Grayson Thorne will do anything for his brothers, but women? They’re just a very pleasurable distraction in his bed. Business comes first, and his heart is permanently shuttered even if the rest of his body is ready, willing, and more than able. Then gorgeous, infuriating Tessa Madigan hires him, and puts every one of his rules to the test…
Tessa’s heard all about “Fifty Shags of Gray” Thorne, and she knows one thing is true: this man has rarely heard the word no. The animal attraction she feels for the hotshot designer is all too real (and all too annoying), but she can’t help wanting to tame the beast. And if she can convince Gray that love is just as satisfying as lust, they could soon be building the perfect home for their hearts…s
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I, Contessa Imogene Madigan, Tessa to my friends and family, have been officially driving a man crazy. Not intentionally, mind you, except, yes, sort of, intentionally. Which sounds like it makes no sense. To clarify: Driving Gray Thorne crazy wasn't my goal. It was either a temporary side-effect or my plan was failing spectacularly.
What plan? Oh, right, my plan. A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to rethink my life. One of those "life is short, so don't waste it" deals. A game-changer, if you will. I resolved to stop settling for what felt safe. I decided I needed to take a few risks and live life to the fullest.
The fact that I was born a risk-averse introvert meant it wouldn't be easy. Plus, I had a few things to take care of first, which I did, but then six months ago, fate stepped in.
Or maybe it was simply the last-minute lame Halloween costume, a Viagra pill, and a case of mistaken identity. Either way, that night was where it all started ...
I was a cat.
It was nine P.M. on Halloween and I stood in a crowded bar named Big Eddie's waiting for my best friend to arrive. Halloween was one of our traditions. A tradition that started back in fourth grade when we'd won first prize with our Thing 1 and Thing 2 costumes. There was no stopping us after that. In fact, we rocked the best friend costumes for seventeen years straight. Peanut butter and jelly. Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat. Thelma and Louise. Mario and Princess Peach. Lucy and Ethel. Salt-N-Pepa. The singing act, not the spices.
This year, after a three-year hiatus, we were back, baby. Laura was the mouse to my cat. Not very original, true, but this was one of those moments when showing up was the big deal. The lack of imagination in this year's costumes was totally my fault, since I waited until this morning to decide we needed to do this, but truthfully I only felt a small twinge of disappointment in breaking our streak of awesome.
Mostly I felt happy. Happy to be where I was after the three years I'd just made it through. I mean, if I ignored the fact that I was in a crowded bar where I knew next to no one. Ignored the fact that I'd seen at least two other women dressed in identical cat costumes like mine. Ignored the elbows nudging my ribs while I tried to hold my place at the bar and make eye contact with one of the fast-moving bartenders. Ignoring all that, I was happy to be standing exactly where I was.
"Sister-cat, you'll never get their attention like that. You've got to show some skin." One of my identical twin cats offered the advice from right next to me. One glance and I immediately saw what she meant.
The woman had spectacular cleavage on display. One I couldn't achieve if I used duct tape and a crane of some sort. One could only suspend gravity if one had something to gravitate. My girls just wouldn't rise to the occasion. That dog don't hunt. Skin, huh? I pushed up the sleeves on my leotard and the woman laughed.
"I've got this." She winked at me, leaned forward against the bar, and managed to get a bartender down at our end in three point four seconds. "Eddie, I'd like a draft beer and shot of tequila. My new friend would like to order also."
"What'll it be?" the burly, tatted bartender asked, tossing a coaster onto the bar in front of me.
"Two champagne cocktails," I said, instantly regretting it when the bartender frowned at me. I got it; it was crowded and busy. My knee-jerk reaction was to change my order to something more low-maintenance. But you know what? Laura and I were celebrating, darn it, so I pushed my sleeves up a bit more, rested my forearms on the bar, and smiled up at him. "Please."
Eddie stared at my forearms, quirked an eyebrow at me, and shuffled off, hopefully to get the drinks. I guess a little skin did work.
