Upon a Power Play
A Risky Business Novel
By Jennifer Bonds, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Jennifer Bonds
All rights reserved.
Another one bites the dust. Chloe Jacobs glared at her glowing cell phone, willing it to spontaneously combust in a raging ball of fire. The bigger, the better. She didn't care if the damn thing melted into a messy lump of plastic and metal right there on the coffee table. It sure as hell beat the alternative: accepting that she had been dumped — yet again — by text.
What. The. Fuck.
Pretty classy of Dave to text her twenty minutes after he was supposed to pick her up. Who did that? Oh, that's right. The losers she seemed to attract in droves. And she fell for them every time. She'd even given Dave the benefit of the doubt, assuming the blizzard outside was to blame for his lateness.
There was no denying it. She had a weakness for underdogs, douchey pickup lines, and controlling, narcissistic jackasses who thought it perfectly acceptable to treat her like an accessory. A very temporary accessory. And that weakness was forever biting her in the ass.
Chloe sighed. She ran her hands over the fitted Tadashi sheath dress she'd splurged on for her date. The warm gold tones of the dress were the perfect complement to her dark hair and eyes, but the thing she loved most were the bands that crisscrossed her middle. Those little darlings gave her an honest-to-God hourglass figure. Not exactly an easy feat on a top-heavy shorty who topped out at five-foot three on a good day. Hell, she'd even spent an hour wrestling her wild mass of curls into a fancy twist in an attempt to, what? Be more conservative? Polished? That's what Dave had wanted, wasn't it?
So much for that.
All dressed up and no place to go. It was starting to feel like the story of her life.
Well, screw Dave.
If she was going to spend Friday night holed up in her apartment wearing the nicest freaking dress she owned, she was going to do it with a margarita in her hand and a smile on her face. Which meant a trip to the bodega to grab a bottle of lime juice and maybe a pint of ice cream, snow be damned.
Grabbing her boots off the radiator, she was pleasantly surprised to find them warm and toasty when she shoved her feet into the furry lining. Finally, something was going her way. She slipped into her coat and tied the belt snug around her waist, knowing it would do little to ward off the biting wind that howled outside. But if that was the price of a good margarita, she'd pay it tonight. The only other option — wallowing in self-pity and wondering what was so wrong with her that she couldn't keep a man — wasn't exactly enticing.
Tucking her chin into the collar of her wool coat, she made the trek down the block to the little shop where she bought all her groceries. Not that she ever needed much since she was far from being a stellar cook. Which was, of course, on her mother's long list of reasons why she'd never land a decent man. Like knowing how to braise a side of beef would make her more desirable to the opposite sex. Then again, maybe it would. Hell if she knew what men wanted, aside from the obvious. Another lonely Friday night was testament to that fact.
Although, technically, Dave hadn't really dumped her, had he? It wasn't like they had a commitment. They'd only gone out a couple of times. Sure, she was pissed he'd stood her up and blown her off via text, but even more so, she was angry at herself for giving him the opportunity.
Shivering, she pulled her coat tighter, wishing she'd grabbed a hat.
The sad truth was, she had terrible taste in men. Clearly her instincts were broken. Because if there was a creep within an eight block radius, she'd probably dated him. Sure there were lots of eligible males in New York, but that didn't make them men. It just made them horny. She'd been riding the loser train as long as she could remember, and she still wouldn't know a decent man if she tripped over him and landed on his disco stick.
Fucking Cinderella. This was all her fault. Teaching little girls they should sit around and wait for Prince Charming to sweep them off their glass-slippered feet. Probably where she got her shoe fetish, too. Well, she'd kissed her fair share of frogs, and there hadn't been a single prince in the bunch. Athletes, stockbrokers, starving artists ... As far as she could tell, they were all cut from the same self-centered cloth.
Athletes were the worst of the lot. Her college boyfriend, Shane the Speedo, the last of a long line of athletes she'd dated, had proven it when he dumped her for a leggy blond Tri Delt three weeks before graduation. Stupid asshole. He'd actually had the audacity to claim the Stepford replacement would be better for his image. His image! As if Chloe was nothing more than a starter girlfriend, bought and paid off with a fancy dinner that she'd expected to end with a proposal. She hadn't even sensed his betrayal coming. Just thinking about it had her seeing red. Which was exactly why she'd sworn off jocks. Hell, she didn't even want to date a guy who went to the gym more than three days a week.
