Read an Excerpt
The Seduction Game
By Emma Shortt, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Emma Shortt
All rights reserved.
"There's a car pulling up outside Mr. Kawoski's."
The voice of her assistant, Meg, or as she liked to be known, "Number One," was audible even over the heavy beat pounding in Kate Kelly's ears. She narrowed her eyes, tugged her trailing earbuds from where she'd hooked them over the arms of her glasses, and peeked around her largest monitor, fondly referred to as Captain Carter. "There's no one at Mr. Kawoski's. It's not even Mr. Kawoski's anymore. It belongs to the devil now."
Something that sounded suspiciously like a snort left Meg's lips as she moved from her spot behind the serving counter to the window that covered the entire storefront of K.I.T. Her ginger braids bounced as she twitched the blinds, and her miniskirt, as always, threatened to expose her panties. "Not true, Katie," she said. "There's always construction workers hovering around these days, and, might I add, they're not even attractive ones. What are the odds of that? Flocks of them and not one I'd shake my panties at."
Kate scowled. Something she did an awful lot these days. The scowl was not for Meg's panty-shaking though — she was used to that. It was for the situation, the construction workers, and most of all for him. "I meant no one, as in Mr. Kawoski, or what used to be his customers."
"Yeah, well, blame Will Thornton for that," Meg said, twitching the blinds again as she invoked the name of their nemesis. "Though I don't know why you keep calling him the devil. It's not even creative. We should go with Borg king."
"Meggie, the Borg have a queen, not a king. You know that as well as I do," Kate said, standing up and dropping her electric blue iPod and earbuds on her desk with a thud. Just thinking of Will Thornton made her angry — though really, there was no need to take it out on the iPod.
Meg flipped her a backhanded bird, clearly not convinced by Kate's logic. "Apart from it sucking on the creativity front," she muttered, "it's not even fair. We've never even met Thornton. Only his slimy assistant Chris whatever-his-name was. Thornton himself might be awesome."
Kate's scowl deepened and she was tempted to throw her ever-growing rubber band ball at her best friend. "He is not awesome. Awesome men do not buy all the buildings around you. They do not then deluge you with letters and telephone calls and visits from their skeevy assistant because you won't sell yours. And they definitely do not try and evict you."
"He offered you a very good price, and buying the building is not the same as evicting."
"It so is."
"It's so not." Meg twitched the blind a little more, leaning forward and giving Kate a clear view of her Wonder Woman panties. Charming. "Ohhh look, it's a red car, one of those low-slung ones like something out of Fast and Furious. What did you say it was again, a Porch, a Merc?"
"It's a Porsche? You, throw in the 'e', and I said they were symbols of crumbling manhood. A clear expression of everything that is wrong with the male of our species."
"Symbols of ... oh my gosh ... it's a man and he's getting out of the car and good lordie ... Katie, get your ass over here."
"It'll keep. Come here. Quickly."
Kate sighed, not wanting to move but getting up anyway. Excitement had been rare round their parts even before all the other property owners had fallen for Will Thornton's wallet. Nowadays, what with them being the only business left and all, it was pretty much absent.
"Who is it? Another lawyer or surveyor, I bet," Kate said as she stalked across the store. It wasn't a long stalk. The main room of K.I.T. was not exactly big. It boasted a display window, a counter, wall shelving, and her den — all crammed into a space that was smaller than Kate's childhood bedroom. "It better not be Chris what's-his-name again."
Meg shook her head and pointed in the direction of the visitor before letting out an exaggerated sigh. "It's not Chris. He's dumpy and sweaty. But this guy? Well, no one would say he has any kind of crumbling anything. Certainly not his manhood."
"Why is he wearing a suit?" Kate asked, more because she couldn't think of anything else to say. Meg had a point. More than a point, actually. The man, whoever he was, bore a striking resemblance to her numero-uno heartthrob, Firefly god Malcolm Reynolds. Good lordie, indeed. "Who the hell wears a full suit to a building site?" she asked, even as her heart began to pound a little faster and a moshpit of butterflies took up residence in her stomach. "Lawyers is who. And stop twitching the blind. He's going to see that we're staring."
Giving no indication that he had noticed the blind twitching across the street, the man opened the passenger side door of his fancy car and pulled out a hard hat and high-visibility vest. He removed his suit jacket, exposing a crisp white shirt and despairingly muscular bod, shrugged the high-vis vest on, pushed his fair hair back, and placed the hat on his head.
"Lawyers don't wear hard hats," Meg insisted, sighing. "He must be one of the project managers or something. I call dibs. You know I call dibs, right?"
Of course she did. Meg always called dibs and usually that was fine with Kate. Meg was the flirty, fun, outrageous one. She got the numbers and the dates and came in the next morning all disheveled and full of lusty stories. Kate got work and a Firefly marathon, if there was time. So yeah, usually ...