"Champagne cocktails? Gutsy move on a busy night like tonight, but good job not letting Big Eddie intimidate you out of what you want." The woman refreshed her lip gloss before adding, "I say women should go after what they want, right?"
"Right." That was the same conclusion I'd come to two years ago. Even if it wasn't in my comfort zone.
"Speaking of going after what we want, see that gorgeous hunk of man across the bar?" She nudged me with her elbow.
I had to lean back to see who she was talking about and, considering the group of men on the far side of the bar celebrating something were all various levels of hot, I didn't know who she was referring to. There was a toast, raised glasses, smiles all around. "Which one?"
"Right? Those Thorne brothers are every flavor of delicious. Left to right they are Beckett, Ash, Wyatt, Eli, and Gray."
"Wow, well they're something all lined up like that." I'd heard of the Thorne brothers. Any woman in the Raleigh singles scene would have. Not that I'd met any of them, only gazed from across a bar or concert a time or two.
"I've got my sights set on Gray." She sighed and boosted her girls up with her hands.
I leaned forward for another peek around the woman.
"Have you ever seen such a beautiful man?" She purred. Literally.
I actually hadn't. My cat clone wasn't exaggerating. He was like something you see in a magazine or up on the big screen. Tall, muscled, gorgeous face. Eyes so blue they practically glowed in his tan face. Dark blond hair, chiseled jaw, and as if he didn't have enough, dimples. I might have melted a little at the man's smile as he laughed at something one of his brothers said. I felt the power of that sexy smile deep in my belly.
"I've been biding my time, trying to get his attention, and I think tonight's my night. I'm not wasting a single second of it."
"Good luck," I said.
The woman pulled her attention from the object of her affections and gave me the once over. "You're cute. You could lasso a Thorne. Only, not Gray. He's mine."
"Lasso one? I don't think so. Maybe hogtie or possibly club one over the head and drag him off, but ... "
The woman slammed me with a narrow-eyed look as Eddie delivered our drinks.
"Oh. You were serious? No — I don't think so. I don't think I'm up for lassoing anyone, much less one of them." The closest I'd get to Gray Thorne would be in my dreams.
"Suit yourself." Turning around to the bar, she tossed back her shot of tequila before pulling a blue pill from her cleavage and dropping it in the beer. "I'm making my move."
What? First, how did I not know a woman could use her cleavage for storage purposes? I thought of the possibilities. Lip balm, tissue, or my vitamins for when I got halfway through the day and realized I'd forgotten to take them at breakfast. Maybe even a snack, like a Twizzler or a cheese stick. Now I definitely felt cheated.
Second, what was with the Viagra in the beer? Sure, I'd been out of the dating scene for a few years, but seriously? Was this what women did these days?
"Eddie, sugar, could you please deliver this to Gray Thorne?"
Eddie looked at the beer, his gaze locked on the pill at the bottom of the glass, and exhaled loudly, giving the impression this wouldn't be the first time he'd delivered a Viagra-spiked beer to Gray Thorne. "Message?"
"Tell him I think he's the cat's meow." She stroked a bright red fingernail along her low-cut neckline, looking like a feline anticipating a bowl of cream.
Oh, yikes. It seemed a bit presumptuous, no? What if he wasn't that into you? According to the TV commercial, that could be a four-hour commitment. What if he had a heart condition?
On the other hand, it must be nice to be that confident. Calling a guy "sugar." Sending over a beer with a Viagra in it. Sure it was weird, but it took guts. My gaze followed Eddie over to the Thorne party. The woman next to me adjusted her half-mask and fluffed her hair as Eddie leaned over, handing the beer across to Gray with a few words. The smile wiped clear from Gray's handsome face. He raised the beer to glance in the bottom before lifting his gaze in our direction.
