Cash Hale has been in love with his best friend's wife forever. Now Callie and Beau are divorced, but she's still way off-limits. Dating her would betray his friendship with Beau. And Cash is nothing if not loyal.
Callie Sutherland is starting over. The end of her marriage was just one more way she failed to live up to her wealthy family's expectations, so from now on she's not even going to try. It's time to live her life the way she wants. And she wants Cash.
Cash and Beau aren't just friends, they're business partners, and the drop in the price of oil has hurt their business. They need to win the bid for Sutherland Industries' next big project-but it may get messy since Callie's family owns the business. Not only would Cash risk his friendship with Beau to be with her, he'd be risking the company they worked so hard to create.
But this new Callie isn't taking no for an answer.
He's so screwed...
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)|
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Callie walked into the private room in Houston's Nebula to see her girlfriends gathered amid balloons, streamers, and glitter. They stood near a buffet table loaded with finger foods, toasting her with martini glasses. Her best friend, Kristy, who'd picked her up and driven her to the club, followed behind her.
Charlotte, Emma, and Tess rushed at her for hugs and air kisses, all wearing short dresses and heels, their hair big and makeup impeccable. The exotic scents of Gucci and Yves St. Laurent surrounded her as she embraced her friends.
Callie still wasn't sure this divorce party was a good idea, but Kristy had organized the entire event, from invitations to decorations, food, and drinks. She'd booked this private room, where they would eat and drink before going out to dance on the club's multilevel dance floors to the music of some of the hottest DJs in the state of Texas.
Callie studied the tiered cake iced with white fondant and black polka dots sitting on the buffet table. The black letters WTF adorned the front of it, and on top a bride and a groom were feet up, their heads buried in the cake.
She gave Kristy a wry smile. "Yay."
Kristy bumped her shoulder into Callie's. "Come on. This will be fun! Now that your divorce is final, it's time to celebrate."
"I don't think a divorce is something you're supposed to celebrate." Callie accepted the glass Emma handed her and took a gulp of a potent green apple martini. The burn traced down her esophagus, but the sour apple taste was yummy.
"Okay, maybe celebrate isn't the right word. It's more ...a rite of passage. It's a marker in your life to say that you're moving on."
"I moved on when I kicked Beau out last year." She and Beau had been separated for over a year now. "And when I quit my job and left for Europe."
"Yes." Kristy pursed her lips. "You did sort of blow up your old life."
"Much to my parents' dismay."
"So are you going back to work for Manon?" Emma asked, picking up a cracker topped with goat cheese and a blackberry.
"I don't think so." Callie gave a rueful smile. "Manon called me a couple of weeks ago and offered me my job back, but I'm not sure that's what I want."
"Manon is fabulous!" Tess leaned forward. "I love her clothes."
Callie had worked at Manon's eponymous boutique after college, after marrying Beau, and up until she'd left for Europe. It was the kind of place her mother liked to shop — exclusive and expensive. It had been something to do to fill her time, and she'd enjoyed it, although a sales clerk job wasn't that challenging. She didn't need to work, at least not for the money, either when she'd been married or now. Her trust fund would amply support her. But she'd needed to do something with her life, and her college degree in art didn't lead to a lot of career opportunities.
Now she didn't know what she was going to do.
The girls chattered on, and Callie tossed back her first martini. She was going to need a few more to get through this party. Luckily the bartender quickly had another one in her hand, which she accepted with a smile and a courteous thank you.
"Did you really use Tinder to meet guys when you were traveling?" Charlotte asked.
Callie blinked, then grinned. "I sure did."
"It was fun." She shrugged. "I didn't know anyone in any of the places I went, so it was a good way to meet people. We'd hang out, they'd show me the sights, and then I'd move on. I got to know places so much better being with local people. They'd take me to little restaurants I never would have found on my own, or cool shopping areas that weren't all touristy."
"And I know some of them were hot guys." Tess winked and lifted her martini glass.
Callie laughed. "Yes, some of them were hot guys." She and Beau had been together since her freshman year of college, so hooking up with other guys had felt weird but like something she needed to do. Her heart may have been broken ... or maybe not so much. She'd felt betrayed and hurt, for sure, but had she ever really loved Beau that much? Or had she just married him because everyone expected them to get married? Most of all her parents. Marrying Beau had been the first thing she'd ever done that had made them proud.
In any case, going out and having fun with other men — and yes, sleeping with them — had felt incredibly liberating. Because she'd been traveling, there'd been no expectation of anything more than fun. She'd met some great guys and had some amazing experiences as far away from the state of Texas as you could get.
Not that she didn't love her home state, and she loved Houston. But she'd spent her whole life there doing what everyone else wanted her to do. Trying to be what everyone else thought she should be.
She was grateful for what she had: a lovely home and enough money to do whatever she wanted. Good friends who'd supported her through the decisions she'd made over the last year, including the biggest decision: to end her marriage. She was a lucky woman.
That vast empty feeling inside her intensified.
