A sassy, sexy debut about a young woman who agrees to marry her billionaire playboy nemesis to save her business, only to find out he's also a werewolf and that her problems are just getting started.
There are two things Kate Affetto will do anything to protect: the younger brother she's raised ever since their father walked out, and the small diner she's managed to start from nothing in New York City. Things might not always be easy, but at least she gets to call all the shots and follow her own heart. That is until Jack Pensione, irritatingly gorgeous billionaire playboy and CEO/heir to the family empire shows up at her diner with an ultimatum: find $3 million to purchase the space, or vacate so it can be turned into condos.
But Kate isn't going down without a fight. So when Jack offers a third option—marry him, and he'll gift her the space—she agrees, knowing it'll save the life she's built for herself and her brother, and that the marriage will be over practically before it's begun. After all, it's not as if she actually likes Jack, or as if he's actually attracted her at all... Little does she know he's also a werewolf, that he's vying to be the alpha of his pack, and that her problems are just getting started.
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About the Author
Paige Cuccaro lives in Ohio, with her husband and three daughters. When she’s not writing, she can be found doing the mom thing with a book in one hand and a notepad and pen in the other. Ideas come without warning and the best way to stimulate your imagination is to enjoy the imagination of someone else. Paige is the author of the Hellsbane series, as well as Marriage Claws and Werebiker.
Read an Excerpt
By Paige Cuccaro
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Paige Cuccaro
All rights reserved.
I was dangerously close to failing everyone I loved. My only hope of avoiding disaster was the sexy Prince of Wall Street, Jack Pensione.
Not a problem.
I'd just appeal to his sense of decency ... After I overcame the debilitating case of do-me-brain that stunned me stupid every time he flashed me a smile.
* * *
I shoved through the back-alley door of my restaurant and stopped dead in my tracks. "You're feeding it?"
My brother looked from me to the big Husky-looking dog sitting at his feet and back to me. "He's hungry."
"He's a stray," I said. "Haven't you seen the news stories about the feral dogs running through Central Park? He's probably one of them. What if he tells his buddies? The Sweet Spot will be overrun with smelly dogs."
"He doesn't smell," George said. He shrugged. "And if they come, we'll feed them too."
I sighed. "Sure. Why not? God, you're such a pushover for a set of puppy dog eyes."
"Me? You're the one who's paying for the food."
"Don't remind me." I shook my head and yanked open the heavy door again. "Wash your hands before you get back to the grill. And don't be all day. We've got customers."
I didn't wait for his answer. I love my brother, but I seriously needed some air — air that wasn't currently being sucked up by anyone else. I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure I was in the midst of a mild panic attack.
It was Jack Pensione's fault. The man was trying to lock the doors on my business for good. The arrogant business mogul had only arrived a few minutes ago, and already I couldn't think straight. Good Lord, why'd he have to keep coming around, pestering me?
There was nothing on earth that would convince me to give up the fight to keep The Sweet Spot Diner open for business as long as I possibly could. The fact that my lease was up in less than two months, well ... I couldn't let myself think about that.
At the moment, I couldn't think about anything ... except green eyes, silky black hair, a chiseled jaw, and a flawless suit on a body that deserved the best tailoring the way a masterpiece deserved a golden frame. Not that I was allowing myself to think about stuff like that.
"Hey boss lady," Marbella said, catching my lightning streak through the kitchen. "You want me to check if the robber baron wants to order something?"
I paused for half a second behind the prep table. What the hell was a robber baron? I didn't ask. I knew who she meant, and the explanation would likely take longer than my interest would last.
Stooping to peer under the warmer shelf at the mature, heavyset waitress, a soft glow shining off her dark ebony cheeks, I nodded. "Might as well. But no discounts. He knows better than anyone we need the money."
My chest squeezed, breaths coming too shallow again, I refocused my determined escape to the walk-in cooler.
Marbella was always giving Jack Pensione some disparaging nickname pulled out of her vintage vocabulary. She was a hell of an employee, but hearing the fifty-eight-year-old waitress call me boss lady still made my brain stumble now and then. At twenty-four I was young enough to be her daughter.
