Lenore Bradshaw's charity is mixed up in a world-class scandal with donations gone missing. Handsome con artist Halsey Sherwood suggests they work together to get the money back. But there's no way she can trust a proven liar and thief, right? Even if his generous and sweet nature is stealing her heart, and there may be some swooning happening.
The sassy and beautiful Lenore is the only woman in the world Halsey Sherwood can be honest with. It's just his luck she despises his profession—conning the rich and evil and donating the proceeds to charity. To aid her cause, he steps out of his comfort zone and makes her an offer she can't refuse. He'll get her money back from the bad guys and help her rebuild her reputation. And if things go sideways, he'll do whatever it takes to protect her.
The Confidence Game series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 One Night Wife
Book #2 Fool Me Forever
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Halsey Sherwood stood outside the closed door of Dollars for Daughters, took a deep breath, and tugged at the cuffs of his shirt. The shouting from inside was disturbing. This qualified as fieldwork, and Halsey didn't do fieldwork. He sat in his own temperate office and juggled numbers, shuffled spreadsheet calculations, created sexy charts, and sent emails with fake investment reports attached to them.
He worked out how to make money to save the planet from behind a silver and glass art deco desk by ripping off privileged, rich bastards. He used the phone when he had to. He saw clients when he had to. Under sufferance, he wore a tux, went to society events, and made hideous small talk, but he didn't do fieldwork.
Standing outside Dollars for Daughters while someone inside shouted wasn't his idea of a good time. He'd rather wear one of Mom's ugly Christmas sweaters in public for a straight month in summer.
He'd tried to refuse when his eldest brother and the company CEO, Cal, asked him to check in with Lenny Bradshaw and Dollars for Daughters. She'd essentially thrown Cal out when he'd tried, and Cal was famous for getting what he wanted from anyone with a pulse and quite a few who were rumored to not have one.
Lenny was furious her charity had been used by her business partner, Fin, to launder money Fin had stolen from Cal. Which was fair enough. Fin hadn't exactly been upfront with Lenny about the money being stolen, or that it was the cut, run, and go-into-hiding cash Cal had accumulated from being one of the world's best cons. But since Cal was lying on a beach in an undisclosed location with his soon-to-be wife, Fin, for an unidentified amount of time, he'd made it Halsey's problem to see that Lenny's accounting didn't raise any red flags.
So here he was, in the field, trying to make out what the angry male voice behind the closed door was shouting about and wishing he was anywhere else. All because a bunch of highly suspect transactions had to look legal, so no one went to jail.
He was considering a strategic retreat when the door flew open and a man said, "I'm not asking, Lenore. I need that money now, and you need to find a way to get it to me."
Business casual, rude as fuck, the guy strode past, exiting without even an eye flicker to acknowledge Halsey's presence.
Now there was no backing off, because what he'd heard was extortion, and no matter how much he didn't want to be here, he couldn't let smart, ambitious Lenny Bradshaw deal with that alone.
He stepped inside. There were two rooms. A kitchen-come-meeting area and an office. Lenny was standing in the kitchen by a beaten up, wooden table with a spiral notepad in her hands and an expression he read as fearsomely resigned.
He smiled. "Hello, Lenny."
Resigned shifted to surprised, followed by annoyed in a kaleidoscope of expressions. Lenny Bradshaw's life had hit a wall hard, and whatever just went down was one more crisis for her to deal with.
"I'm here to —"
She tapped the notepad on the edge of the table. "No, I don't think so."
"It will only take — "
"No, it won't."
"Do you have a problem understanding the word 'no'? She touched a finger to the side of her head. "A hearing problem?"
He could see why Cal had crashed and burned.
"I'm having a really bad day and since you're a Sherwood, that can only make it worse."
Holy hell. Cal owed him one. "It's for all of our security. Please let —"
She smacked the notepad on the table.
"Bad notepad, huh?"
She held the pad in front of her face and peered at him over the top of its edge. "What do you want? Whatever it is, now is not a good time. I'm busy." She brought the pad down on the desk with another vengeful smack. "Since you're a Sherwood, I'm always going to be busy."
"You'll break that."
"Do I look like I care?" She smacked the table again. "You people break everything you touch, and you get away with it. I'm trying to run a respectable not-for-profit, I'm trying to help people, but now I'm tangled up in Sherwood confidence games, because your brother romanced the smarts out of my partner."
"You look distressed." He chose that word carefully. It wasn't like Fin hadn't gotten her revenge. Cal was skint, but since his money had gone to fund families in distress he wasn't complaining.
Before Halsey met Lenny, he'd thought her idea to create Dollars for Daughters to provide small loans to disadvantaged women was inspired. Once he'd faced her over the table in a diner, he discovered she was fatally attractive. He didn't generally meet fatally attractive, inspiring women, so Lenny stood out.
Of course, back then, she didn't know what he did for a living. She thought he ran a legitimate investment scheme. And she didn't know her charity was in receipt of some not-so-legitimately raised funds, courtesy of the scam Cal was running, with Fin as his capable but kept-in-the-dark accomplice.