More people arrived. Callie tossed back another martini, the faint buzz from the alcohol distracting her from the heaviness in her chest and the desire to flee. The manners and social graces drummed into her since childhood took over, and she smiled and made small talk and, along with Kristy, ensured everyone had food and drinks and someone to converse with.
Later, she danced with some girlfriends, shaking it to the cool tracks the DJ was spinning, laughing when she spilled her martini on the dance floor. Her mother would be horrified. She laughed at that, too.
A guy made eye contact with her and moved closer. "You have a great smile. Dance?"
"Sure." She didn't know him, but he was cute and she was celebrating, so she flashed him another big smile and boogied out to the dance floor with him.
She danced with other men and with her girlfriends. She drank every martini that was handed to her. Then it was time to cut the cake.
"Where did you get this cake, anyway?" she asked Kristy as she sliced into it.
"Marlene's." Kristy flashed her a guilty look. "Sorry, but I couldn't ask you to make your own divorce cake."
Callie studied it critically. It was cute, but she could have done a much better job. After working for a few months at Duchesse, a patisserie in Paris, she'd learned a lot about baking and cake decorating, something that had always been a hobby.
"That's okay," she said. "I'm sure it's awesome."
She handed out pieces, then dug a fork into her own slice of cake. When she tasted it, she was even more sure she could have done better; the cake was bland and the texture too dry. The fondant icing was decent, she'd allow that.
She politely said none of that, but Kristy sighed as she tasted the cake. "Maybe I should have asked you to make your own cake. Yours are so much better than this."
"Why is divorce so expensive?" her friend Doug asked as he forked up cake.
"Why?" a bunch of people asked in return.
"Because it's worth it!"
Callie grinned at the dark humor.
Emma swatted Doug's shoulder, smiling. "Okay then, what's the difference between getting a divorce and getting circumcised?"
Callie lifted her hand. "I know, I know! When you get a divorce, you get rid of the whole prick!"
"You heard that one before," Emma pouted.
"Yeah." Callie grinned. "It's still good."
She danced again. The music got louder, the club grew warmer, and the flashing lights started to make her head hurt. She made her way unsteadily back to the private room they'd booked, using a hand to balance on various chairs, then paused at the bar to suck in a steadying breath.
"Another martini, beautiful?" The bartender winked at her.
"No, thank you." She managed her debutante smile. "I think I need to get some air."
"Patio is out those doors." He gestured across the bar.
Damn, that was far away. Focusing carefully on each step, she skirted the perimeter of the club to the open doors.
Outside on the patio, a few people sat at small tables. She spotted an empty table in a shadowy corner, next to a big potted palm. There, she sank into a wrought-iron chair and sucked in a breath of warm night air, then leaned her head back to gaze up at the dark sky.
It was quieter here, the music a distant throb. She closed her eyes, then opened them when things began to spin. Whoa.
She rubbed her forehead. Too many martinis. She was totally trying to drown out the fact that she was now divorced. A failure as a wife. A failure in life.
A tear slipped out of one eye and slid down her cheek.
She started, and her head jerked up at the male voice.
Her ex-husband's best friend, Cash Hale, stood near her. "What're you doing out here all by yourself when there's a party going on in there?"
She blinked. "Kristy invited you?"
"Yeah." He stepped closer. A big man, with the broad shoulders of the college football player he'd been, he still moved with athletic grace and confidence. "Wasn't sure if I could make it, but ... here I am."
"Oh. Well, thanks."
It was probably weird that her ex's best friend was still friends with her. The things that had been hardest to divide up when she and Beau had separated were their friends. Callie had drifted away from some of their couple friends who'd still included Beau in get-togethers when Callie hadn't wanted to see him. But Cash hadn't let that happen.
She would've been sad if he had, because she'd always liked him. Well, maybe not always. When they'd first met, she'd thought he was a bossy, standoffish control freak who in turn thought she was a spoiled, superficial princess. Because he was Beau's friend, she'd spent more time with Cash and gotten to know him better. He'd had the patience to teach her to play pool when Beau hadn't, and she'd discovered that under his stony exterior he had a sense of humor and a surprising protective streak as wide as a football field. And over the years they'd become friends, too.
Cash pulled out a chair and sat. "I saw you come out here as I walked in. You okay, darlin'?"
"It's my party and I'll cry if I want to?"
"I'm not crying."
He lifted an eyebrow.
She swiped her fingertips beneath one eye. "Okay, just feeling a bit blue. Not really in a mood to celebrate." She grimaced in an attempt to smile.
After a short silence, Cash said, "Do you still love him, Callie?"
"No." She shook her head. "To be honest, I was thinking earlier that I'm not so sure I ever did love him."
"'Course you did."
She smiled. "Yeah, I guess I did, sort of. I don't know. But over the last year ... I've done a lot of thinking about stuff."
"While you were in France. And Italy. And Greece."
"Yeah." She traced her index finger over the wrought-iron arm of the chair. "And since I've been back, too. I think I'm going to get a tattoo."
"Jesus." Cash frowned. "Are you drunk?"
"Uh ... yeah. That's what a divorce party is for, right?"
"Hell if I know."