I slammed the thick cooler door behind me and collapsed against it. Breathe ... breathe ... My breath steamed out from my mouth in a faint cloud, my pulse slowly finding a steady beat. The cool air soothed my ragged nerves and sent a tingle racing over my skin. Better.
All of my employees were amazing people, but they were more than just employees. They were family, and I loved them. George, Diego and Lucas worked in the kitchen, and Marbella, Brittney, Cece and Madam Opal waited tables out front. They all worked so hard to make my pastry shop-turned-diner a success, wanting it as much as I did. They were counting on me to do my part and keep their only source of income afloat. God, I suck.
The truth was I was a total, epic failure. A fraud. A Benedict Arnold. It was only a matter of time until I tripped up and exposed the ugly truth for everyone to see.
I mean, it should've been a no-brainer — despise the evil landlord bent on destroying your livelihood. Call him names behind his back, burn his toast, short his silverware a spoon one day and a knife the next, sue his uptown Midas butt for wrongful eviction ... stuff like that. Simple. And I did. But still, for some bizarre, utterly annoying reason, when it came to Jack Pensione, nothing was ever easy for me.
Resenting him, bad-mouthing him, even planning a convincing "accident" to trip him up for a few months, was easy. Actually, it was kinda fun when he wasn't around. But the second I had to stand in front of him, speak to him, look into those sexy green eyes ... my body turned on my convictions like a hedonist at a free love music fest.
My heart lurched at the sudden succession of knocks behind my head on the cooler door. "Yeah?"
"He's asking for you, honey," Marbella said. "You want, I'll tell him to go suck a lemon."
I exhaled. "No. Thanks. I'm coming."
Despite his family buying the old high-rise building my restaurant was in, evicting every one of its tenants so the whole thing could be renovated into luxury condos, and forcing me to either come up with the three million to buy the space I'd been renting or close ... I couldn't stop my tragically damaged brain from having fits and stutters every time I saw him. I actually drooled once — right in front of him. I mean, WTF?
It's not like I stood a snowball's chance in hell of hooking up with the GQ mogul, let alone any kind of real relationship. Not that I wanted a relationship ... or thought about it ... or ... Whatever.
I pushed off from the chilly door and ran my hands down my blouse and slacks, straightening wrinkles and drying a sudden case of hand sweat. Then turned and marched out of the cooler and into the fire.
"You asked to speak with me, Mr. Pensione?"
Green eyes swung up to mine and my belly did a knee-weakening tuck and roll. "Are you ever going to call me Jack?"
"Are you ever going to stop trying to cheat me out of my business?" I sounded way more bad-ass than I felt ... I think.
"We're not cheating you out of your business." He leaned back in the booth and rested his elbow up on the back of the seat. "It's all perfectly legal, and I think you know that."
I blinked to help tear my eyes off the hard planes of his chest. "What?" Good Lord. "I mean, no. No. I don't know that. But I do know it's not fair. Either I come up with three million dollars or I lose my business."
"That was the contract you signed. Besides, you don't have to lose the restaurant. Just move it," he said. "I'm sure there are plenty of spaces —"
"No. There are not," I said knowing what he was going to say because he'd said it all before. "There's no available space in Manhattan for me to move my restaurant. At least nothing I can afford. And even if there was, do you know how hard it is to relocate a restaurant?"
He sighed and shifted his arms to the table, biceps straining the fabric of his expensive suit. "Actually, I don't. I've never been in the position to try. But I'm sorry to hear it."
I scoffed. "Right."
"C'mon, Kate. Are you really going to go through with this lawsuit?"
"It's Ms. Affetto, if you don't mind," I said, chin high.
He tried to hide the start of a smile, looking away and clearing his throat. "My apologies, Ms. Affetto."
"And yes, I'm really going to go through with it," I said. "How else am I going to stop you from ruining all these people's lives?" I swept a hand to the rest of the dining area.
It would've been way more dramatic if even one of my seven employees had actually been in the room. Where was everyone?