Chloe sighed, a frosty puff of air escaping her lips. Perhaps it was time to focus some of that wasted energy on more productive endeavors, like her career. She'd been a Junior Associate at PBA for three painstaking years, and with her best friend Olivia leaving the company, things just weren't the same. There had been a lot of changes, not the least of which was her stepping up and taking on more challenging projects, which allowed her to showcase her social media expertise. It seemed to be paying off, and people were starting to take notice. At the ripe old age of twenty-five, she was finally a full-fledged adult. Maybe it was time to start acting like one and spend more time planning for her future and less time chasing a fairytale that hadn't quite materialized.
It was official. She was banning men indefinitely. Shoes? Not so much.
Shit! A gust of wind whipped at her back and she lost her balance, nearly eating cement on the slick sidewalk in front of the store. Grabbing a bike rack for leverage, she righted herself and shuffled toward the door. What had she been thinking, traipsing down here in a cocktail dress? She was so not dressed for the weather, but it was too late to turn back. Brushing the wet snow from her hair and face, she opened the door and stepped inside.
Thankfully, the store was much warmer. She waved to the girl behind the counter and stomped her boots on the soggy rug. Bypassing the shopping baskets, she headed straight to the freezers and grabbed a pint of dark chocolate toasted coconut ice cream. If that didn't take the sting off her craptastic evening, a stiff drink would surely do the trick.
She made a beeline for the lime juice, only to be met with an empty shelf.
Disappointment washed over her. Mixers were the devil, but she grabbed a bottle of the greenish yellow belly-wash anyway. Silently, she prayed the store had fresh limes. She wasn't above squeezing them herself, but the produce selection usually left something to be desired.
Slipping between a rack of potato chips and a display of cereal, she took a shortcut into the next aisle, which held a couple of small coolers and a limited selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Her eyes swept over the display.
There was one lonely green fruit sitting in the basket, screaming Margarita, baby! Just as she reached for it, someone snatched the lime out of her grasp.
Score! Ryan Douglas grabbed the last lime, thankful the tiny store had in stock at least one item he needed. He shook his head. Back home, people didn't go crazy and clean out the grocery store every time it snowed. As far as he could tell, east coasters labored under the delusion they'd be snow bound for days every time a flake dropped from the sky. It was the craziest damn thing he'd ever seen, and after five years in the city, he still didn't get it.
"Hey! That's mine!"
He froze in his tracks, slowly turning around to find a tiny, pissed off brunette glaring at him with one hand on her hip and the other hugging a gallon-sized jug of margarita mix. "Excuse me?"
"The lime," she said, nodding her head and enunciating each word as if he might not speak English. "I saw it first."
It was impossible to suppress the grin that spread over his face. Was she serious? His gaze raked over her, taking in the fancy upsweep of her dark hair and the lacey gold dress — if you could call it that — that revealed more than it covered peeking out from under her unbuttoned coat. The furry brown boots climbing halfway to her bare knees? Those he could do without, but the rest was pretty damn sexy. There wasn't a winter coat around that could hide those curves. She had the kind of body a man could sink his teeth into. And he. Was. Ravenous.
"Like what you see?" She raised her brow and hooked a thumb over her shoulder. "The meat department is two aisles over."
He laughed, and it was an honest-to-God, full-on belly laugh. She was a fiery little thing. But that didn't mean he was giving her the lime. Maybe if she'd asked nicely. But with that attitude? It'd be a cold day in hell.
"Last I heard, possession is nine-tenths of the law." He tossed the lime in the air and caught it with his right hand. She glared at him, and for a moment he thought she'd kick him in the balls with her big furry boots. He was being an ass, but she wasn't exactly Miss Manners herself. Besides, it was the most fun he'd had all day. Which spoke volumes about his shitty afternoon, most of which had been spent getting his ass kicked by a sadistic physical therapist. His leg hurt like hell, but he'd tough it out. He had no other choice if he wanted to salvage his career.
The brunette rolled her eyes, the dark irises shimmering like black coffee under the soft glow of the overhead lights. "It's not my fault you have inhumanly long lumberjack arms." The smirk that followed told him yes, she was in fact referring to his worn flannel shirt.
Typical self-important New York princess, judging him by something so superficial. Not that he gave a fuck what she thought, but man, what he wouldn't give to wipe that little grin off her heart-shaped face. And with years of experience antagonizing his two older sisters, he had a pretty good idea of how to do it. He waved the lime in front of her again, wondering if she'd try to make a play for it. Not that she could get her hands on it if he didn't want her to. He towered over her by nearly a foot, and his reflexes were pretty damn good. "Princess, I wouldn't give you this lime if you got down on your knees and begged, but if it means that much to you, you're welcome to give it a go."
