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Taking the Score
A Tall, Dark, and Texan Novel
By Kate Meader, Liz Pelletier, Robin Haseltine
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Kate Meader
All rights reserved.
Why was everyone so desperate to get him laid?
Pondering that burning question, Brody Kane took aim at the hoop. The ball flirted with the rim, cockteased the backboard, and because Brody's life these days was not worth spit, fell away without screwing the basket.
"I should go to a strip club," he said to Flynn Cross. "That's your best suggestion?"
"It's not a strip club." Flynn motioned to the third partner in their Score Property triumvirate, Hunter Dade. "Did I ever mention the words 'strip' and 'club'?"
Maybe not, but Brody had an MBA from Stanford and could read between the lines. "You said I need to stop feeling sorrier than a steer in a stockyard and there's this place you know with strong liquor, bone-melting music, and cock-destroying women."
"Half-naked, cock-destroying women," Hunter clarified.
Brody pointed at Flynn. "Sounds like a strip club to me."
"No, it sounds like the kind of place a man could get into all sorts of trouble." Hunter scooped up the ball and bounced it a couple of times on the hardwood of the University Club's basketball court. Linked by a bridge to the high-rise containing Score Property's Chicago offices, it had the added advantage of being steps away from Brody's penthouse. "As for why Cross knows so much about it, I'm mighty curious."
Good question. Flynn was all loved up and counting down the days to when he'd finally make an honest woman of his fiancée back in Houston. With palms up, he gestured for the ball. Hunter pitched it on his hip and waited.
"It's just a club I took a client to a few weeks ago," Flynn explained as if he were talking to fourth graders. "Drink selection was good, female selection was better. Sealed the deal." While Hunter and Brody stared, he muttered, "Okay, assholes, it's a strip club. But a classy one."
Hunter dribbled the ball and sidestepped Flynn. The two of them duked it out until Hunter finally put the shot away.
"Time to get your mojo back," Flynn said to Brody after about a minute of what had been shaping up to be a blissful stretch of peace. "It's been six months, man."
The words were barely out of Flynn's mouth when he exchanged a guilty glance with Hunter. The guys knew the broad brushstrokes, but as Brody rarely talked about what happened to send him into self-imposed celibacy, they employed the code and didn't press. However, no amount of awkward stinking up the joint could keep the Hunter Dade grin down. These days, he was constantly pleased with himself since he'd bickered with, hate-sexed on, and finally married Tess, the fiery redhead of his dreams, a month ago.
"'Course, if you'd just bang Ms. Strickland," Hunter drawled, "then your mojo problem would be solved."
Ah, Ms. Strickland, who was up on the twenty-third floor organizing Brody's schedule, hanging up his dry cleaning, and being an all-around paragon of Girl Friday. The guys liked to rag on him, imagining they sensed some frisson of attraction between Brody and his assistant. God knew why, as the woman gave new definition to the word "frump."
Which was precisely why he'd hired her.
She couldn't be more than twenty-five, but her fashion sense, gleaned from Sears catalogs circa 1979, put at least ten years on her. In her cheap suits liberally sprinkled with cat hair, with her brown hair in a tight bun, Emma reminded him of his fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hennessy. Guaranteed limp dick.
At least, on paper.
Emma Strickland was the perfect antithesis to the women he was usually attracted to. To the woman he'd almost married six months ago before she screwed him over. The reality? Not so clear-cut.
There was something about her that he couldn't put a finger on. She never failed to do her job professionally and without complaint, but occasionally, he'd catch an insolent lift at the corner of her mouth. In a blink, it would disappear, but the challenge to delve further had been thrown down. Specifically to delve into whatever she was hiding under that unfashionably long skirt.
Stellar thighs, he suspected. Brody was an evidence guy, so he had no good reason to believe this. Didn't stop him from spending unreasonable amounts of time trying not to think of whatever assets Emma was rocking under that skirt and wad of fabric she called a blouse. And as soon as he hit the shower, there was nothing for it but to succumb to his fantasy of ripping that blouse off and exposing ... what would she have on underneath? Knowing his luck, another damn blouse. But think of the pleasure he'd have finding out.
Hike up that skirt and show me your sweet ass- ets, Ms. Strickland.
Open your mouth, Ms. Strickland, I've got something to dick-tate.
And the always classic: Over the desk now, Ms. Strickland.
Merely thinking of the things he'd like to whisper in his assistant's ear shot a bolt of desire through him so powerful he had to shake his head to get back to reality. The reality that said devoting even one percent of his brain to those thoughts was a million percent wrong.
"You think she's got some sexy unmentionables under that boxy suit of hers?" Flynn asked, like some kind of mind reader. His casual curiosity, though harmless locker room talk, pushed Brody's recently hair-trigger fuse.
