Read an Excerpt
The Hookup Hoax
By Heather Thurmeier, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Heather Thurmeier
All rights reserved.
Sawyer Sterling sipped his ice-cold cola and wished it wasn't too early to add a splash of rum to the glass. As CEO of Sterling Enterprises, a marketing company in New York City, he had to be clearheaded and focused at all times if he wanted his business to be successful. And he did, but it was getting more and more challenging every year.
At the moment he couldn't focus on anything. Not the fact they were currently short-staffed because of an unexpected medical leave, or the fact that this quarter was the worst he'd seen in his years as CEO. And he definitely couldn't focus on the meeting with a prospective client he had to plan for—a client with a deal big enough to turn the numbers around for the whole year.
Today his focus was shot to hell because he couldn't stop thinking about the news he'd gotten last night, at Sunday dinner with his family.
"What's wrong with you?" Aidan asked. "That waitress with the sweet ass walked by our table again, and again you failed to notice. Something happen at the office this morning? Or did that girl in the silver dress ride you so hard on Friday night that you're still recovering?"
It wasn't unusual for him to go home with a girl on his arm, though he didn't make it a weekly event. But every now and then, one would catch his eye, sexual chemistry would spark, and panties would fly off, as if by magic.
When the job got hard, his dick seemed to stiffen up, too, and there was only one cure for that. Well, two really. But a solo tug in the shower was the equivalent of rubbing your temples to cure a migraine, when what you really needed was a couple of extra-strength painkillers.
"Work is the same." His grandfather's company had been successful once upon a time. His father had taken over when Gramps was getting ready to retire, and he'd made it even bigger in the field. Then his parents died, and Sterling Enterprises had been left in the hands of an interim CEO until Sawyer's eighteenth birthday. When he'd finally taken over, he'd been left with nothing more than memories of his father's legacy, the shell of what had once been a thriving business, and the overwhelming fear that he'd never measure up, no matter how hard he tried. Nothing new there. "It's the family situation that's suddenly gotten out of control."
His best friend's brow creased. "You haven't gotten some girl knocked up, have you?"
"God no." Sawyer shuddered at the thought. He was always safe. He didn't do serious relationships, and a baby definitely made a situation serious. "It's nothing like that."
Aidan relaxed back into his seat. "So what is it then?"
Sawyer looked at his drink and trailed his fingers through the condensation on the outside of the glass. It reminded him of the water droplets rolling off Rosemary's shoulders as she climbed out of the lake last summer. At least he thought that was her name. Could have been Rosaline. Roseanne? Regardless, watching water running down her tight body had been a pretty damned fantastic way to spend a day with one of the locals. "You know my grandparents' place?"
Aidan nodded, as expected. His friend couldn't forget the place where Sawyer had lived for so long, anymore than he could. "What about it?"
"They've decided to move back into the city, where they'll have more access to everything."
"That's great. Why do you look like that's a death sentence?"
"They think the place should go to someone who will keep it in the family, pass it down through the generations like they're doing. There's only me and my cousin Tyler. I can't help but feel like they're forcing my hand. I mean, how can I compete with the guy who has a pregnant wife?"
Growing up, his grandparents' cabin in the Catskills was the one place he really connected with his dad ... the one place where his father wasn't too busy with work to spend time with him. Later, after his parents died, the cabin had gone from summer vacation spot to permanent residence in the blink of an eye, when he'd moved in with his grandparents full-time. The cabin had become home. Now they were passing it down. The thought that it could go to someone other than himself, especially his obnoxious cousin, made his stomach twist into a tight knot.
The one place he loved and hated most in the world—the source of his best family memories, and the site of the boating accident that took his parents' lives.
"Your grandparents can't really expect you to settle down just because they want to leave the cabin to someone with a family, can they?"
"You do remember my grandparents, right? Overbearing. Protective. Meddling." They were also sweet, loving, and kind, but it was hard to remember that at the moment. Not to mention, they were the ones who'd stood by him, taken him in, given him a place to live after his parents died.
Aidan laughed. "How can I forget? Gran called me last week to grill me on why I haven't been out to see them in months. As if I haven't spent enough Sunday dinners at their place since middle school. And if I don't show my face before their big birthday party, I'm not to show my face at all. Disowned." He laughed again. "It's like she's forgotten my last name is Morgan, not Sterling. You can't disown something you didn't own in the first place."
"You can't be friends with me this long and not be considered part of the family. The sooner you realize you've officially been adopted by Gran, the better off you'll be."
Aidan's cell vibrated with a new text message. He typed a response as the waitress delivered his pizza, and a burger for Sawyer. "Can I order a clubhouse sandwich with fries and a side of gravy as well?" he asked her.
