Playing Dirty

Playing Dirty

3.9 243
by Susan Andersen

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When old enemies are thrown together, all bets are off…

Way back in high school, golden boy Cade Gallari publicly revealed he'd slept with "fat girl" Ava Spencer to win a bet. Now a decade older and a head turner with her own concierge business, Ava isn't the gullible dreamer she once was— and she plans to prove it when Cade, hotter than

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When old enemies are thrown together, all bets are off…

Way back in high school, golden boy Cade Gallari publicly revealed he'd slept with "fat girl" Ava Spencer to win a bet. Now a decade older and a head turner with her own concierge business, Ava isn't the gullible dreamer she once was— and she plans to prove it when Cade, hotter than ever, breezes back into town with an offer she can't refuse.

A documentary film producer, Cade is shooting a movie about the mysterious mansion Ava inherited. And he wants her as his personal concierge. She's certainly professional enough to be at his beck and call without giving him everything he wants. Like another shot at having her in his bed. But Ava doesn't count on Cade's determination. Because he's never gotten over her— and he's not above playing dirty to score a second chance at a red–hot future…

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Andersen (Burning Up) skillfully plays romantic tension along the love–hate and professional–unprofessional axes when filmmaker Cade Galliari tries for a second chance at Ava Spencer, the "fat girl" he humiliated in high school by sleeping with her on a bet. Now Ava is a curvy bombshell and part-owner of a mansion that Cade wants to do a documentary on. Cade hires her for the production team and then attempts to escalate their reconnection. Andersen may intend her hefty heroine to be empowering, but her complimentary descriptions of Ava's appearance are almost apologetic, and too much of the story focuses on body image issues, as though that's all big women ever think about. Nevertheless, the conflict between Ava's never-faded attraction to Cade and her unwillingness to trust him this time, coupled with both characters' competitive mean streaks, makes a powerful driver for this story. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Guaranteed snap, sizzle and sass!" --New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips

"A sexy feel-good contemporary romance...a winner." --Publishers Weekly on Bending the Rules

"A smart, arousing, spirited escapade that is graced with a gentle mystery, a vulnerable, resilient heroine, and a worthy, wounded hero and served up with empathy and a humorous flair." -Library Journal on Burning Up

Product Details

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4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

I'm not sure if I just made a really savvy move— or the biggest blunder of my life.

Present day, the ninth of November

The bastard was late. Ava Spencer cursed the man she was waiting on as she paced the front foyer of the Wolcott mansion, alternately hugging herself against the cold and trying to rub some warmth into her arms through her coat sleeves. The place had been closed up for several weeks, and between the wind currently buffeting the mullioned windows and the rainstorm that had blown through earlier, leaving a Seattle–centric damp–to–the–bone chill in its wake, she was freezing her ass off.

She would've turned on the heat, but there was little point. If the guy ever deigned to get here, she'd be showing him the mansion from attic to wine cellar. And while Jane kept the front parlor and hidden closet in Miss Agnes's upstairs sitting room climate–controlled for the preservation of the Wolcott collections that weren't currently sold or on loan to museums, it would take until noon tomorrow to warm up the rest. And although she had turned on every light in the house, the illusion of warmth from the yellow glow of the lamps and overheads didn't come close to replacing the real thing.

A laugh that went a little wild escaped her. Like that was the crucial issue here. Because… It's not some guy, Av. It's Cade CalderwoodGallari.

Jeez Marie. She couldn't believe she'd agreed to this. So, yes, she was concentrating on the minutiae for all she was worth to keep from thinking about him. Because it was too freaking late to second–guess herself now.

Wasn't it?

She froze for an arrested second. Hell, no, it wasn't! The heavy feeling in her stomach lightening, she snatched up her purse and started down the hallway to the kitchen. Its exterior door was the direct route to where she'd parked her Beemer. Cade was late? She was out of here.

Headlights swept the east wall across from the kitchen archway, stopping her dead. "Shit."

Too late.

She did a little dance in place to shake off the tension that had her tighter than an over–wound watch, throwing in some yoga breathing for good measure. Exhaling a final gusty breath, she nodded to herself. "Okay. Time to pull on your big girl pants."

She forced herself to shove down her irritation over Cade's tardiness, over the fact that he breathed, and bury it deep. It's been thirteen years, girl. He's a footnote, someone who no longer matters. Who hasn't mattered for a very long time. So it probably wouldn't do to snap his head off first thing.