The butterflies twisted and turned. Kate found herself wondering where usually had gone. She took another peek at the man, her heart rate increasing as she did so. It was such a weird reaction to have to a stranger, good-looking or no, that she took a step back, tugged one of Meg's braids, and spoke with a forced cheerfulness. "Good luck with that. Whether he's a lawyer, a project manager, or just another construction guy, he's clearly not a customer, so he's probably not gonna come in here."
"He could be a customer," Meg said wistfully. "One last, hardy soul willing to brave the construction site this place has become so you can work your wizardry on his hard drive."
"Loving your enthusiasm, but I doubt it. We haven't had any walk-in customers since the bakery closed. God, I miss their banana bread."
"We still have our regulars. They'll keep coming. They don't care that we're now located in the middle of a shit storm and that the air is thick with dust and there's nowhere to even buy a bottle of water ..." Meg dropped the blind like it had scalded her and scooted back, stepping on Kate's foot in the process. "Oh, crap, you don't think ..."
"Holy hell, Meg. That hurt! You have steel toe caps on, you know."
"Sorry, but I just realized ... you don't think it's him?"
"The Borg king."
The butterflies disappeared and a nasty panic hit Kate square in the chest — her muscles tightened and her belly clenched. She opened her mouth to deny the possibility that the Adonis across the way could possibly be Will Thornton, but then closed it a second later. She peeked back out of the blinds instead and eyed the figure who was now speaking into his cell phone. He looked ... impatient ... aggressive ... all male. Her heart stuttered and she swallowed unsteadily. "It can't be. It wouldn't be," she said. "The man's like a millionaire or something. He'd be surrounded by minions."
Meg twitched the blind again. "Speaking of minions ..."
The man, who may or may not have been Will Thornton, dropped his cell phone into his pocket and gestured impatiently at the two burly workers now approaching him. He spoke a couple of words Kate and Meg couldn't hear before disappearing into what was once Mr. Kawoski's shop, followed by the workers. Where they'd come from, Kate didn't know, but there they were. Maybe he snapped his fingers and they just appeared, ready and willing to do his bidding?
Just like Will Thornton would.
"It's gotta be him," Meg said, echoing her thoughts. "We knew he'd come sooner or later and now here he is, and he's bound to come over. He practically has to. He needs this building and you've ignored the last lot of his letters, not to mention you told Chris to go suck it. What other option is there but to come see you in person?"
Kate shook her head. The idea of having to speak to Will Thornton made her want to scream. The idea of having to speak to a Will Thornton who was as immensely attractive as the man across the way made her want to hide. She had an image of him in her head, based purely on what she thought he should look like — old and hawk-faced, and whenever Kate had imagined a showdown with him it was that image she had confronted. Only now? Kate inhaled sharply. How the hell could she deal with a Will Thornton who made butterflies take up residence in her belly, purely on his looks?
"He could come in here any moment," Meg added.
"He can't," Kate said, her voice slightly more frantic than she would have liked. "I already told Chris-the-sleaze my answer. He can't."
Meg snorted. "Of course he can, and he's probably going to. We, and by we, I mean you, can't ignore the situation forever. He's not going to give up. K.I.T. sits right in the middle of the whole development. He's gonna keep hassling you until you agree to sell. You are aware of this, right?"
Kate stepped away from the window and, to give herself a moment to think, she adjusted one of the USB kits hanging from the shelving system next to the window. It was dusty, which meant the rest of the stock probably was, too, which meant she'd have to clean, again.
"Katie?" Meg prompted.
The infrared keyboard and mouse combos were also coated in a fine powder, as were the adaptors. Kate rubbed at the dust, realized it wasn't going to come off, and dropped her hand.
The dust all over the stock, the empty shops, the tilting signs, the quiet sidewalks ... How could she not be aware of what was happening? Will Thornton was everywhere. Will Thornton was the cause of all her problems. But ... he couldn't be the immensely hot man across the way, could he? It just wasn't possible.
"I'm aware of it," she finally said.
"Welllll," Meg drew the word out and hiked a thumb in the direction of Mr. Kawoski's. "Don't you think, just in case that guy is Will Thornton, that we should talk about it?"
"No." Kate sighed. "I do not. Not at all. In fact, I am going to pretend you didn't even call me over. I'm going back to work. I have more interesting things to be doing than watching Captain Fantastic over there poking around in the rubble."
"But what if it is him?"
"If it is Thornton," Kate said. "Which I'm not convinced of at all, he has my answer. He's had it a gazillion times. As far as he's concerned, it is written on my forehead in caps."
"I'm serious, Meg," she said, her voice rising ever so slightly. "He can offer me the moon. It won't make any difference. This is my building, my business, my home. I built it from scratch and I'm not going to hand it over to some guy who thinks he can simply snap his fingers ... and voilà."