The woman smiled and went into full preening mode which included a very smooth move of her rib cage that had her chest on precarious display. I was impressed. I glanced over to see if Gray was as impressed as I was and —
Whoa, no. Not looking impressed at all. And wouldn't you know, Gray Thorne's handsome face was just as sexy wearing a deep frown. I turned to the woman just in time to see her eyes go wide and then she took off, disappearing into the crowd. Moving faster than a cat on a hot tin roof. Slinking away like an alley cat. So, maybe a Viagra in a beer wasn't what women were doing these days. Good to know.
Shaking my head, I grinned and grabbed my phone to see where Laura was. She was going to laugh when I told her the story. A text from Laura two minutes ago said she was here and had grabbed us a table. Nice.
I pulled my credit card from my purse and stood, trying to catch Eddie's attention when a hand slid lightly on my waist and onto my belly, pulling me up against a wall of hard muscle. My gaze jerked up to the mirror behind the bar. Somehow I knew who I'd see. The same swirling feeling I had when I'd looked at his gorgeous face across the bar threatened to pull me under again.
You know when you're in an elevator and that moment just before it begins its descent — that split second of weightlessness before gravity catches up — that happened. I hung suspended for a tick of time as our eyes met in the mirror. And then some voice in the deep recesses of my brain whispered to me, "Pay attention." Pay attention? I always paid attention. Back in college, I was that nerd who sat in the front row of every class.
Gray Thorne must have an off-the-charts level of testosterone because the shock through my body could only be what it felt like to remap a person's DNA. To rip apart the double helixes and rearrange them. In knots.
He leaned down and his lips brushed against my ear just before his dark, whisky voice slid over me.
"While I appreciate the offer of a drink, kitten, the little blue pill you added is unnecessary ... and uncool."
My breath caught as his hand pressed against me, pulling me even closer against his ripped muscles. So close I felt his belt buckle at the small of my back.
"Frankly, I can't decide if I'm more insulted you thought I'd need it — or that you thought I'd want it. That's a pretty big assumption."
That's what I'd thought. I pulled in a breath, taking in the scent of him, subtle notes of sandalwood and amber. Rugged and male. Dark and sexy and definitely on the way to lassoing my ovaries. My senses were so caught up in the man, the sound, smell, and feel of his hard-muscled body at my back that it took me a few moments to remember I wasn't the woman he thought I was.
"Um ... I'm not your cat."
"That's what I came over to tell you." His voice shot through me like white lightning. I noted the pure sexiness of it, but also the clipped anger. Anger aimed at me. Me. I hadn't done anything.
"No, seriously. I didn't send you the drink." There was one easy way for him to see he had the wrong cat. I sucked in a breath and spun around until I was nose to chest with him. Holy heck, his chest was rock hard and still I wanted to use it for a pillow. Wrap my arms around him and snuggle close.
Snap out of it, Tessa. I took a quick step back, letting him see he had the wrong woman. The tale of two cleavages would reveal all.
Sure enough, he flicked his gorgeous blue gaze down and up my body.
"Damn," he said, stepping back. "My apologies. I should have noticed ... your flats."
Did he just point out I was flat? I frowned and jerked my chin up a notch, crossing my arms over my chest. I mean, sure I knew my bust didn't compare to the Viagra-pushing, stellar-cleavage cat woman, but he didn't have to make it so —
"The other cat had an easy four inches on you."
"Oh, go ahead and rub it in, why don't you." I glared at him through my mask. "I suppose you don't mind if women make the same comparison when your pants come off."
His lips twitched the slightest bit, not looking like he'd mind that comparison a bit. Oh, sure. Of course the man was gifted across the board. And there was that confidence again. Man, I needed to buy myself confidence like he and the cat woman had.
He cleared his throat. "I was talking about your shoes. Her high heels to your flats. A difference of about four inches." He smiled an innocent smile. "What did you think I was talking about, kitten?"