But, oh, boy. The temptation.

She watched him through the back–door window as he climbed the steps and stopped beneath the porch light, and her annoyance surged back with a vengeance. She fought it to a standstill once more, pushed out a final exhalation and reached out to unlock the door.

The knob turned before she could open it, and he blew into the kitchen, shaking himself like a wet dog and sending raindrops flying in all directions from his sun–streaked brown hair. Looking beyond him, Ava saw that it had begun to pour again.

"Man, it's wet out there!" He flashed her his trademark Gallari smile, white teeth flashing and deep creases bracketing his mouth. Only she noticed that this time the blue, blue eyes glinting between dense, dark lashes held… something. Wariness maybe or… calculation? Something cooler and edgier than the smile that for years had haunted her dreams.

It just bugged the hell out of her that she felt his impact like a cattle prod to the breastbone. Why was it like this every damn time she laid eyes on him: this immediate, visceral one–two to the heart? It was identical to the reaction she'd had around teenaged Cade—and even after everything she knew about him, everything he'd done—seeing him gave her that same hot punch to the solar plexus.

Well, it would be a cold, cold day in hell before she felt the least bit tempted to act on it. She raised an eyebrow. "And you call yourself a Seattle native?"

"I forgot how fast the rain can soak a guy up here."

She gave him a polite smile. "I suppose living in southern California will do that to a person." She made a show of glancing at her watch. "Tell me why you think I should give you the time of day—let alone rent you the mansion for a documentary."

"O–kay. No small talk." His mouth developed an unyielding slant that somehow looked more at home on his chapped lips than his old smile. "Sorry I'm late. There was a wreck on I–5 and it took a while to get traffic moving again."

She nodded her acceptance of his apology and watched as he looked around the kitchen. A small pucker of dismay appeared between his dark eyebrows. "It's been modernized."

When Ava looked him fully in the face this time, she found it less unsettling. "Surely you didn't expect it to be the same as it was back in the eighties?"

"I guess I'd hoped it would be."

"As soon as Poppy, Jane and I inherited it, we had the awful sunroom addition removed and, yes, modernized the place throughout. We were expecting to sell it, Slick, not rent it—and even that's not a done deal." She raised her brows. "Your pitch?"

"As my production assistant told you on the phone, I want to do a documentary on the Wolcott Suite mystery. But more than that, I want to feature Agnes Wolcott."

She had, and Ava had to admit that was the reason she was standing here. But—"Why? I mean, sure, the Wolcott diamonds gained urban legend status locally, but I doubt the story surrounding it is nationally famous."

"Maybe not, but I grew up in this town, and I've been fascinated by the mystery of it since I was a kid." His blue eyes lit with enthusiasm. "It's got everything, Ava—a cool old mansion, a fortune in diamonds that were never recovered, a murder… and a woman at the heart of it that I find more and more remarkable the deeper I dig."

She really liked that last part. What she didn't like was him. "And I should care about what you want, why?"

"Because I can do justice to a woman I know you cared for. And because I'll give you and your friends thirty grand for six weeks' use, pay all the peripheral expenses for the time Scorched Earth Productions is here and landscape the grounds back to the way they were in the eighties."

Oh, low. The mansion had turned into an albatross around her and her friends' necks in this economy, and he undoubtedly knew it. Desperately, she wanted to spit in his eye. But she thought of her friends. Poppy and Jane had never complained, but she knew this place was a drain on them, too. So, sucking up her ire, wondering if she was making the worst decision of her life, she gritted teeth and said through them, "Fine."

"You'll do it?"

"Yes." What the hell. She wouldn't have to see him. "Have your assistant call me for my lawyer's number— you can send him the contracts—and if he finds it agreeable you've got a deal. Do you want a tour before you go? Since you seemed concerned about the work we had done, I'd be happy to show you. I think you'll agree our crew did a wonderful job of preserving the spirit of the original design in their restoration." She stepped back.

"One more thing," he said, halting her. "I want to hire you as the production company's concierge, as well."

She laughed in his face. "No. Do you want that tour or not?"

"Forget the tour—"

"Works for me. Send your paperwork to my lawyer." She turned to go.

"Look. I'll pay you two grand a week plus a fifty thousand dollar bonus if the documentary comes in on time and on budget."

