Horror author Quinn Buzzly knows all about the dark side, but when she meets actor Jack Decker, she’s moved to explore something completely different—at least on paper. With his sexy good looks, intriguing manner, and charming Irish-tinged English accent, Jack is the perfect model for her next hero. Quinn decides to spend one year in London writing a historical romance inspired by him. Until real life butts in…
Jack’s jealous ex-fiancée sparks a media storm when she accuses him and Quinn of having an affair. But Jack knows how to play this game. At his insistence, Quinn agrees to go along with the faux romance until the chatter subsides. Then they’ll stage a quiet breakup and go their separate ways. Yet Jack is a shameless—and irresistibly convincing—flirt, and Quinn has to remind herself it’s an act. Or is it? If Jack means business, he’ll have to find the words to convince a wordsmith that their love is the real thing…
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Men Like This
By Roxanne Smith
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Roxanne Smith
All rights reserved.
Quinn gaped at Richard as if he'd grown an extra appendage in front of her eyes. He might as well have. He was alien to her, despite having known him for many years. "I'm giving you about three seconds to explain."
He had the nerve to smile. It showed off the large glaringly white teeth inside his too-perfect mouth on his too-perfect face. "You don't like it?" His dark gaze wandered, his approval apparent. "I really thought you would."
They were at a nightclub called Sabini's in Hollywood—Quinn deplored Hollywood. A small treasure of a private bar hid deep in the bowels of the rowdy club: quiet, classy, and far from the maddening wump-wump-wump of the dance floor down the hall. Yes, she liked it.
No, she wasn't going to admit it.
She crossed her bare arms, partly from the chill but mostly to show Richard she meant business. "Our relationship demands trust. Why would you lie to me, Richard?"
He spared a quick glance at her defensive posture. "Cold?" When she didn't respond, he waved off her concern. "All I've done is taken you out. Is that so bad?"
A jolt of agitation shot through her. Had he lost his mind? Had one too many cocktails earlier? "Yes, I'd say it was! You dragged me across a nasty dance floor wearing a silk ball gown and diamond brooch worth more than your house. You said my sister planned this. I want an explanation, and I want it now."
Richard continued to scan the bar, unruffled by her outburst. "I brought you through the front because I left my key to the private entrance at home. I apologize." He sat on one of the backless cowhide bar stools and lifted a hand for the bartender. "Bottle of champagne, please. Two glasses."
The busty young woman who could've still been driving on a learner's permit smiled. Her gaze roamed freely over Richard before she dashed off to fulfill his glamorous request.
Quinn fought the urge to stick her finger down her throat. Champagne? Who was he kidding?
He turned back to her and patted the seat beside him as if beckoning her to join him like she were some wayward, spoiled child. "Your feet must hurt." His eyes were kind, and his smile knowing. "Angie has excellent fashion sense, but you shouldn't have let her talk you into those heels."
He spoke the truth.
Quinn's feet throbbed from the towering stilettos she had no business wearing. She planned to set fire to the outrageous instruments of torture the very day they lifted the burn ban in L.A. and fight harder for the ballet flats next time.
She scowled at Richard for being right but sat anyway. The blood rushing back into her feet made her woozy with relief. With some effort, she refocused on Richard. "Quit stalling and tell me what we're doing here, or I'm walking out. If I have to call a cab to get home, I swear, I'm taking my next project to someone else."
Richard's dark and impeccably shaped eyebrows shot up. His mouth fell open. Finally, a dent in his smooth surface. "You wouldn't."
He didn't sound so certain.
Quinn smiled at having the upper hand. "I damn sure would. Like I said, this is a trust thing. It was odd when you told me Emily wanted to get together in Hollywood, but I told myself you wouldn't do anything weird. Then you go and order champagne. It keeps getting weirder, and you refuse to tell me what's really going on. You don't own a white windowless van, do you? Or have duct tape in your suit pocket?"