"I think you need to focus less on Ms. Strickland's panties" — my fucking job, dude — "and more on the North Shore Development."
While Brody thought about his own inability to close the deal with the Union Jack Consortium. He was in delicate negotiations with Nigel Smythe-Osborne regarding the luxury hotels he wanted to build stateside. The limey shit was dangling the prospect of a partnership with Score Property, only to yank the carrot as soon as Brody came within nibbling distance.
The similarities between his stutter-stepping sex life and his failure to wrap up his latest business venture in a pretty red bow were a tad too close for comfort. He grabbed the ball, making sure he shoulder-shoved Flynn with more violence than strictly necessary on his way to the hoop. Shot released. Score.
If only releasing his pent-up sexual frustration was so easy. The guys were right. He needed to get laid tout de suite.
"So, Cross. Tell me more about the cock-destroying women."
* * *
"If I wasn't so sure I looked like hot shit in that dress, I'd have had a complex."
"Uh-huh," Emma murmured. Her coworker Serena liked to perch her tiny ass on Emma's desk between eight forty-five and nine every Monday morning and fill Emma in, and anyone else within earshot at Score Property, about her weekend of grinding on some guy, screwing him unconscious, and sleeping off a Red Bull and vodka hangover.
"First he tells me I've got eyes he could drown in, then the next minute he's ogling this skanky redhead with fake boobs and a skirt that shows her ..."
Emma checked Mr. Kane's schedule for the fifth time in ten minutes, assuring herself that she hadn't made any mistakes. Checking, rechecking, and triple-checking her work was the reason why she'd kept this job as long as she had. Neither of her two predecessors had lasted longer than a week, so her three months was some sort of record, according to Mr. Dade. Now that Score Property was expanding and each of the partners had his own PA, she was exclusively at the beck and call of Mr. Kane.
And wasn't that a lovely image? The little flutter between her thighs agreed.
"A skirt that shows her what?"
"Oh, you are listening!" Serena sucked dramatically on her iced mocha. "And here I thought you were putting in time off the clock. Workday doesn't start for five minutes, yanno? You're making us all look bad."
"I just like to be prepared."
Serena's eye roll pronounced that notion a cardinal sin. "Maybe you should quit being such a Girl Scout and come out with me one of these weekends. Mess up that bun. Show a bit of leg. Give the girls some air."
If she knew exactly what Emma got up to on her weekends — her weeknights, too — Serena would probably spit-take that mocha all over her brand-new Ann Taylor suit. Emma merely gifted her a serene upturn of her lips. As Granny Maude used to say, keep smiling, it makes people wonder what you're up to. She'd had a lot of practice with that smile and with fobbing off girls who wanted to be pals. She wasn't here to make friends.
Though if she'd made more of an effort with Serena or her other coworkers at Score Property, she might not be wading in the shit trough right now.
"I'm not really into that kind of scene," said the girl who had invented that kind of scene. Being bad always tasted too good, and she'd lost her appetite while cleaning up after other people. Like Daisy. At twenty-two years old, three years Emma's junior, her sister may as well be in diapers for all the maturity she'd demonstrated lately. Just thinking of the trouble she was in boiled Emma's blood.
Serena wagged a finger. "One day I'll get you to let your hair down and show you how to have some dirty fun. And speaking of dirty fun ..." Her voice dropped several octaves and emerged husky. "If it isn't the Lone Star State's gift to Chicago."
Emma curved her gaze around Serena's back to take in the approaching vision. Texas's gift to Chi-town might sound like hyperbole, but the girl was not far wrong.
The three partners in Score Property swaggered in looking sweaty, muscled, and positively delicious. Doors that had been closed a moment ago inched ajar, covetous eyes peeking through the gaps. The testosterone pumping from the men, dressed in tanks and shorts that showcased smooth, sunbaked skin, tangoed with the sudden influx of female pheromones. Between accounting, publicity, and admin, eight women worked at Score Property, and all of them would have happily worked for free. The fringe benefits were so damn good.
"Serena, don't you have nothin' better to do than sit here gossiping with your coworkers?" Mr. Cross asked in an indulgent tone. "I know I assigned you to making travel arrangements for my trip to L.A., and that ain't happening as long as you're here bothering Emma."
"Sorry, Flynn," Serena said, not sounding sorry at all. "We were just talking about our weekends. I went dancing." She managed to infuse a whole lot of sex into the word "dancing," never mind that Mr. Cross was very happily engaged.
He chuckled. "I bet you did, you minx. You can tell me all about it later over coffee."