"Which somehow won't happen, right?"

"The bonus is a legitimate offer, Ava. I'll email my own contracts for your attorney to look over while he's going over yours, and you'll see I have a lot more to lose than you."

Doesn't matter. Because it's not going to happen. But damn him. Damn him, damn him, damn him! Not only had her trust fund taken a huge hit in the economic downturn, so had the finances of many of the clients who formed the foundation of her concierge business. And as one of the gazillion mortgage holders who'd been caught up in the subprime lending disaster, she was facing a huge balloon payment on her condo that was coming due in the not–nearly–future–enough future.

Well, too bad, so sad for her. She'd rather lose the place than spend six weeks in this bastard's company.

Seriously? her hardscrabble practicality demanded. She had to admit that was pretty cut–your–nose–off–to–spite–your–face idiotic. This could actually be the answer to her prayers. And hell, it wasn't as if she were worried about falling under his spell. Been there, done that.

"You'd be in place to make sure I do credit to your Miss Wolcott," he said softly.

She blew out a defeated breath. "All right. Contingent on my attorney's evaluation of the contracts, I'll do it—to see you do justice to Miss A's story." And if she was also doing it for the money, he didn't have to know. "Do you want that tour? We can start with the dining room across the hall."

She turned, only to feel Cade wrap a hand around her forearm to halt her. Heat seeped through the cashmere

of her coat sleeve beneath his light grasp, and she promptly swung back around, twisting her arm free. "Do not," she said with hard–fought calm, "touch me."

Releasing her, he stepped back. "I just wanted to tell you, before we get started, how genuinely sorry I am for what happened back in high school. I was—"

"Forget it," she interrupted. She so did not want to rehash the ugly details of the past with him. "I have."

"Really?" An eloquent eyebrow rose, surprise flashing in the depths of his cobalt eyes.

She gave him a regal nod. She had cut him off at the knees the other times he'd sought her out over the years to apologize, but if acknowledging his regret would move him along to a place where they didn't have to discuss the past, then, fine. She'd grant him his damn redemption.

"You forgive me then?"

No. Hell, no. That would be a snowboarding day in hell.

But she gave him a serene smile, knowing from this point on she had to be professional. "Let's just agree to leave the past in the past, shall we?" Not awaiting a response, she led him to the dining room and got down to business. "As you can see, great care was taken in here to preserve the integrity of the era in which the Wolcott Mansion was built—"

She met Jane and Poppy at Sugar Rush, her favorite neighborhood coffee shop/bakery, the next afternoon. As they took their seats at a round table by the play area, she sucked in a quick inhale, then eased it out. "I did something last night I hope you'll be okay with," she said to her two best friends amid the clatter of crockery and conversations. She hesitated for a brief second, then blurted, "I agreed to rent the mansion to Cade Gallari."

Okay, her ripping–off–the–Band–Aid delivery was clearly a little too abrupt, for Jane's blue eyes went round with shock. Then her friend slapped both hands onto the tabletop, came half out of her seat to shove her face closer to Ava's own and said, "You agreed to rent it to who? "

Ignoring the two women at the next table whose attention was drawn by Jane's incredulous rising voice and aggressive stance—a look at odds with her neat, shiny brown hair and dark–hued clothing that always looked so conservative at first glance—Ava focused on her friends. She knew perfectly well she'd been heard. Nevertheless, she repeated evenly, "Cade Gallari."

"Tell me you're kidding." Poppy's voice might have been calmer than Jane's, but as the curly haired blonde set her coffee cup down the expression in her topaz–brown eyes held identical disbelief. "Why would we let that douche anywhere near our inheritance?"

It was a fair question. Miss Agnes, the cool old lady who'd started having the three of them over to her mansion for monthly teas when they were twelve, who'd given them their first diaries and gotten them started on their lifelong journaling habit, had become a friend and a mentor. In Ava's and Janie's case, she'd been more parentlike than their own parents. And when she'd died a year and a half ago, she'd left a big hole.

Even in death, however, she'd been full of surprises, and Ava, Jane and Poppy had been astounded to learn she'd bequeathed them her estate. Miss A might well be rolling over in her grave at the thought of Cade in her home. God knows she'd played a large role in helping Ava pick up the pieces after his betrayal.