Her jaw dropped. And the zing of pleasure he got at seeing her speechless? That felt pretty damn good. Truth was, he could live without the lime, but he wasn't about to hand over his fruit to a pushy, sarcastic, smart-mouthed, little spitfire. Even if she did have the kind of curves that could bring a man to his knees. Hell, especially then. He'd been down that road before and all it brought was trouble. The truth was, although they shared zero physical characteristics, her attitude reminded him of Kelsey, the woman who'd abandoned him in his darkest hour and shredded his heart without a second thought. He didn't need Freud to figure out why he was getting such a thrill out of goading the sexy stranger. Displaced anger and all that psychobabble bullshit.
"Nice boots, by the way."
Blood rushed to her cheeks, coloring them a deep crimson. She sputtered, her gaze dropping to her feet before slamming back into him with confidence. "What? You want to see if they come in your size?"
"Is that what you're into?" A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth. She had a quick wit, but as the youngest of six kids, he'd learned long ago not to be anyone's punching bag. "Kinky, princess. Hate to break it to you, but I wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything that looked like it had been skinned from a Wookiee."
She scrunched up her pert little nose and for the first time he noticed the dusting of freckles on her cheeks. "Listen, Paul Bunyan, I don't know what the hell a Wookiee is, but —"
"Wait. What?" He groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. "You're kidding, right? Chewbacca?"
She threw up her hands, looking as confused as he felt.
"Star Wars?" he asked, hard pressed to believe he'd wasted such a good comeback on the one person on the planet who'd never watched the movies. "Seriously. You've never seen it?"
"Yeah, no." She rolled her eyes again and crossed her arms over her chest, giving her breasts a very distracting and wholly unnecessary boost. "Do I look like a Trekkie to you?"
He snorted. No, she most certainly did not look like any Trekkie he'd ever seen, which explained the sudden interest his cock had taken in their little sparring match. Apparently his brain wasn't the only part of him envisioning more productive uses for those pouty little lips of hers. If she needed a lesson, he'd be more than happy to give it to her, but he had something a little darker in mind. "You do know that's a totally different movie franchise, right?"
She wrinkled her brow. "Star Wars, Star Trek? What the hell is the diff —"
"Open up that register and put your hands in the air! Now!"
Fan-freaking-tastic. " You've got to be kidding me," Chloe muttered, refusing to believe her ears, or her eyes. Twenty-five years of living in the city and she'd never once been touched by its violence. Never been scammed, or mugged, or even had her goddamn pocket picked. There was no way she'd stumbled into an armed robbery. No. Way. But, yeah, it was definitely happening. Right now. In the bodega. The proof stood fifty feet away — give or take — wielding a gun and looking cracked out of his ever-loving mind. Fear blossomed in her belly, a tremor crawling up her spine and taking root.
When Lumberjack Boy clamped a hand over her mouth and pulled her behind a tower of Cheerios, crushing her to his solid chest and shielding her with his mammoth body, her fears were reaffirmed. With her brain on high alert, she couldn't help but notice the masculine scent of soap and spice that clung to his body. Or that the hands wrapped around her were both soft and strong, scooping her up and holding her secure, as though she weighed nothing at all. When he gently set her back on the floor, she pulled away from him immediately, putting as much distance between their bodies as the small space allowed. Which wasn't much considering he was a freaking giant.
Out of sight, they crouched together and watched the scene at the front of the store unfold, helpless to stop it.
"I said open up that register and give me the cash, bitch!" the robber yelled, waving his pistol around like Annie Oakley. Her stomach dropped. Dude was totally unstable.
"I think I'm gonna pee my pants."
Lumberjack Boy's head whipped around, full lips pressed in a grim line. Oops. She hadn't meant to say that out loud. His eyes darted to her stocking covered legs and something wicked flared in his eyes, sending a heat wave to her center. "You're not wearing any pants, princess."
She nearly laughed at the absurdity of his observation, and her body's reaction to him. Only that was likely to get them discovered and quite possibly shot, judging by the ranting of the nut job up front. Forcing herself to table her misplaced arousal, she peeked around the corner.
"Bitch, you better open that register if you know what's good for you!" the guy yelled.
The cashier was crying, trying to explain through her tears she couldn't open the register without completing a transaction. Even from a distance, Chloe could see her hands shaking. What would he do if the girl couldn't get him cash? She didn't want to find out.
Apparently Paul Bunyan was thinking the same thing. "We can't just sit here. We have to do something."
"Yeah, call the police," she whispered, resting her chin on her knees and sucking in a deep breath. She did not want to die in a damn grocery store. Wearing her best dress, nonetheless.
He studied her with blue eyes so clear and bright they reminded her of the summer sky — something she hoped to see again if they survived this little adventure. "The police may not get here in time. I'm going in for a closer look."
Excerpted from Once Upon a Power Play by Jennifer Bonds, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2015 Jennifer Bonds. 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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