"Nothing. I wasn't thinking anything. Noooo. Nope." I pulled my gaze away from his gorgeous face (the man had deep, deep dimples, so it took time to crawl out of them) and pointed into the crowd. "Your cat went that way."
"I think it's best she keeps going. Sorry to bother you." He gave me a nod and made his way back to his brothers.
I settled up with Eddie, trying to keep my gaze from wandering over to Gray Thorne. Not an easy task. Because there was something about the man that drew me in. I threw one last look at him before moving to the back section where Laura's text had said she'd snagged a table.
"Sorry! We had an emergency root canal come in just before we closed, so I stayed to help."
"Not a problem." I scooted into the booth and slid her drink across the table before reaching up and pulling my mask off. "The important thing is the dynamic duo is back."
"Hell yes we are." Laura raised her glass and smiled across at me, her eyes tearing up.
"No crying allowed," I said, feeling a sting at the back of my own eye sockets. "If you cry, then I'll cry, and we both know I'm an ugly crier. Splotchy cheeks, snotty nose, and hiccups. So, a toast, to friendship and shenanigans."
"Friendship and shenanigans. Also, to you; the strongest person I know." Laura clinked her glass against mine, her lips sliding into a devious grin. "Now drink up, kitty. This mouse is ready to party. We're taking an Uber home because this celebration is long overdue."
We drank (only one for me until I rebuilt my tolerance) and split an order of loaded French fries while I told her the whole Viagra cat woman story.
"She. Did. Not. Oh, my God, that's crazy." Laura sat back shaking her head. "So you were up close and personal with Gray Thorne, huh? That is one beautiful man. It's too bad he is the way he is."
"What do you mean? What's wrong with him?" See? This was what I needed to pay attention to. What the guy was really like, not what the unreliable voice in my head was whispering. The fact that my lady parts were siding with the voice? Totally irrelevant. Because if it came up for a vote, I got the last say. And I say I'd been burned by a good-looking, smooth-talking man before, so no thanks.
"While you've been out of circulation he's sort of gained a reputation." She scanned her gaze around, maybe checking to make sure there were no Thorne brothers within hearing distance. I guess it made sense. There were a lot of them.
"What kind of reputation? A cheater? A douche canoe? A rat bastard?"
Laura looked at me with a tilt of her head. "Huh, now that I think of it, none of the above."
"So, what? A non-flosser? Double crosser? Tax evader?" Being a criminal would definitely lower his sex appeal. Probably. Maybe. His face flashed through my mind again and I decided no, he'd just be a very sexy bad boy. "Is he a player?"
"I wouldn't say a player, but maybe king of the one-night-stands. Rumors, mind you, but I'm guessing they don't call him Fifty Shags of Gray for nothing."
"Oh." Yeah, that didn't sound good. "So he's a two-timing jerk who sleeps with women and then doesn't call?"
"No. One at a time. He's apparently upfront about his commitment issues. And still the female population of Raleigh lines up for him. I doubt that man has ever heard no from a woman. It's a mystery."
"Not a mystery. You should smell him." I remembered his scent ... and the feel of his chest ... and his dark voice like warm honey over my body and a shiver rolled through me. I also remembered the part where it got weird and my inner voice whispered to me. And it doesn't matter what it said, because I was going to ignore it.
I know that people tell you not to ignore those inner voices. Especially cops — cops tell you that all the time, right? They say when your inner voice tells you something is wrong and to run, do it. It could save your life.
But my voice didn't give me that kind of warning. And my brain had been through a lot the last three years, so to tell the truth, I didn't always trust it. Especially after my brain had convinced the rest of me that I was in love with my ex, and that had been a mistake. So, I wasn't putting stock in any of my brain's inner whispers until it had proven it was reliable again.
"How do you know so much about Gray Thorne?" I asked with a shake of my head.
"You'd be surprised what stories people tell me sitting in my hygienist chair."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Give a Little"
Copyright © 2018 Lee Kilraine.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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