Read an Excerpt
To Win Her Trust
A Players Series Novel
By Mackenzie Crowne
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Mackenzie Crowne
All rights reserved.
"Hey, Romeo! Would you mind hurrying this along? Some of us have appointments to keep."
CC Calhoun darted a glance over her shoulder at the next customer in line. Lips twisted with displeasure, the disgruntled blonde huffed her impatience. CC offered the woman a pained smile and faced forward once more. The Romeo in question broke off his flirting with the pretty coffee clerk and straightened from his negligent slouch against the counter. On a lazy pivot, he turned. Shaggy, sun-streaked blond hair stuck out from beneath the faded ball cap worn low on his forehead. Dark lenses concealed his eyes — until he dipped his head enough to study CC over the rim of his glasses.
She blinked and suppressed a helpless shiver. Geez. Even she could understand why the clerk had been buying his ridiculous excuse for not calling. Topping six feet by several inches, his tall frame was the stuff of women's dreams, with wide shoulders and a muscled chest wrapped up perfectly in a dark blue T-shirt. Time-washed jeans rode low on his lean hips and molded to thick thighs and long legs. Despite the slight bump in his nose and the jagged scar bisecting his right eyebrow, his cobalt blue eyes were enough to melt a woman's circuits. The dimples creasing his all-American, bad-boy-next-door face only added to the mega wattage of his grin.
With an abbreviated bob of her head, she indicated the woman at her back who'd voiced the complaint and interrupted his flirtation. Romeo didn't take the hint. The heat of a flush warmed CC's cheeks, and she fought the urge to squirm as his gaze traveled down to her feet and up again to zero in on her face. She swallowed and punched a thumb over her shoulder.
The scarred brow arched, and he cocked his head in silent question. She bared her teeth in a taunting smile and nodded. Unfazed, he shifted his gaze to a spot over her shoulder, and she waited for him to turn the charm on the impatient blonde. Men like him were experts at that type of thing, after all. A slow smile, a knowing look, and even the most grievous of crimes would be forgiven and forgotten. He didn't disappoint.
Straight, white teeth flashed in a smile capable of lighting up Times Square. Eyes bright with a you-know-you-can't-resist-me twinkle, he addressed the annoyed woman in a sharp New England accent. "Sweetheart, why don't you step right up and cut the line? I'm sure the rest of us won't mind."
The woman's derisive snort didn't prevent her from taking him up on his offer. Her three-inch heels clicked out an angry beat as she stepped around CC to the counter and demanded a large, black coffee. Romeo received a pointed glare as she spoke into the smart phone pressed to her ear. "I'll be there in five minutes. A Beantown Gigolo threw me off schedule."
Several of the customers behind CC snickered, and she braced for a heated exchange. This was New York. Murders had occurred for much less than a snarky insult. To her surprise, his smile widened, accompanied by a soft chuckle.
The flustered clerk splashed coffee into a to-go cup with impressive speed. She set the order down in front of the blonde, who tossed down a ten and scooped up the cup. With a perfectly manicured fingernail, she flicked the dark sunglasses down her pert nose. She pinned Romeo with piercing gray eyes, and her cultured tone cut with the sharp edge of sarcasm. "You're cute, sweetheart, but do us all a favor and save the seducing for your own time."
More snickers sounded, and CC twisted her lips against a helpless smile. She'd chosen to live in Manhattan because of the anonymity factor, but sharing the city with close to eight million people also provided some entertaining side benefits, like the frankness of her fellow citizens. New Yorkers had no patience for polite acceptance of the unacceptable and weren't afraid to say so.
All eyes followed as the snarky diva brushed by the line of waiting customers to flounce out into the early morning sunlight. CC sank her teeth into her bottom lip as the woman approached Walter. Berating a flirt was one thing, turning her impatience on an innocent dog was another altogether. Preoccupied by his attempt to chew through the parking meter to which he was tied, the Rottweiler paid her no mind. CC's shoulders slumped in relief when the diva hailed a cab without giving her dog a single glance.
"Ouch." The low complaint rumbled in her ear. "Some women just don't appreciate romance."
CC jolted and spun around.
Romeo's boyish grin reignited the burn in her cheeks, and she drew a bracing breath. A lifetime of painful lessons normally provided a healthy immunity to handsome flirts, but faced with his crooked smile, even the most cynical of women would suffer a rush of giddiness. Thankfully, those lessons also taught her how to handle overblown egos.
She flattened her lips in a smirk. "Maybe she found your excuse of a dog eating Lisa's telephone number as ridiculous as the rest of us."
He didn't bite on the insult. "Lisa?"
She rolled her eyes. Typical. The guy didn't even know the name of the woman he'd been schmoozing. She jerked her chin toward the counter. "Lisa. The clerk you were flirting up."
Behind him, color spread across Lisa's high cheekbones. She thumped a large cup to the counter. "Your order is ready. Keith."