"My mama will freak if I get inked. Maybe I should get a piercing, too." She tapped her chin. "Where would be a good place to get pierced?"
"Make sure you go somewhere reputable and clean —"
"No, I mean on my body. You know ... like, my belly button? Or my nipples?"
"Christ." Cash rubbed his face.
"And I need a new job. I need a whole new life."
"You are drunk."
She laughed, feeling more at ease. "I thought we established that?"
"I just don't know what kind of job I want. Or what I can do."
"I thought Manon offered you your old job back?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure. Working in an upscale clothing boutique is what my mother thinks I should do." She sighed.
"I'm getting the feeling some of this is about rebelling against your parents."
She snorted. "You make me sound like a teenager."
"Just sayin', darlin'."
She sighed. "Okay, maybe it is. I just ... I just ..." Her throat closed up. She rubbed her nose. "I just want to be my own person. I want to accomplish something. Something real. Something I can be proud of. Oh fuck, I do sound like a teenager."
"Callie. What's going on?"
"I don't know! This party just made me feel like a big failure."
"You are not a failure. Your marriage ended because Beau fucked up."
"He wouldn't have done that if ..." She swallowed.
"Don't even say it. He fucked up. It wasn't your fault."
She pressed her lips together, her throat aching. "My parents wanted us to be married. They wanted me to marry a guy they approved of, and Beau was perfect. My parents have been together for thirty years." She sucked in a shaky breath. "When I told Mama I was splitting up with Beau because he cheated on me, she told me that my daddy had had affairs with other women. And it was no big deal. You just ignored it and carried on and made everything look good."
Cash closed his eyes, his mouth tightening, grooves deepening on his face. "Jesus fuck."
"Yeah. I couldn't do that." She eyed him. "Did you know Beau was cheating on me?"
His mouth thinned even more. "Shit, Callie."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"He's my best friend. It would be against the guy code." He frowned at his boots.
"I understand." Cash and Beau were not only buddies, they were business partners. They'd been close since they met in college, playing on the football team together. Much as she despised Beau for what he'd done, Cash had to work with him, and she understood why he wouldn't have wanted to jeopardize that, let alone their friendship.
She'd found out about her husband's infidelity completely by accident. He'd been away on a business trip and had been emailing on his iPhone. Callie had picked up his iPad at home one night to download a new fashion magazine, and when the email had pinged, she'd absently swiped over to look at it. He was emailing the woman he'd been having an affair with, and all the emails were also showing up on his iPad, there for her to see.
Beau was a very smart man, but "the iCloud" had tripped him up.
"I think I should sell the house, too," she added.
Cash's head snapped up. "What?"
She shrugged. "You're supposed to wait a year before you make any big decisions like that. It's been over a year. I loved our house when we moved in, but it's crazy to be living in that big place by myself. And I can't look after it."
"You know you just have to call, and I'll come fix whatever you need."
"I know." She smiled. "And I appreciate that. But I can't keep bothering you."
Cash sounded like he was being strangled when he said, "You're not a bother."
She smiled and reached out to pat his hand. "Sure I am. But you're too much of a gentleman to say so."
To her surprise, he turned his hand and caught her fingers in his. She stared at his big, tanned fingers holding her smaller ones. His hand was warm and strong. A little shiver worked over her arm, then down her spine. She lifted her gaze to meet his.
"A gentleman," he repeated. "Yeah."
Mesmerized by his deep, dark eyes, her head spun even more. "I think maybe I should go home. I'm not feeling so well."
"You didn't drive here, did you?"
"No, Kristy brought me. I should find her."
"I'll take you home."
"But you just got here!" She tried to stand. Cash rose at the same time, and when one of her skinny heels slipped on the rough stone patio, she started to go down. With a little squeak, she grabbed for the chair and missed.
Strong arms caught her waist and kept her from hitting the ground. Cash pulled her up against him. "Damn, darlin'. You're right. We better get you home."
"Shit." She closed her eyes. "I am so embarrassed."
"Hey, I got you. It's all good."
He was big and muscled and warm. "You've kept in shape since you played football in college." Oh sweet baby Jesus in the lap of Mary. She was totally shnockered. She shouldn't be saying things like that to Cash. She shouldn't be noticing things like that about Cash. "We're friends, right?"
He loosened his grip on her, and she caught the twitch of his lips as she turned to face him, still close enough to smell his cologne, a scent already familiar to her, though tonight it smelled especially enticing. "You smell good."
He muttered something under his breath. "Come on. Do you have a purse or something?" He began to lead her across the patio, and she held onto his arm, grateful to have that because her feet weren't cooperating.
"I think so." She frowned.
Inside, Cash paused to survey the club. "There's Kristy. Stay right here. I'll tell her we're leaving."
"No, I want to talk to her. I have to ..." What? She rubbed her forehead. "Thank you. Thank her. I have to thank her." She grabbed hold of his arm again and maintained her balance as they walked. She could hold her liquor, and she could do it in four-inch heels.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Screwed"
Copyright © 2018 Kelly Jamieson.
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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