When my mum gets sick, I volunteer to fill in for her and clean some hot jock's penthouse. I've heard all the rumors about him, so the plan is get in, clean some toilet bowls, and get out. After my last experience with a "sports hero," I'm done with that sort of guy.
But Lucas Carter is full of surprises. He wants to help me clean and is nothing like the toad the press has made him out to be. Resistance may be futile for some girls, but not me. Then he asks me to help him with the interior design of his new place. I can't say, no. It's going to look great on my resume.
Unfortunately, spending time with Lucas is dangerous. He's so charming and sweet, but I can't let myself forget--once a player, always a player.
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Who has a party on a Thursday night?
I pull off my work jacket and drape it over a clean section of the nearest sofa as I survey the disgusting mess before me. It'll take me hours just to clean this room before I can even start on the rest of the place. And if every room is in the same state, I'll be here all bloody weekend.
Which would be fine if I didn't have an assignment to finish before Monday. But if I hadn't agreed to do this cleaning job for my mum, she would've tried to drag herself out of bed and do it herself. And she's already feeling sick enough without having to face this hot mess.
Not that I know who's responsible. Just that they live in a freaking huge penthouse full of marble surfaces and have really bad taste in furniture. The interior design student in me longs to rearrange it all, but that's not what I'm here for.
Fuming about it isn't going to help. I take a deep breath and start on the rug.
It takes over an hour just to clean that one rug, but when I finally stand back to scrutinize my work, relief washes through me. It was a fiddly pain in the arse, but I think I nailed it.
I scoop up several bottles and march toward the kitchen, which is just beyond the dining area, and dump them in the sink. And then, like one of those dreams that suddenly turns into a sinister nightmare, the double doors slowly open.
Well, shit. It's been so quiet, I assumed everyone had gone out after trashing the place.
Put your professional face on, Violet.
Whoever lives here is a Class A slob, someone so rich they don't care what kind of mess they leave behind, but the last thing I want is this new client to guess my thoughts.
I don't know who I expect to see, but my whole world tips sideways as Lucas Carter, star striker of Harrington United, and the hottest Premier League football player in the history of everything, ambles into the room wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs. Why didn't Mum warm me who the client was?
He pauses as he takes in the view of Hampstead Heath through the windows, and I'm having a hard time dragging my bewitched gaze from his sculpted profile.
Not that I haven't seen him half naked before. Although he hasn't played for months due to a knee injury, he's always on the TV and in magazines, advertising cars and cologne, and invariably, he has his shirt off at the very least.
It doesn't compare to the seeing the real thing. His thighs are a work of art and a miracle to behold.
Oh my God. I'm totally drooling.
I'm not fifteen anymore.
It's been years since my bedroom walls were plastered with posters of him and I had a schoolgirl crush. I'm so over players it's not funny. But I still can't stop admiring his rippling muscles or the tattoos that wrap around his left bicep, and the glint of his earring in the morning sun is ridiculously erotic.
Should I say something? My mind's a complete blank. In any case, there's no way he doesn't know I'm standing here, and he's fine about ignoring me. I'm already behind in this job, and I'm not going to waste more time ogling a guy who clearly thinks he's God's gift.
It still takes more nerve than I care to admit to leave the relative safety of the kitchen and force my feet to move across the dining area.
Lucas swings around, and the shock on his face has me coming to an abrupt halt. Maybe he wasn't ignoring me, after all? Not that it matters. Except for an annoying reason, it does.
"Whoa," he says, his voice all deep and sexy, and treacherous tremors of awareness skate along my spine.
Just because he's hot and my body's having a weak moment doesn't mean I'm attracted to him.
"Good morning," he adds.
It's a perfectly reasonable thing to say, so I don't know why it sounds so sinfully suggestive. Get a bleeding grip, Violet. Lucas Carter is a renowned flirt. Just because I haven't been on the receiving end of a flirt in over a year, since the horrible breakup with my ex, is no excuse to dissolve into a hormonal mess all over this expensive carpet because he happens to smile at me.
Please stop smiling at me.
"Good morning." I give him a brief, glacial smile. I hope he can't hear the way my heart's thundering.
He strolls across the room, and I can't tear my mesmerized gaze from his magnificent pecs. Oh. Bloody. Hell.Stop gawping at him. My back is against the counter that overlooks the dining area, and Lucas has now reached the steps. Only the sleek glass-topped dining table is between us.
He's not stalking me like I'm his prey.
I think he is.
"You need a hand with anything?"
If anyone else asked that, it'd sound completely innocent. Coming from Lucas, it totally doesn't.
I'm so overreacting. Pull yourself together. Forget about his rep, he's just being polite.
I almost convince myself, but then he gives another of his devastating smiles, and my charitable thought crumbles.
Polite? Yeah, right. He soooo isn't. My face tightens, and I lock- down my hormones. I've spent far too much time with dickhead players who think they exist to be worshipped.