Feeling a little beleaguered, she stared at her friend. "It's not as if I would've chosen to let him use the Wolcott mansion, either, Poppy, given any other option. But I'm fresh out of those. I said yes because the market for houses in our price range is stagnant and we're paying through the nose for taxes, lights, utilities, yard maintenance and all the other crap that goes along with maintaining a place this size. He'll pay very well for the privilege."

She told them the terms. "And he'll pay even more if we decide to rent him a few of Miss Agnes's collections to use in his production—something I told him he'd have to discuss with you, Janie. You both know he produces documentaries about unsolved mysteries, right?"

The other women shifted guiltily, and she laughed, feeling tension she hadn't even realized she'd been carrying—in her neck, her shoulders, her spine—release its grip. "Relax, I don't doubt your loyalty—you guys have boycotted all things Gallari forever. But we'd have to live in outer Mongolia not to have heard something about the name he's making for himself."

"Okay—I confess—I saw one of his films." Poppy held her hands up in a Don't shoot! gesture when both Ava and Jane gaped at her. "/ didn't pick it out—Jason ordered the damn thing from Netflix one night. He–who–shall–not–be–named is never mentioned in our house, so Jase had no way of putting the documentary maker together with the guy he saw upsetting you in that bar in Columbia City last year. Murphy'd just told him he had to see it."

Focusing on the sign next to the kiddie play area, Ava did her best to wrestle her curiosity to a standstill. Unsupervised Kids Will Be Given An Espresso And A Free Puppy, she read. Usually that tickled her, but now the words simply bounced around in her head like Ping–Pong balls in a box—until finally, unable to help herself, she surrendered to her need to know. "All right, I give. Did it live up to all the hype?"

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Playing Dirty 3.9 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 243 reviews.
BookaholicTracy More than 1 year ago
This was a great read. The writing is beautiful, the story wonderful. I can't wait for the next book to come out.
NookloverCT More than 1 year ago
Great story! Easy read. Believable characters. Written with true emotion that allows you to feel what the character is feeling...hurt, anger, insecurity, determination, happiness. Very well done story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoy everything that I have read by Susan Anderson. I pre order her books and read them as fast as I can.
Rachael Evans More than 1 year ago
I could not get into this book so I gave up. The story is slow to unravel and the characters have no substance.
Judy_F More than 1 year ago
Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen is the long awaited story of Ava Spencer. Its well worth the wait. Ava Spencer has built a well deserved reputation as a top notch concierge. If something needs to get done Ava is your woman. But the down turn in the economy has effected her business. When her former high school crush comes calling with a job for Ava. She is hard pressed to turn the money down. Its going to be harder to get past the public humiliation Cade Gallari caused her back in high school to work with him day in and day out. Cade Gallari, a documentary film producer, is eager to film the long ago mystery involving the mansion that Ava and her two best friends inherited. He offers Ava the job of being his personal concierge. Cade has apologized to Ava before but he wants to show her that he isn't that misguided boy from high school. He has matured over the years but he has never gotten over his true feelings for Ava. Ava and Cade relationship changes the more time they spend together. Ava slowly realizes Cade sees the real her not the person she used to be and that is on heady feeling. Plus she understands more about what was going on with him back then as well. But Cade is only in town till the documentary is filmed. Will either of them be willing to take a chance on something wonderful? Playing Dirty is an all out absolute delight. Its fast paced, witty, charming read. Ava and Cade's relationship sends sparks every time they see each other. Another treat in this book is revisiting with Ava's friends Jane and Poppy. Susan Andersen's books are tops on my list of books to read and re-read.
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Happywitch More than 1 year ago
I had been waiting for Ava's Story….  And, I enjoyed it. I would have given it a 5 stars… had it not gone a little overboard in talking about her being too plump still. [SPOILER ALERT] Even the guys perspective was not described as the normal "this woman is hot", it even had him making up excuses to himself, as to why she was hot at her weight. It was still a good read.
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ssmommie75TB More than 1 year ago
Susan Andersen wrote another good book in Playing Dirty. I have to say Ava had more forgiveness in her than I would have had, had I been in her shoes. Cade was a grade A jerk in high school, but to give him his due over the years he had tried repeatedly to apologize. What he did though would have required years of apologies in my opinion. Andersen wrote another good book.
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Awesomely entertaining. Loved it!
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Hi there.
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