As it was, customers filled three of the booths along the window wall of the long narrow room and another four sat at the counter. I knew Marbella had been in the kitchen picking up an order and I'd bet anything Brittney was in the bathroom ... again. The nineteen-year-old was seven months pregnant, so I tried to cut her some slack.
"You're not going to win," Jack said. "You can't. You signed a contract."
"I guess we'll see tomorrow." My gut sank. A part of me knew he was right, but I couldn't give up. I had to try to save the place, not just for me, but for George, my soft hearted little brother. For all of us. "Why do you keep coming in here? I'm not going to change my mind and drop the suit. Unless you're secretly obsessed and this is your way of stalking me."
Did I just say that out loud?Shit.
The blood crept up his neck and colored his cheeks. He couldn't hide his smile this time but he took a half-beat before he met my eyes. "Actually, I was checking on the renovation progress in the rest of the building. Figured I'd take advantage while I'm here to grab a little lunch and see if I can talk some sense into you. Is that okay with you?"
"Oh. Yeah." Definitely, made way more sense than him being interested in me. Where's a dark hole or massive rock to crawl under when you need it?
"Not that you're not stalk-worthy. I mean, if I did that sort of thing." His smile turned cocky. "But I don't."
A nervous laugh shook my voice. "Right. 'Course not. I was just ... Never mind. I'm just gonna go check on your order."
I spun on my heel and headed for the kitchen at the end of the counter. God, I was seriously brain-damaged.
Jack Pensione didn't stalk women — women stalked him. He was one of the most eligible bachelors in New York City. Single women hunted him like the last low-cal cookie at a dieter's support group. The paparazzi snapped photos of him with a different woman every weekend. And the women on his arm were always nothing short of living goddesses. Tall and thin, with perfect smiles and hair I'd only ever seen in shampoo commercials. They were models and actresses, heiresses and rock stars. In other words, they were nothing like me.
I pushed through the swinging door and met the comforting smile of Marbella staring back at me. "Where have you been, Marbella? I was dying out there hoping you'd bring his food and give me an excuse to walk away."
The waitress shrugged. "Sounded like you were doin' just fine. Thought you might wanna take his order out yourself."
"What? No. Why would I?" I scoffed and sputtered with a convincing pfft sound.
Marbella just flashed me one of her wise grandma smiles. "If you say so, honey. But mark my words, that boy's got his eye on you."
"Yeah, an eye on putting me out of business," I said wiping invisible crumbs from the stainless-steel table so I wouldn't have to meet her eyes.
"You don't see things from this side," she said. "The way he watches you, the way he stares when you walk away. You'd think the man suspected you were smuggling gold in the backside of your slacks."
"He stares at my butt?" A quick thrill jolted through me but I managed to bottle it up before anyone noticed. I think.
"Honey he stares at your butt, your boobs, your legs ... anywhere he can that won't get him caught."
"Why?" Marbella repeated as though I'd just asked the world's stupidest question. She chuckled, her big breasts jiggling. She bent to peer through the order-up shelves at Diego behind the grill. "You hear that, Diego? Child wants to know why the man's starin' at her."
Diego turned his wide grin toward us, spatula in hand, nodding. "Si. She loco. Estúpido."
"You said it, little man." Marbella chuckled again.
I didn't take offense. Diego spoke maybe thirty words of English and he misunderstood the meanings of about half of them. Lucas, his brother, was the spokesman for the pair. They were both smaller men with perpetual tans, jet black hair, eyes as dark as midnight and the biggest, brightest smiles I'd ever seen.
They'd immigrated from Cuba years ago. Lucas came first, lucking into a brief opportunity for amnesty. He got his citizenship and then immediately sent for his brother. Diego was still working on the legalities of living and working in the US, but he needed to eat and I needed another cook. They were family now and that's all that mattered.
"You two are loco," I said wagging a finger between them. "You don't know the first thing about Jack Pensione. I'm not his type. I'm barely the same species as his type."
"You're beautiful," Marbella said.
"I'm not." The knee-jerk response spit out of me before I could think to temper it. I sighed, hating when my insecurities made others uncomfortable.