The waitress nodded and walked away. Aidan was right. She did have a fabulous ass.
"Pizza isn't enough? Did you pick up a tape worm or something?" Sawyer asked, eyeing his friend and his abnormally huge appetite.
"No. It's for Olivia. She's crashing on my couch. I told her she could join us for a quick bite since I don't have any food in the house. I hope you don't mind. I'm sure she'll just eat and leave."
Memories of childhood flooded his thoughts. He couldn't count the number of hours he'd spent running around outside on warm summer nights with Aidan and Olivia. It hadn't mattered that that she was Aidan's little sister by two years. She'd kept up with them—playing ball, riding bikes, and skinning her knees while climbing trees right along with them. Someone could've mistaken her for just another boy if it hadn't been for her long, braided pigtails. The three of them had been almost inseparable until ...
He shook his head, not wanting to think about his parents' accident again. It had happened. It was in the past. So was Olivia and Aidan's parents' divorce, which had happened shortly afterward. Olivia had gone to live with her mom, and Aidan had stayed in New York with his dad. All three kids hit a rough patch in life at the same time —exactly why real relationships were bad news for everyone.
"I didn't know she was in town. I thought she was still backpacking. How long is she crashing with you before she heads home to California?"
Aidan shrugged. "Forever, at this point. She's decided to try the East Coast lifestyle for a while. I guess she can stay as long as she needs to, to get back on her feet."
"It's not easy starting from scratch in this city. It's good you're letting her crash with you." Sawyer grinned and picked up his burger. "I'm sure the girl you try to bring home next weekend won't mind finding your sister on the couch."
"Not much I can do about it," Aidan said. "So what about you? What are you going to do about your grandparents' place?"
Sawyer took a bite of his burger and chewed thoughtfully. "They never actually said I had to get married, thank God, but being able to pass it down in the future is definitely their biggest concern. Being single shouldn't make me deserve it less. Hell, it's been my home for years. I'll take good care of it."
Marriage and babies—long-term relationships in general—were not something he was interested in, now or ever. Not that he was against commitment for other people, just for himself. Marriages were great. Families were great—until he was the orphaned kid, left behind to be raised by his grandparents. Then the thought of marriage and family sucked. There was no way he'd risk having a wife or family while knowing he could die at any moment, leaving behind a wake of sadness and loneliness. It was easier not to get into the situation to begin with. Bachelorhood for life, and no collateral damage.
Sawyer pushed his plate aside, his appetite gone. "I can't let it go to Tyler. He doesn't even like it out there."
After a long silence, Aidan spoke. "If all they want is to see you in a relationship, why not let them?"
Sawyer shook his head. "I don't do relationships, you know that." He'd mistakenly thought he could handle one a few years ago, only to have it end in a messy break-up. Tammy had wanted to be put first, like any girlfriend would, but he'd been focused only on living up to his father's legacy, and making the business successful once again, not on nurturing a romance.
"You don't do real relationships," his friend said, "but what if you find someone to play your girlfriend for a little while? Someone you could show off to the family. They'd get what they want, and hopefully after their birthday party, you'll get what you want, too—the cabin. Pretend to break up a month later and no one will be the wiser."
He might not want a real girlfriend, but he could deal with a fake girlfriend if it meant the cabin would be his in three months.
He nodded. "Okay, but what kind of woman would sign up for this, knowing they'd be tossing away three months of their life for nothing?"
"There must be someone. Not every woman wants long-term."
Sawyer laughed. "Really? When was the last time you met a girl who didn't want forever?"
"Good point," Aiden admitted. "What about that girl Sasha you went out with last month?"
The girls he "dated" were usually eager to move from the hookup part to the girlfriend stage. With any of them, a fake relationship might become too real on their end. He wanted to keep his home, but he didn't want to hurt anyone along the way. He still felt a tiny twinge of remorse when he thought about how much he'd hurt Tammy. That was another mistake he didn't want to repeat in the future. "Nope. No ex-hookups."
"Okay. What about your receptionist?" Aidan asked as the waitress set down the clubhouse sandwich at the empty spot at the table.
"Definitely not." Sawyer sighed. "She came into work with an engagement ring on her finger a few weeks ago, and there's no one else at work I'd consider. Besides, it has to be someone my family will believe I would suddenly date."
Aidan waved toward the front door, past Sawyer's shoulder. "Olivia's here."
Sawyer's mouth dropped open. This wasn't the kid he knew from years ago. Gone was her boyishly rectangular frame and dirt-stained cheeks, replaced by flowing curves and tantalizingly tanned flesh. She wasn't a kid anymore.