Now, Lenny stood in front of him with her fists clenched and her lovely face pressed into a furious scowl. It didn't stop him wondering what it would be like to have her smile at him instead. He felt that wonder all the way to his gut in a rumble of desire.
"That was a rhetorical question," she snapped.
Damn. Missed that clue. Too busy drinking her in. He didn't do fieldwork because it meant doing people, and no matter how inspiring, attractive, fatal, or otherwise they happened to be, they were unpredictable.
He was good with concepts and big picture strategies and long stable cons that ran to plan and didn't surprise. He couldn't think on his feet like his siblings.
She pointed at the door. "Goodbye, Mr. Sherwood. I don't have any need for anything you're selling. Ever."
It was almost quitting time on a Friday night. She was alone; there was no ringing phone. He raised a brow.
Steam might've come out of her ears. "That's just what I need. Another freaking man telling me what to do."
What? No. "I didn't —"
"You gave me the eyebrow." She gave him a double-barreled eyebrow lift back. "You told me I was going to break my notepad, and that I looked distressed. What's not clear to me is what precise signal I gave that made you think I needed your entitled male opinion."
"It's not an op —"
"Halsey Sherwood, I didn't know you were slow on the uptake as well as a thief."
"I'm not a —"
"You steal money for a living. I'd say that's a text book definition, and since I'm the newly minted daughter of a thief, I think I've got that on lock."
"You're upset because of all the shouting."
She made a sound of genuine surprise. "You heard?"
Her jaw went tight, and she looked away.
"Difficult not to. Sounded intense."
She flung the book and it slid across the table and fell off, slapping the floor. "You think?"
This was why he preferred the comfort of his own office. People were irrational. They beat up notepads and threw things. Of course, the fact that people were irrational was half the reason he could con them out of their fortunes. Double-edged sword, that. And if anyone needed to throw a few things to feel better it was Lenny.
He took a step toward her and opened his hands out, a gesture he hoped said he was safe and friendly. People just about fell into Cal's arms and gave him all their money when he did that. They took all their clothes off and went to bed with his other brother Zeke when he did.
Lenny took a step back. Her cheeks were red. Her breathing was chopped into short, tight breaths she was trying not to let him see.
He should've left when it first occurred to him, before all the shouting, smacking, throwing, and arguing started. But for that small matter of the extortion. He'd only have to come back.
"What part about not wanting your help because you're a Sherwood, which makes you a noxious poison and the absolute last complication I need in my life, didn't you understand? Do you need me to repeat that part?"
If there was ever a person who could make her needs clear, Lenore Bradshaw was that woman. "I really am here to help," he said.
"I can't imagine what that might mean, unless it's help yourself to something of mine because you're a sneaking, cheating, lying Sherwood."
"I came to check on your books."
"Because your accounting as a con artist would be better than mine as an honest, upstanding, law-abiding citizen. My father is the Bradshaw family criminal, not me" — she sighed — "but I suppose, like the rest of the city, you can't tell the difference."
He had enormous sympathy for Lenny's changed circumstances. She'd had a shitty year, even before Mr. Extortion showed up.
"One more time for the hard of hearing. I don't want your help. I never want to see you again."
Which would be fine as soon as he'd done what he came to do. "Here's the thing —"
"There is no thing."
If he asked about the extortion first, this would go from bad to broken things. He'd have to work up to it. "Several million dollars from a single source went through your charity's books in one night. That doesn't look good."
Lenny jammed her hands on her hips. "Cal told me the money was ours. No return, no strings. Right before he and Fin ran off into the sunset to get a head start on their damn happy ever after."
"The money is yours. I'm not here to take it back."
"You're just here to make my life more difficult. Typical Sherwood."
He rubbed his brow. She was giving him a headache. "No. I'm here to make sure no one else does. I need thirty minutes and your accounting software."
"And what, you'll change my life?"
"Your father did that when he blew up his rogue pyramid investment scheme and ended up in jail. Your life has already been catastrophically messed with. I'll make sure the transactions Fin made are going to hold up to examination by your auditor, so you don't end up with orange as your new black."
He kept his mouth closed because he was close, so close to asking if she wanted him to repeat that for the hard of hearing.
"I would strangle Fin for tangling D4D up with your family, but the money she stole from Cal provided thousands of loans, helped thousands of families." Lenny exhaled hard and glared at him harder with squinty little liquid maple eyes. "I've already had advice on this. I don't want anything to do with you after you check the accounting. Have you got that?"
"Loud and clear."
She blinked. Her mouth twitched. It was almost a smile, until she squashed it.
The first time they met, it was over burgers at a place Cal and Fin loved, and Halsey thought was too noisy and the food wasn't worth the hassle. Lenny had smiled a lot that night. He'd found himself smiling back. That was before she knew Sherwood Venture Capital was a front for a family business that reallocated money from people who didn't deserve it to causes that did.