He winced and dipped his head closer to whisper, "Does she look as mad as she sounds?"
CC popped her head to the side to check, then offered him a bland smile. "She looks like she's imagining you wearing your order."
"Not a good sign." He shook his head and straightened. "Is she a friend of yours?"
The unexpected question made CC frown. "No. Why?"
"You know her name."
Apparently brains hadn't been included in his gift-from-God package. "She's wearing a name tag."
"Well, damn. How'd I miss that?"
Considering Lisa's impressive chest, CC had a pretty good idea how he'd missed the bright red badge clipped to the clerk's crisp white shirt. "Maybe if you'd been looking a few inches higher ..."
Dimples bracketed his sharp grin.
Horror and stunned disbelief heated her cheeks to a flash point. Crap. Did I say that out loud? And since when do I insult complete strangers — or even talk to them? I must be coming down with something.
Lisa cleared her throat. "Next?"
Another wince. CC took solace in his discomfort. Serves you right, pal.
Wry acceptance did nothing to diminish his handsome features. He shrugged and surprised her by spinning around to face Lisa. Handing over payment, he picked up his order. "I truly am sorry. Please forgive me?" The genuine regret in his low voice was as unexpected as the apology itself.
In CC's experience, most men in his position — and women, for that matter — would be too embarrassed to bother with an apology, despite one being warranted. He didn't seem the least bit concerned over doing so in front of half a dozen witnesses. A surprising seed of respect bloomed in her belly, then immediately withered when he reverted to form.
"And, sweetheart, I still say your smile packs more of a wallop than your double espressos." With that, he turned, winked at CC, and sauntered toward the exit with a carefree whistle.
She refused to allow her gaze to follow the attractive backside of a man who'd been given a surplus of male confidence. Lisa wasn't of the same mind. Disappointment softened the anger in the clerk's eyes as they trailed him out the door. CC shook her head. Some women didn't recognize when they'd dodged a bullet.
Two minutes later, coffee in hand, she stepped out onto the sidewalk. Walter spotted her and lunged, startling a passing group of teenage girls. His leash snapped tight. Undaunted, the eleven-month- old pup spun in a happy circle. Hind end wiggling with excitement, he danced around the wary teenagers, entangling one of the girls in the heavy canvas strap of his leash.
A reckless endangerment lawsuit flashed through CC's mind, and she rushed forward to grab his collar. "He's harmless." She tugged the dog back, and freed from the tether, the frightened girl skittered away, casting nervous glances over her shoulder as she hurried down the sidewalk with her friends.
CC scowled at her exuberant dog. Oblivious to the averted disaster, his body quivered with juvenile exhilaration as he gazed up, wearing a doggy smile.
"Damn it, Walter. What am I going to do with you?"
I was only playing. No need to curse.
She frowned at his imagined answer, delivered in Antonio Banderas's sensual accent. Normally, the whimsy of applying Zorro's sultry tones to her dog amused her. ... "God. I have got to get a life. Come on, boy. Let's go home."
Ninety-five pounds of leaping, overgrown puppy were impossible to control with only one hand. Like a four-legged wrecking ball, the dog sprang. Large paws thumped against her chest. Coffee flew and CC's world tilted.
Staggering under Walter's weight, she stumbled backward and slammed into a human brick wall. A low grunt sounded in her ear. Walter lunged again and the back of her head collided with a solid chin. She had no time to be shocked at the large hand sliding up her rib cage and clamping onto her left breast. The brick wall toppled and took her along in the process.
A rough oof burst from her lips, but the jarring landing she expected didn't occur as she came to rest with her butt cradled by a very male lap. Long, denim covered legs stuck out from beneath hers. The odd combination of sawdust, coffee, and something sweet, yet spicy, teased her nostrils, making them flare. She squeezed her eyes shut briefly, then turned her head and stared into the Beantown Gigolo's laughing face.
Walter's warm tongue swiped at her cheek and kept her from making a bad situation worse by babbling incoherently. Angling her face away, she recaptured his collar. Strong arms tightened around her and alerted her to the hand still cupping her breast. Before she could slap at the long fingers curled around her flesh, a soft hiss blew in her ear.
She twisted around to meet the blue gaze so close to hers and the hiss became a soft groan. He shifted his hips, drawing her attention to the swelling erection pressing into her left butt cheek. A horrified gasp escaped her lips, and he tightened his hold.
Seemingly unconcerned by his body's reaction, warm humor twinkled in the gigolo's eyes. "Not that I'm complaining, but we should probably get up. We're drawing a crowd."
She glanced around. He was right. Half a dozen pedestrians had paused in their early morning travels to witness the spectacle they presented. The urge to flee from prying eyes clawed at her like wicked talons, overshadowing her embarrassment at the drag of his palm releasing her breast as she scrambled from his lap. She rolled to her knees and shot him an accusatory glare. He wiggled his fingers as if he only now realized where they'd rested, but the twinkle in his eyes said just the opposite.