With a lusty giggle and a knowing wink at Emma, Serena slid off Emma's desk and headed toward Mr. Cross's office suite. Sixty seconds later, doors had closed and the workday had begun as everyone moved to their starting positions. Everyone, that is, except ...
"Ms. Strickland, did you pick up my dry cleaning?"
Of course, she'd known he was standing there. Her body had a weird radar that knew where he was at all times, and as everyone else had scattered, she'd ducked her head and waited for him to head into his office.
But the footsteps never came.
The door did not open.
Instead, the scent of him — a clean, male sweat — assaulted her nostrils.
She looked up and met the cool gaze of Broderick Kane III. The sensitive flesh between her thighs heated, clenched, and gave a little sigh of frustration. It was bad enough he usually looked like sex on pin-striped legs when he was wearing a suit; the days he and his partners did their workouts were a particular brand of torture.
Making little or no effort with his appearance, he walked around in an abstracted haze that should not have appealed to her in any way. She usually liked built, tatted, dangerous men, not the lean, rangy type. Oh, there was muscle there, ropy cords of it rippling through his forearms and impressive thighs, but she suspected he hadn't worked for it, not really. More like bought them at the gym on the first floor.
Not handsome in the classical sense, he radiated something more compelling. On the day the goddess was giving out the hawt, Brody Kane received an extra helping of sensuality instead of pretty boy. His lips were too full, even when sealed together in their customary grim disapproval. Mahogany hair flopped over his right eyebrow in a way that screamed, "I need a cut but I'm too distracted (making money) to care."
But his most attractive feature was his eyes. Silver gray like moonlight over a calm stretch of water. Eyes that could cut you to pieces and rebuild you with a single look. To add sexy insult to hot injury, he wore glasses.
Yep, total dweeb.
He also happened to be the brains of Score Property, the numbers guy, and wealthier than sin. The money he spent on suits in a year would have paid off all her debts — all of Daisy's debts — and left a little to spare for those business classes Emma needed to complete her degree.
She blinked back to the reality of her day job and drew deep for that other woman — Goody-Two-Sensible-Shoes Ms. Strickland. The fraud.
"Dry cleaning's hanging in your closet, Mr. Kane. I've also set up the tea service in the kitchen and will bring it in when — "
"The tea service?" The sexy hair flop ruffled ever so slightly with his querying eyebrow.
"Today's ten o'clock with the Union Jack Consortium on the Crown Point development. Last time Mr. Smythe-Osborne was here, we didn't have the oolong leaves he requested, but I made sure to get them from the Coffee & Tea Exchange on Broadway. We can't afford to give him any reason to not choose Score Property to be his stateside partner for the project."
Mr. Kane stared as if she were speaking in Farsi, then slowly shook his head. "Ms. Strickland, whatever would I do without you?"
"Get the oolong yourself, Mr. Kane?"
The corner of his mouth hitched imperceptibly. Stop the Facebook updates — was that amusement? The man tended toward automaton around the office and never showed signs of enjoyment. Broody Brody, the girls called him.
"Did you do that on your own time?"
"It was no trouble, really."
He held her gaze long enough to make her skin itch and her stomach queasy. She knew what he saw: cheap, ugly suit; severe, dark brown hair; a woman no man like him would spare a second glance. Perhaps it bothered him that someone so displeasing to the eye required regular interaction.
"Do you own a cat?"
She swallowed, thinking about her cranky cat and his current location. "Yes, I do. A tabby."
He reached out and plucked at the lapel of her ill-fitting, thrift-store suit, just above a tightening nipple. With those long, elegant fingers that had probably never seen a day's hard work in their lives, he rubbed, sending to the ground one of the offensive cat hairs that tended to Velcro to her person. A barely discernible eyebrow lift pronounced his conclusion.
Crazy cat lady.
It rankled, but as she had taken great pains to present a certain image, regretting her success was pointless. These clothes were her secret identity, masking the super-zero underneath, keeping that bad girl in check. Better he saw her this way. An attraction to her boss was a distraction she could not afford, not when her life was a complete disaster-piece.
Turning to leave, he pulled on his sticky tank, which had molded to his impressive pectorals in a way old Emma would have been all over, but Ms. Strickland pretended not to notice. And then, just in case she'd missed how shredded those abs were, he used the hem to wipe his damp forehead.
By the time he'd dropped the tank, she had managed to pin an expression of bland disinterest on her face.
"I'd better take a shower, or Smythe what's-his-face will have a whole other reason to be offended. Can you bring in the Crown Point file and have it on my desk for when I finish?"
She smiled and tried not to look overly smug about it. Failed miserably.
"Already done, Mr. Kane."
Excerpted from Taking the Score by Kate Meader, Liz Pelletier, Robin Haseltine. Copyright © 2016 Kate Meader. 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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