Dollars for Daughters was a microloan charity. It did a similar thing. The only difference between them was that Lenny was a legitimate businesswoman, and Halsey was all the insults she slung at him, except for lacking in comprehension, slow on the uptake, and hard of hearing. Also, noxious poison was taking things a bit far.
Lenny's father had been a joke of a fraud, had gotten too greedy, and wrecked lives, including Lenny's. Halsey was a con artist from a long line of master cons, but that didn't make him a bad guy. Just a guy who didn't like fieldwork and women yelling at him.
He'd make sure D4D's accounts were squared away, and the charity was safe from suspicion. He'd question Lenny about the argument he'd heard, determine what needed to be done about the threat, and then he'd go back to his nice, safe, quiet desk in his comfortable, well-provisioned, efficient office and try to forget how much he admired Lenny even when she was tempted to throw things at him.
He was a Sherwood. He knew how to duck.CHAPTER 2
That uncomfortable twisting in Lenny's stomach wasn't fear after another loud confrontation with her brother, Easton. They never got easier to take. It was discomfort over shouting at Halsey Sherwood. She'd shown her cards and let him see her distress, and that couldn't possibly be a good thing.
Still, she wasn't about to taken in by his cool, collected manner. It hid the black heart of a calculate fraud. He positively asked to be yelled at and took it like he was made of Teflon and nothing would stick. That simply made her tenser, until he almost made her laugh. Which was just perfect. It proved she'd been teetering on full-blown hysteria for a long time now and only needed an uncomfortably handsome con artist in an expensive suit, wielding a mansplaining attitude, to tip her over the edge.
She left Halsey to her computer, because what else could she do? When your best friend and business partner steals millions from her lying con artist boyfriend and effectively launders it through your charity and straight out to partners and beneficiaries all over the world, you have two choices. Report the crime or suck it up.
It wasn't like the Bradshaws needed any more attention from the law enforcement community, and she wasn't going to disadvantage all those loan recipients who already had the money. And she'd eventually forgive Fin, maybe, a little, because Fin was as much a victim of the Sherwood glamor and sleight of hand as the rich rubes they regularly ripped off.
She didn't have to be nice to Halsey. He was a reminder that in sucking it up she was colluding, that she was a crook like him and just as bad as her father. But one Bradshaw in orange was one too many, so she'd have to cooperate with him. To a point.
Oh God. Oh God. She felt a little sick. She wasn't all right with any of this.
She drank a glass of water that tasted metallic and stared out the filthy window at a fire escape ladder while Halsey tapped away at her keyboard.
She shouldn't have shouted at him. All through their family crisis, she'd resisted shouting at anyone. Through Dad's confession and then arrest, through his charging and jailing and the freezing of all their assets. Through Mom's nervous collapse and her sister, Mallory's crappy, teenage, goth- dressing-acting-out and Easton's indignant, petulant, selfish demands, she'd held it together. She'd been an iron maiden of strength and resourcefulness.
No one saw her creaky, rusted joints because there was no crying in front of anyone. No shouting or whining or woe-is-me-ing. None of that would help to make the situation any easier to live with.
She'd cried, of course. So. So. Many. Many. Times. Scalding tears of shame and fear and grief; it was impossible to imagine ever crying again.
She'd raged. Alone and furious and scared.
She'd shut down. Sleepless and shocked and panicked about how she would have to be the one who supported Mom and Mallory alone, because she couldn't rely on Easton.
Then there was forgetting to eat, eating badly and putting on weight, and getting the flu. The coughing hung on forever, the weight never came off, and her clothes didn't fit right. Sometimes, she felt like she could stay in bed with the covers over her head forever.
She held it together for Mom, who'd never wanted for anything a day in her life, and whose hair had started falling out when people Dad had stiffed screamed at her in the street. For Mallory, who was just a kid, but at sixteen found the excuse she'd always wanted to be a brat, and for Easton, whose loss of face baked his usual arrogance into something meaner and sharper.
Only Fin saw how much energy just getting through all the shocks took. Fin watched her go from a trust-funded Wall Street princess with opportunity to burn, to a broke-ass, society blacklisted pariah in the space of time it took for Dad to exchange his safe deposit box pin code for an inmate number.
That was before Fin tangled with America's Most Wanted con artists.
Lenny shouldn't have shouted at Halsey just because she was losing it and he was big and safe and could handle it. After today, she never needed to see him again. Halsey could take his straight out of the 1950s with an updated aesthetic that was all Paul Newman on a wooden speedboat in the Italian Riviera and shove off.
The Sherwoods could go fuck themselves into criminal oblivion. Any association with them was risky and foolish and detrimental to her health.
"I'm done with your accounting software."
She put her empty glass down and turned toward Halsey's voice.
"There's an issue I need to — Have you been crying?"
She touched her face to check in case she was leaking. Her skin was clammy, but no tears. "Why would I cry, in front of you, of all people?"
He took a step closer. "You've had a rough time."
"No, this is me on an average day. If we're squared away, you can go so I don't have to listen to you telling me things I already know."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fool Me Forever"
Copyright © 2018 Ainslie Paton.
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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