Olivia was a woman.
A fucking sexy one, too.
As Olivia plunked herself at her brother's side, Sawyer couldn't pull his gaze away. While he still recognized hints of the kid she used to be, he liked the ways she'd changed. Her lips were fuller now and softly coated in color, exactly the kind of lips he loved to kiss. Long ago the thought of kissing her had been disgusting, but now ... he could almost imagine the warmth of her plump lips as his tongue flicked across them.
"Hi," she said with a quick, unsure smile, meeting his gaze for merely a second then turning her attention to her brother. "Thanks for ordering. I'm starving."
She grabbed a stacked triangle of sandwich and dipped it into the bowl of gravy before sinking her teeth into it. The sigh that escaped her mouth was one of pure pleasure, and her eyelids fluttered shut.
Sawyer swallowed hard. That sound ... it was enough to make his balls tighten.
Aidan cleared his throat and Sawyer met his friend's eyes. The expression staring back at him was angry and protective. "You're welcome. I'm happy to keep my little sis fed while she's staying with me."
There was no doubt in Sawyer's mind why he'd emphasized certain words. Message received. Little sis was off-limits. But that shouldn't mean he couldn't look.
"So," he said, hoping to sound cheerful and aloof, "are you having trouble finding an apartment? I can't imagine the couch is very comfortable."
"She can't move out until she has a paycheck, and she can't earn a paycheck if she can't find a job."
"No one will give you a job?" Sawyer asked. "That doesn't seem right."
Olivia shrugged. "Seems 'kiwi picker in New Zealand' doesn't earn much respect on a resume these days. I mean, I worked hard to earn my pay. It's not like I was sitting around on a beach for years working on my tan."
Her skin was a warm caramel, but the neckline of her shirt had slipped off her shoulder while she ate, revealing a tan line that proved just how milky white her skin normally was. Maybe she wasn't a professional beach bum, but she'd definitely seen her fair share of sunshine recently, more than they'd had here in New York City in the last few months. As his gaze followed the tan line where it disappeared beneath her shirt, he found himself wondering how sun-kissed the rest of her body was. Surf-loving New Zealanders liked bikinis, didn't they? When in Rome, as they say ...
Forcing his thoughts on to safer topics, he swallowed his last bite of burger before speaking again. "Didn't you do any other work while you backpacked around the world? Surely something you did must be good enough for a resume."
"Would you hire a kiwi picker, coffee server, or farm hand who hadn't been in the country for the last five years?"
Sawyer's thoughts filled with images of Olivia on the top of a ladder with her head stuck in a kiwi plant. He could imagine the kid he knew back in middle school doing something like that, but this put-together-without-being-high-maintenance woman in front of him? No way. She definitely looked more suited for an office job somewhere instead of out in a field getting dirty.
Crashing on a couch. In need of an apartment and a job.
Olivia was Aidan's little sister.
His smirk grew into a grin. She glanced up from her plate, flinching suddenly when she found him eyeing her. He knew he should look away, but couldn't. Olivia was safe. She was protected by the Bro Code. Little sisters of buddies were always off-limits, as Aidan had already made perfectly clear. There was no way Sawyer would be tempted to get involved with her in any way, when doing so would jeopardize his friendship.
"Why are you grinning like a guy who knows two weeks in advance which team would win the Super Bowl?" Aidan asked.
Sawyer leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table, giving all his attention to Olivia and ignoring his friend. "I'll hire you."
"You will?" she asked. "But you don't even know my qualifications."
"What was your major?"
"I graduated with a BA in Business."
"Perfect. We have an administrative assistant position that's available because Bethany had to take a medical leave."
"That's great," Olivia said, enthusiastically. "Not for Bethany, of course, but for me. I can fill in until she's well enough to return to work."
"Are you sure you want to do that? You don't need to feel obligated to hire her because of our friendship," Aidan said.
"Shut up," Olivia whispered, nudging her brother in the side. "I need a job."
"Yeah, but you'd have to work with him."
"What's wrong with that?" she asked, still whispering.
Sawyer cleared his throat as a subtle hint that while they could obviously see him, he could also hear them. When they turned his way, he wove his fingers together as if he was about to pray. Maybe he should, if it meant this new plan had a hope of working. "On one condition."
Aidan grimaced. "What's that exactly? And before you answer, remember she's my sister and I will hurt you." Sawyer didn't know why, exactly, but ever since Olivia had graduated college and gone off to travel, Aidan had been especially protective of her.
Excerpted from The Hookup Hoax by Heather Thurmeier, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2015 Heather Thurmeier. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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