I don't fish for compliments but when I admit to how I really feel about my appearance people seem compelled to try and reassure me with clichéd flattery. It's exhausting. "I'm cute ... at best. But I'm short. I barely have any boobs and my hair —"
"Your hair is gorgeous," the older woman said.
"It's the color of rusty water. Plus it's flat and so straight ... Uck ... it's awful."
"Nothin' wrong with straight hair," Marbella said. "You just need to play to your strengths. Wear it down now and then instead of that constant ponytail. Maybe get a trim, style it. Trust me. A black woman knows good hair when she sees it. You got potential, honey. All kinds of potential."
"If you were a twenty something hot guy, that would mean the world," I said. "But surprisingly, appealing to middle-aged black women isn't exactly my goal. Actually I don't know what my goal is, but I know it's not Jack Pensione."
"Jack Pensione? He's here?" Madam Opal exploded through the back-alley door to the kitchen like the over-the-top diva she was.
"You're late," I said.
"Your little brother's out there feeding some smelly fleabag," she said by way of deflection.
"Still?" I sighed. "He's loco if he thinks he's bringing that thing home. Our building doesn't even allow pets."
"You tell 'im," Madam Opal said. "Good luck with that. Meanwhile Miss Thing here has to check her face. Jack Pensione deserves Madam Opal at her best."
Madam Opal, a.k.a. Dave Pawlicki, breezed past me to the utility skin and mirror behind Marbella. At six feet four inches and 155 pounds, the blond-haired, blue-eyed thirty-six-year-old man made for a stunning woman. Today he — she — wore black short shorts, a snug V-neck tee with a push-up bra, and dark-blue Keds with no-show socks. Ironically, Madam Opal was closer to Jack Pensione's type than I was.
She ran a pinky along the curve of her bottom lip, tidying her lipstick, then fluffed her shoulder-length locks. "Is his order up?"
I checked the warming station, recognizing Jack's usual meal, steak — rare — with a baked potato side — hold the butter. "Yep. You ready?"
Opal turned, giving her silicone inserts a final lift with both hands then reached for Jack's plate. "What if he asks for you?" "Tell him ... tell him I'm meeting with my lawyer and I'll see him in court."CHAPTER 2
"Girlfriend, you have got to get out there," Madam Opal said, swinging her hips through the kitchen door. "The big boss just came in and he ain't happy."
"Big boss?" I asked.
"Papa Pensione himself."
"Jack's father? Are you sure? Frank Pensione, is in my restaurant?"
Madam Opal nodded, glancing from her notepad as she punched a new order into the system. "Sure is. By the sound of it he stopped in to take a bite out of his little boy's ass."
I rushed to the dining room door and peered through the small window. Marbella moved like my shadow behind me, her big breasts crowding against my back.
"Is that him? What's he look like?" Marbella asked over my shoulder.
"I don't know. I've never met him and he's never in any of the tabloids or press photos." I pressed the side of my face to the glass trying to see around the counter to the far end of the diner. "He's got his back to the kitchen."
She nudged my ribs. "Well get out there. Have a look. See what they're talkin' about. If you can't convince the boy to renew your lease, maybe Daddy Warbucks will have a soft spot for the place ... or for you."
"I can't eavesdrop."
"Eavesdrop on who?" Brittney asked finally emerging from the bathroom. The very pregnant nineteen-year-old waddled up behind us, pressing her baby belly into my side until I stepped out of the way for her to see through the little window. "Who am I looking at?"
Lately I'd been wondering if the soon-to-be teen mom had taken the old cliché, eating for two as a challenge. Either that or she was off on her due date by about a month and a half. In retrospect, there was a period of ambiguity when she applied at The Sweet Spot as to her due date. Her answer had more to do with when she and her boyfriend had gotten back together, and the irrelevance of a small indiscretion with a teacher's assistant at the community college than anything her OBGYN had told her.
Excerpted from Marriage Claws by Paige Cuccaro. Copyright © 2017 Paige Cuccaro. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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