And I'm not going to fall for it again.
* * *
Who the hell is she? I don't remember her from last night, when some of the guys turned up with a group of girls I'd never met before. I might have a mother of all hangovers, but there's no way I'd forget her face. Especially with that red hair tumbling down from her topknot, or whatever it's called.
Since she appears frozen in place, I halt this side of the table and give her one of my charm-infused smiles. At least, that's what my good mate Yolanda calls them, but my hangover must be worse than I thought, since this chick recoils.
Well, fuck. Unfortunately, it does nothing for my hard-on. Heat roars through me. Although I don't usually care if that part of my anatomy does its thing when meeting a hot girl, that's because the attraction is generally mutual. Why didn't I drag on a pair of shorts?
I didn't think anyone was here. Except for Yolanda, but she's like a sister to me.
"Thank you," she says, all formal, as though we're having a conversation at some high-profile charity ball. "But I'll pass."
It takes a second for her comment to penetrate the thud in my brain, and a snort of laughter escapes. I don't even remember the last time a girl threw one of my not-so-subtle offers to get to know each other better back in my face.
"Fair enough." Since my dick refuses to get the message that there's not gonna be any early morning delight with this gorgeous redhead, I rest my arm across the top rail of one of the chairs in a deliberately casual manner. I hope she can't see anything below waist level. "Were you making coffee?"
I can't think of any reason why she was by the kitchen just now unless she was looking for something to drink. And although I really want to know which lucky bastard brought her here, I don't want her to know I can't remember who she turned up with.
"No, I wasn't." Her tone is so painfully polite it grates my eardrums. It's almost as though she's being nice because she has to, not because she means it. Yeah, sure she is, Carter. I really need to find some painkillers before my head explodes. "I was just clearing up the empties."
Wait. What? "You don't need to do that." Why was she doing that? I glance over my shoulder and take in the state of the room. What the fuck? Why didn't I notice the mess as soon as I walked in? "Ah, shit."
My mind's a blur from the point we finished eating and I crashed into bed, but the guys could've dumped their crap before they all fucked off to the nightclub.
I swing back, and she hasn't moved. The chicks hanging off my teammates' arms last night were all dressed to kill. And while the redhead is killing me with her worn jeans and the tight T-shirt that's showing a glimpse of her midriff, there's no way she was in the group the guys picked up last night before gate-crashing here.
Not unless she brought a change of clothes with her. Possible, I guess. Although, if she bailed on the nightclub to sleep here instead, the big question is why? It obviously isn't because she wants to get inside my boxers.
"Don't worry," she says with that same polite voice and another smile that doesn't reach her eyes, which are green and fringed with curling black lashes, and now that I've noticed them, I can't stop staring. "I've got this all under control."
I wish I could say the same. Despite the fact I spend half of my professional life, and a good portion of my private one, with most of my gear off, right now I'd give a great deal to be wearing at least a pair of shorts. I can't stand behind this chair forever but as soon as I move she'll see my erection, which in spite of my mental demands, refuses to diminish. For some reason I don't want her thinking I'm led by my dick.
"Great." What the fuck's that supposed to mean? I rake my hand through my hair and admit defeat. "Sorry. What did you say your name was again?"
She inches around the table, never taking her eyes from me, as though she expects me to pounce like a panther. Shut the fuck up, Carter. Unless she's playing a really elaborate game, she's not here to seduce me, so I can stop with the sex-play images.
"I didn't say." She's standing by the pillar now, her thumbs tucked into her pockets, and she's close enough that I can see freckles splashed across her nose and cheeks. Damn, she's cute. I shift my weight from one foot to the other, but even the residual ache from my knee doesn't lift my mind from the gutter.
"No, you didn't. I'm Lucas, who are you?" I grin, since this is the most insane conversation, and I've never had to work so hard in my life just to find out a girl's name.
She chews the inside of her lip, as though she's debating whether or not to honor me with her name, and I choke out a cough to hide my laugh.
She gives a long sigh. "I'm Violet Henderson. I'm your cleaner."
She's my what? "Ah, right."
"So, if you'll excuse me, I need to get on."
As she goes down the steps into the sitting room, I swing about and am once again confronted with the mess my so-called mates left. I grimace and follow Violet into the room.
"Look, I'm sorry about all of ... this." I wave my arm in a vague gesture, and she shoots me a glance over her shoulder before hastily looking away and picking up some half-empty glasses.
"It's fine." Her voice is neutral, but her rigid shoulders and the way she's pressing her lips together tell me she's not fine about this at all.
Can't blame her, either. Not when all she was expecting was the usual quick flick around with the vacuum or whatever. My agent Bec told me she'd found a local cleaning agency for the penthouse while I stayed in the flat I've rented for the last four years in Cockfosters. The lease on the flat expires in a couple of weeks at the end of June, which is when I plan on moving into the penthouse. Yolanda and I only stopped by yesterday evening because she wanted to check out the place, but then the lads turned up, so it evolved into an all-nighter.