He gripped her elbow and helped her to her feet. To her further agitation, he didn't let go.
"You okay? Nothing broken?"
She shook her head as her gaze flew from one stranger's face to another. Terror, insidious and painful slithered through her. The years dropped away, and memories of other clamoring crowds rushed her. She fought against the all-too-familiar suffocation compressing her lungs, forcing herself into a shallow pant.
Breathe, CC. You aren't nine, and these people have no idea who you are.
Neither the reminder nor the breathing technique helped. Her lungs constricted beneath an iron band of dread. She tightened her grip on Walter's collar, prepared to force her way through the human wall of interest to make her escape. Desperate, her gaze darted to the fingers wrapped around her elbow, then bounced up to the face of the man holding her captive. Between the hat's brim and the glasses, his brow beetled together.
He surprised the hell out of her when he turned on their audience and his sharp command held the steely edge of menace. "Nothing to see here, folks."
One by one, the nosy pedestrians began to wander off, and she clamped down on her bottom lip to suppress a whimper of relief. Taking advantage of his preoccupation, she turned to go. The long fingers still wrapped around her arm brought her up short.
He softened his hold but didn't let go. "Hold on a second."
Teeth clenched, she squeezed her eyes shut against the ominous black halo hovering at the edges of her vision. She gulped convulsively as her oxygen-starved lungs trembled on a spasm.
"Hey, what's this?"
With a fingertip under her chin, he tipped her face up, and her eyes flew open. A single, sharp gasp provided a shallow breath of air, but not enough. Not nearly enough.
"Hey now," he crooned and stepped closer. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Over the buzzing in her ears, the echoing facsimile of his Bostonian accent came from a distance.
Oh, no. No, please. Not here. Not now.
Her circle of vision shrank. Warm fingers brushed over her arm. Confused alarm tightened his features. "Don't faint on me, baby. You're fine. Everything's going to be fine."
A helpless shake of her head was the best she could manage. She opened her mouth and gulped like a grounded fish.
"Aw, hell." He dipped his head and covered her mouth with his.
Shock did the job her breathing technique couldn't. Suddenly, a sweet, healing breath filled her lungs. Tasting of coffee and spice, he sucked and nibbled at her lips, and her eyelids fluttered shut. Terror fell victim to wonder, and she greedily accepted his unexpected gift of desperately needed air. Awareness broadened slowly, taking her beyond relief to recognition as strong arms surrounded her and his hard body pressed to hers.
He's kissing me. The Beantown Gigolo is freaking kissing me! On the sidewalk. In Manhattan. In broad daylight! Holy hot lips!
She waited for the surge of panic, but pleasure held sway as his silken tongue rubbed against hers, retreated, returned, and retreated again. With a final, gentle nibble of those magical lips, he broke the kiss and lifted his head.
She couldn't prevent the shuddering sigh, didn't even try. Lethargy, heavy and warm, dragged at her. A moment passed before she could open her eyes. Like twin funhouse mirrors, the lenses of his glasses reflected her pale image.
Hanging suspended in his arms, she blinked at him. Was she okay? How was she supposed to answer when she had no idea? He'd scrambled her brain, managing something she'd never been able to achieve on her own. Her breathing remained erratic and shallow, but she wasn't sprawled on the sidewalk in a dead faint, and her body hummed with undeniable pleasure. Overall, that qualified as more than okay in her book.
"I —" Was that her voice, all breathy and hoarse? "Uh ... I'm fine."
He dipped his chin, and above his glasses, his steady blue gaze moved over her face in a slow survey. She swayed as he slid his arms from around her, and he gripped her shoulders with his large hands.
"Glad to hear it, but what about me?"
Guilt ricocheted down her spine. Caught up in the remnants of childhood nightmares and then that unprecedented kiss, she'd forgotten all about their fall. Had he been hurt? The possibility hadn't crossed her mind.
She eyed his squared chin but found no evidence of damage from the impact with the back of her head. Likewise, his body received a quick study. As solid as he appeared, an injury didn't seem likely. Patently refusing to think of one prominently solid body part swelling beneath her butt, she squinted her eyes in suspicion. "What about you?"
The clenched line of his jaw softened with his chuckle, and he released her shoulders. "I just sacrificed my body so you wouldn't be hurt, not to mention that little mouth-to-mouth exercise. I deserve a thank you, at least, if not an introduction."
"Sacrificed your bod —" She snapped her mouth shut and pressed her lips together. Rattled, she'd forgotten the kind of man she was dealing with. Give a player an inch and he'd demand a mile. Okay, he was right about the apology. She owed him one. A big one. But an introduction? Not in this lifetime.
"Look, I'm embarrassed, and I don't think clearly when that happens."
He cocked his head and waited.
"Thank you for catching me."
Excerpted from To Win Her Trust by Mackenzie Crowne. Copyright © 2015 Mackenzie Crowne. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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