She cast the window one last glance before hurrying back over to the den, her own little piece of heaven. It held her desk, her three desktop computers, her laptop, her tablets, and all the paraphernalia she needed to do her work. It was her favorite place in the whole world, and no one was going to take it from her, certainly not Will Thornton.
Will Thornton. Damn it, why did the prospect of it being him make her feel so jittery? Why was the panic making her heart pound so hard? Kate rubbed her clammy palms on her jeans, answerless questions buzzing through her brain.
"We should have hacked into his company files," Meg grumbled. "There would have been a picture of him and then we'd know if that hottie is him." She paused. "I know I've said it before but there should have been at least one pic on Google. He's superrich. Rich people love having their photo taken."
"And super shy, apparently," Kate said. "Which confirms my guess that Fast and Furious over there is not Will Thornton. And we don't hack into people's private files."
Meg moved the blinds back into place, gave the window one last long look, and then made her way back to the counter. She pulled her bar stool up against it and sat down, elbows resting between the till on one side and her Mac on the other. "No hacking," she said with a smirk. "Got it. Now ... what if he comes in here?"
"Then tell him to get lost," Kate said, even as a horrifying image of the man from across the street sauntering into her shop filled her mind. Worse, her own likely reaction quickly followed. Awkwardness central.
"To get lost?" Meg asked. "Really?"
"Uh-huh. Preferably at the event horizon of a black hole."
"You think that'll work?"
"You seriously think you can wait him out?"
The disbelief in her voice stung. Because really, Meg should have had a little more faith. But then Kate remembered how quickly all the other businesses had sold their buildings. How they'd all taken the money and run.
You're the last one standing.
"I know I can," she said some minutes later, with far more conviction than she actually felt. "It's just a waiting game now."CHAPTER 2
Will paused at the entrance to K.I.T, the last store standing, and heard the voice of his newly acquired nemesis slapping down the gauntlet.
It's just a waiting game now.
Trouble was, Will had no time left to wait. He ran a hand through his hair — flattened from the hard hat — and took a deep, dusty breath. Chris was in the store across from him, considering plans, working out schedules, and the news he'd just given Will was not good. They were already behind, thanks to Kate Kelly. It was crunch time now. If he didn't convince her to sell in the next couple of weeks the whole project would fail.
That was unacceptable.
He glared at the storefront display. The posters made no sense to him. The machines and slogans on them were meaningless. But the woman inside did. She knew all about them and all about him. She knew what he needed. She simply was not complying. Damn her.
He glared some more. Who the hell could have guessed that the geek in charge of the tiny computer store would be the one to hold out? Not him, that was for sure, or his project managers, for that matter. Chris had assured him that all the shop owners were willing to sell and that they had practically begged for someone to come along and buy their dilapidated buildings. However, it seemed that somewhere between the e-mail he'd received in London two months ago telling him this information, and his landing in the US three days ago, Kate Kelly had changed her mind. She was refusing to sell, and by doing so, was derailing his whole goddamn plan.
Will thought of his staff, all eight hundred and thirty-two of them, all needing their paycheck at the end of the month. He thought, too, about the continuing economic slump, the balance sheets he'd pored over in London, the new business he was trying to create. Will had been developing property since he was nineteen years old and it had made him richer than he had ever imagined. But it had also brought him more responsibility than he'd ever thought to have. People depended on him and every single development counted. Nothing could be allowed to fail. Everything had to make a profit. Including this.
One woman could not be allowed to stop it.
"Did you offer the market price?" he'd asked Chris the moment he was back in his office.
His project manager, who also happened to be his brother-in-law, nodded. "Plus ten percent."
An excellent price. No one else would offer better. "And did you explain to her what we were doing here? How many jobs The Risings will create?"
"Yes. It made no difference. She won't budge."
She won't budge. Will dragged his hand through his hair, frowning when specks of dust danced in front of his vision. The whole complex was a wreck. Work had already started on the buildings he now owned — a maneuver on Chris's part to push the geek into selling, one he wholeheartedly approved of. Only it hadn't worked and her building sat apart from it all, right in the center. The quirky K.I.T. sign the last bit of bright color.
The last store standing.
"Why can't she be like the rest?" he growled to himself, a combination of anger and frustration filling him all over again. "Take the money and run."
Because she's stubborn. Only stubborn didn't develop buildings. Not her kind at least. His kind did and he played the words over in his mind again. A waiting game. Did she really think she could hold out? Win? Against him? He almost wanted to laugh. But she'd already held out for months. Held out against Chris, he reminded himself. Let's see her hold out against me.
Excerpted from The Seduction Game by Emma Shortt, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2014 Emma Shortt. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.