"Here, let me help." I pick up a heap of takeaway cartons, and Violet faces me, clutching the glasses to her chest.
"Please just leave it."
"Come on, Violet. I banged up my knee, not my hands. I can carry a few boxes."
For the first time, I see a hint of a genuine smile hover around her gorgeous lips before she clamps down on it as though it tried to escape without her permission. Intriguing.
"That's not the point." She takes the glasses into the kitchen, and I follow her. I try not to admire her cute butt. Yeah, like that's gonna happen. I exhale a long breath and dump the rubbish in the bin. "You're paying us to do the job."
I grin as I swing around to face her, belatedly recall my damn erection, and take up position on the other side of the workbench so she has no chance of seeing it. "So, don't tell anyone."
She blinks a couple of times as though my comment doesn't make sense. Unfortunately, my damn dick finds her reaction irresistible. "Why would you want to help, anyway?"
"Because I don't want you thinking I'm an entitled prat."
A slow blush spreads over her cheeks. Guess she'd already come to that conclusion.
"I don't think that." And she's a lousy liar.
"I'll be right back." There's no way I can do anything useful until I've got some clothes on, which is ironic. Usually the only reason girls want me around involves me having my kit well and truly off.
"Yes, um, but Lucas ..."
I halt jogging toward the door and glance over my shoulder. "Yeah?"
She's staring at me with a bemused expression. It's obvious her opinion of me is so low she can't believe I'm capable of helping her clear up. I don't know why that bugs me so much. I don't even know her, but I sure wouldn't mind changing that.
Except she's not interested.
Then why's she checking me out?
"Er ... nothing." She tears her gaze from me and starts to load the dishwasher with far more concentration than is necessary. I hide my grin and jog back to my bedroom where I grab a pair of shorts and drag them on.
It's rare I need to do anything to impress a girl. Violet might be holding back, but she's not as indifferent to me as I first imagined.
All I need to do is impress her with my mad skills at how to fill a black rubbish bag and whip the vacuum around the floor. There's no way Violet's leaving here today before she's agreed to go on a date with me, or my name's not Lucas Carter.CHAPTER 2
I did not just ogle Lucas Carter's hard-on.
Yes, I did. My face is still burning even though my unforgivable slip happened about three minutes ago. And much as I want to believe he didn't notice, I saw the satisfied smirk on his face just before he left the room.
A mortified groan shudders through me as I wash the surprisingly clean workbench in the kitchen. There's no chance I can sneak out of here before he returns, but it doesn't stop me fantasizing about it.
Why couldn't he have been a total wanker? It was way too hard being all detached and professional when he was helping to clear up the rubbish. Even though I try and hold his smirk against him, it's not working.
That's my own fault for eyeing his goods. He probably thinks I'm just playing hard to get.
He's a player in every sense of the word, and I need to remember that.
By the time he strolls back into the room, I've managed to compose myself. No more sneaky peeks at his equipment. Luckily, his shorts hide everything there, and he's also pulled on a white short-sleeved shirt, which would be helpful if he'd taken the time to button the damn thing up. As it is, he's just hotter than ever.
He folds his arms on the back of the sofa I'm working on and leans over it, which is distracting when I'm trying to clean the white leather.
"Hey, Violet." Why does he keep using my name? It sends a tingle down my spine and I so don't need that. "Do you want a coffee? Or cup of tea?"
I could do with a stiff whiskey. "No, thank you." I concentrate on the task at hand and refuse to give in to my weak desire to glance up at him.
"Have you been working at the cleaning agency for long?"
Why does he want to know that? It can't be because he wants to lodge a complaint. I've been super polite. Anyway, he's not behaving like he has a problem with the service. I give in, roll back on my knees, and catch his warm Mediterranean blue gaze. God, I loved his blue eyes when I was fifteen.
"For the last three years." I hope that satisfies his curiosity. I'm not sure if he's aware that Mum's cousin is his agent, and I don't want to accidentally say something I shouldn't. On the other hand, I'm not going to lie, since it wouldn't take him a minute to find out the truth.
"Full time?" The distracting flash of dimples that accompanies his inquisition should be illegal. If not for the way my ratbag ex, Geoff, totally played me by cheating with my best friend Monica, I'd be in serious danger of falling for Lucas's sweet talk.
He's only asking me about my work! Well, yep. And this just goes to show how much of a hermit I've been when it comes to chatting with guys during the last year.
While the logical thing to do is to tell him I don't have time to gossip, there's no way that will sound anything but rude, and I can't let Mum and Bec down like that.
Yes, sure, that's the only reason why I'm going to answer him.
"No, I'm just casual. I help out when needed."
His forehead creases, which has the effect of making him sexier than ever. "Is this the first time you've been here?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Once Upon a Player"
Copyright © 2018 Christina Phillips.
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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