He didn't appear amused. In fact, he managed to appear unaffected, his impenetrable feathers were back in place. Her show of humor must've left him with the incorrect impression she'd be easily managed.
"You're over thinking this. We had a successful night at the fundraiser. You're gorgeous. I wanted to have an after-party drink with my favorite client. There's nothing weird about wanting to prolong a nice evening with a friend."
He couldn't have mocked her any clearer.
She couldn't have cared any less. "Except for your conniving, I'd agree. Why didn't you simply ask?"
"I wanted to surprise you." He smiled his horse-toothed smile. It ruined everything he had going for his face. "Surprise."
The champagne arrived. He handed her a dainty flute. "Drink this." The sweet condescension in his voice nearly undid the frail threads holding Quinn's temper in check, but she kept her grip on the reins—until she glanced at her glass.
It practically brimmed over with the sparkly wine. A sudden burst of insight hit her. "You're trying to get me drunk."
"You used my sister to lure me here knowing I'd never come willingly. Real classy." Quinn came out of her seat, disgusted and angry. She growled at the sharp jabs of pain shooting through the soles of her feet.
Richard must've taken the growl as meant for him. "Quinn, calm down, please. Yes, I'm attracted to you. Yes, I thought this was the only way I'd ever get a date with you."
"This is not a date!" Despite her pain, she stamped her foot. The small click of her heel failed to make the desired impact.
Richard placed a hand on her arm. "Obviously."
Her fingernails dug into her palms as her hands formed angry little fists at her sides.
Richard didn't notice. His primary concern seemed to have shifted from her to their audience. "You're causing a scene. You asked for an explanation, now allow me to give one before you get us kicked out."
Quinn seethed but didn't interrupt this time. A lift of her brow invited him to continue.
He cleared his throat and straightened his black silk bowtie. Since they'd come from the prestigious city fund-raiser, he was in a tuxedo jacket and slacks.
They'd been a striking pair. Quinn wore a black strapless gown and styled her long blond hair into an elegant chignon that displayed the diamond drops in her lobes. They matched the cluster pinned to the front of her gown.
In this casual setting, they looked like a bad joke. Overdressed and ill behaved. "You have to understand, Quinn. We work together closely. We talk every day. It's not strange I'm attracted to you. Asking you out seemed unprofessional."
Quinn nearly choked on her unspoken reply. This wasn't unprofessional? Her jaw practically unhinged at Richard's startling lack of self-awareness.
"I figured if we went out casually and had a few drinks, things might take their natural course."
A shrug accompanied the statement to show how big of a deal it wasn't, but Quinn saw red. She jabbed at his shoulder with an accusing finger. "I'm not stupid, Richard. You celebrate with a glass of champagne. There are completely different motives at play when you order an entire bottle. You weren't hoping for slightly tipsy. You were going for totally sloshed. Then what? You'd take me back to your place and pretend it got out of hand?"
"No, I'd never—"
Quinn turned away. She braced her hands against the bar in an effort to stay on her bruised feet and tried to breathe. "You sure as hell would. After what Blake did, there's nothing I'd put past a man."
He had the audacity to scoff. "Blake is an idiot."
The comment acted like flame to tinder—instant ignition.
She whirled on him. He was no better. He was probably no worse, but at the least, he and Blake were exactly the same. "Oh, and you're some genius? Do you even realize what you've done? I should fire you." She shook her head to dislodge some of her anger, but it wasn't going anywhere. She trembled. "Get away from me. Leave, now."
"Leave?" He repeated the word slowly. "I'm not going anywhere. I brought you here. I'm responsible for you."
Quinn pinned him with every ounce of fire in her green eyes. They flashed when she was angry. They must be crackling like hot coals now. "Do you really expect me to get back in your car? I'll take a cab home. I don't need your protection. What I need is for someone to protect me from you."
He looked like he might refuse again.
She hit him with the final blow. "Our contract is riding on how fast you can get away from me. I mean it, Richard."
Their surroundings seemed to come back to them simultaneously. Everyone stared at Richard as they waited in dead silence for his reaction. Even the bartender watched their exchange with rapt attention. Richard's face flushed a dull red. He stood in a deliberate fashion as if it were his idea to leave. "This is foolish."
His clenched jaw and piercing glare labeled him furious, but Quinn had her own store of ire to draw from. She slipped into the most condescending tone she possessed. "You need to go home and think about what you've done."
He recoiled like she'd slapped him, but she'd wager his reaction was nothing more than embarrassment at getting dressed down in a room full of strangers. Maybe now he'd understand how she felt—mortified and belittled. He'd tricked her into coming here and attempted to ply her with drink for the sake of getting her in bed. She couldn't have done anything more insulting than that.
Richard stormed toward the exit. She hoped the staring eyes of the audience, hers included, burned holes in his back as he went.
Her shoulders fell the moment he disappeared from sight. Her rage fled. She wasn't built for dramatics. She frowned at the two untouched glass flutes on the bar. One sat empty while the other comically full. She'd never much cared for champagne hangovers.
Quinn wiggled her fingers in a girlish wave at the bartender still watching her with round eyes. "Can I get a beer?"
Quinn waited until she almost finished her first drink to call Angie, her best friend, the same demon responsible for her miserable, dejected feet. She plucked her cell phone from the hidden pocket inside the bodice of her gown. She wasn't totally stupid. She'd have never let Richard leave without a backup plan up her sleeve.
Or down her dress, as it were.
Angie answered on the first ring. She sounded unfazed, like she'd expected Quinn's late-night call. "How did the fund-raiser go?"
Oh, that's right. She'd done something fun tonight. "I had a great time. In fact, I wish we were still there."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll have others." Angie sounded slightly distracted. Quinn imagined her painting her toenails or watching television. "What time did you get home?"
Quinn cleared her throat. It wasn't her fault. She shouldn't feel stupid, but for whatever reason she did. Must be some kind of male superpower. "Would it be weird if Richard wanted to sleep with me?"
"Of course not. It'd be weird if he didn't." Angie didn't seem distracted anymore. "Did something happen? Oh my God, did you go home with him?" Her voice dropped to a dramatic whisper. "Did you guys do it? Are you calling in secret from the bathroom? Was he good?"
Richard had inspired an intense lack of charitable feelings, but leave it to Angie to smooth Quinn's angry wrinkles mere seconds into the conversation. "No, nothing like that, but he did bring me to a Hollywood nightclub. Shows a little spark, doesn't it?"
"Hollywood? Does he know you?" The disdain in her best friend's voice was welcome commiseration. "Where are you?"
"A place called Sabini's." Quinn appraised the room once more. Large round bulbs suspended from the ceiling hung low and cast their warm glow over the bar, thus creating quite the snug little atmosphere. "I'm pained to admit it, but the private bar is sort of nice. It's the mosh pit of sweaty, spastic idiots in the dance room next door who frighten me. I can't believe that passes for dancing these days. I thought the first guy I saw was having a seizure. He's lucky I didn't shove my brooch in his mouth to stop him from swallowing his tongue."
Angie snorted. "A creative way to divest yourself of a fortune. I've been to Sabini's before. Your Richard's a classy one. Are you two having a good time?"
"Not exactly." Quinn explained in painful detail how her night had gone so topsy-turvy.
She waited in silence for Angie's reply. She imagined her friend working through the scenario in her mind.
Finally, a response. "Well, okay. I guess my question is why you're still there."
Quinn loved easy questions. She sucked the last drop of beer from the long-neck bottle and smacked her lips for emphasis. "To get drunk. Why does anyone sit at a bar and order booze?"
"Nice. Tomorrow you'll wake up not only divorced and homeless but with a hangover cherry on top. Way to take your power back, honey."
"I'm not homeless. I'm staying at a hotel."
"Homeless isn't synonymous with cardboard box. You don't have a home. You're homeless."
Quinn waved to the bartender. Time for another drink. "Shut up and tell me what I'm supposed to do. Am I overreacting?"
Angie clucked her tongue. "Had he taken you out for kung pao chicken, I'd say yes, but this is kind of a big deal. He dragged you to some shady Hollywood club wearing a thousand-dollar ball gown and million-dollar diamonds. Not just ignorant, mind you. Potentially dangerous. This is L.A., not Friendly, Texas. Letting him leave you there was even dumber, by the way."
"Probably." Quinn tried for a deep breath. It escaped as a depressed groan. "What do I do? Fire him?"
The mere suggestion made her stomach pitch. She mustered up a weak smile for Busty the Barkeep, who promptly deposited Quinn's second beer in front of her.
"There's only one thing you can do." Angie sounded apologetic but remained firm. "You have to kill him."
Quinn pressed the phone closer to her ear. The spectacle had ceased, and people were back to their regularly scheduled partying. "Like it's ever that easy."
Angie scoffed. "You have no problem scalping a sweet, vulnerable, and ruggedly handsome pediatrician with a chainsaw, but you can't kill Richard? You even murdered the poor doctor on the very same night he finally worked up the courage to ask that cute barista out on a date. It took a lot of courage for him to step out of his comfort zone. The guy had issues."
Quinn rested one elbow on the bar and said what she always said. "You're taking it too personally, Ang. You've got to quit falling in love with my subjects."
"What in the hell is a barista doing with a chainsaw in the first place, huh? Does she moonlight as a lumberjack?"
Quinn wanted to roll her eyes at Angie's protest but couldn't. She was too pleased with herself. Her life's work revolved around inspiring heartfelt emotion in others. More's the better if the emotions were dark ones like grief and loss.
They were sort of her calling card. "Look, if I wrote Richard into a story to give him a grisly death, I'm afraid he'd notice. He is my agent. And you'd understand why the barista had a chainsaw if you'd bother to finish the book."
"I can't, Quinn, I just can't." Her best friend sniffed. "You kill everyone I love."
"I'm sorry. I'll write you a happy ending one day. Promise."
Angie went from sniveling to haughty in the space of a single sentence. "The only happy endings these days are in massage parlors."
Quinn was still laughing when she ended the call and returned the slim black cell phone to the hidden confines of her ball gown.
Her silk strapless Carolina Herrera ball gown.
Every bit of good humor conjured disappeared. Quinn remembered where she sat and how she got there.
Richard, Richard, Richard. He'd really screwed up tonight. Angie's solution, while amusing, wasn't pragmatic and wouldn't solve anything. Quinn nervously rolled the beer bottle between her hands.
The idea of confronting Richard in his office made her queasy. He'd downplay the entire scene and make her out to be a dramatic prude. The smoothness she counted on for publishing negotiations would come back to bite her when she found herself looking down the barrel of it rather than grinning smugly from behind it, but what were her choices?
She had to make a stand. She needed to put him in his place, be the iron fist of the feminine movement.
Then again, there wasn't much determined avoidance couldn't patch up. Key West was fabulous this time of year. Cabanas, boat drinks, palm trees, and pool boys.
When had she last gone on vacation? Disneyland three years ago. With Blake. Quinn didn't want to think about that. She wanted to daydream about pool boys. For research, of course. She was far too old for a pool boy.
She'd need a pool man.
"You don't match."
For an instant, the deep voice coming from behind stunned her. Since she sat virtually alone on her side of the L-shaped bar, she had no choice but to accept the man—a pool man if her luck had improved any—intended the words for her. Some drunken fool trying to succeed where Richard failed. What had she been thinking staying here? She should've picked up a bottle of tequila and moved this pity party to the privacy of her hotel room.
Excerpted from Men Like This by Roxanne Smith. Copyright © 2015 Roxanne Smith. 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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