One explosive device was all it took to turn Holt Cunningham from ass-kicking Marine to IT technician. Hell, he's still not over it. So when the cute little strawberry blonde at the bar asks him to kiss her, Holt can't resist the temptation of a sexy distraction. Before he knows it, she's blown his mind...and then skipped out the next morning.
Lydia Thomas never expected things with Holt to go quite that far, but oh, it was worth it. After being far too good for way too long, she was ready to be bad. Except that there's that tiny detail that Lydia kept to herself-Holt just spent the night doing naughty things...with his best friend's little sister.
One night isn't nearly enough. But with his friendship on the line, how far will Holt go in order to claim what's his?
Each book in the Shillings Agency series is STANDALONE:
* Temporarily Yours
* Stealing His Heart
* Seducing the Princess
* Taking What's His
* Say You're Mine
* His Best Mistake
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About the Author
Diane Alberts is a multi-published, bestselling contemporary romance author with Entangled Publishing. She also writes New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling new adult books under the name Jen McLaughlin. She's hit the Top 100 lists on Amazon and Barnes and Noble numerous times with numerous titles. She was mentioned in Forbes alongside E. L. James as one of the breakout independent authors to dominate the bestselling lists. Diane is represented by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency.
Diane has always been a dreamer with a vivid imagination, but it wasn't until 2011 that she put her pen where her brain was, and became a published author. Since receiving her first contract offer, she has yet to stop writing. Though she lives in the mountains, she really wishes she was surrounded by a hot, sunny beach with crystal clear water. She lives in Northeast Pennsylvania with her four kids, a husband, a schnauzer mutt, and a cat. Her goal is to write so many fantastic stories that even a non-romance reader will know her name.
Read an Excerpt
Taking What's His
A Shillings Agency Novel
By Diane Alberts, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Diane Alberts
All rights reserved.
Holt Cunningham sat at the crowded bar, staring into his empty glass, and couldn't help but wonder how the hell he'd gotten there, and if he'd ever feel normal again. A year ago, he'd been in combat, kicking ass and taking names. There hadn't been anything to worry about except avoiding bullets. He'd been invincible. Undefeatable.
And then ... he'd been defeated.
All it had taken was one well placed IED and bam. His whole life had changed in an instant. He wasn't a Marine anymore, everyone from his platoon was dead, and now he was a fucking IT guy at Shillings Agency.
He had no idea what to do with the rest of his fucking life. He couldn't sleep more than an hour without waking up in a fucking cold sweat. Barely ate. The only things that filled the empty void inside of him that screamed out in agony were meaningless one-night stands and booze, but even those had stopped working recently.
That wouldn't stop him from trying again, though.
He was a stubborn ass like that.
The door opened, and the cold winter's night air hit him. He huddled closer to the bar. "Welcome to fucking Maine," he muttered.
The bartender came up. "Hey. Where'd your friend go?"
His friend and co-worker at the agency, Gordon Waybrook, had tossed back a drink and then left. He'd been down in the dumps over some princess chick that wouldn't marry him. Why any man would want to get married was beyond Holt, but to each his own.
"He had to go." Holt pushed his glass across the bar. "I'll have another."
The bartender, Mike, tightened his lips. "You don't look so good, man. Maybe you should call it quits and go home."
"If I wanted an evaluation, I'd go to a ... to a ... shrink." He gripped the edge of the bar tightly, angry that the word had eluded him. "I didn't. I came to a bar. Now get me my drink."
Mike jerked the glass away. "We might be friends, but that doesn't give you an excuse to be a dick. One more, and then I'm cutting you off."
Holt watched him go, already regretting his words. "I'm sorry," he whispered to no one, since Mike had already left. That was something that was messed up in his head, too. He didn't think things through before speaking. What was the point, when nine times out of ten his words still came out all messed up?
Someone sat beside him, and he glanced over. It was a woman with strawberry blonde hair. She was slim and short, and she smelled like flowers. He couldn't make out her face, but her profile looked gorgeous. She had a small, pert nose and high cheekbones. Her lashes were long and thick. Everything about her drew his gaze, and he couldn't look away.
As soon as she settled, she turned and smiled at him. He froze, all intelligent words leaving his brain as well as his mouth. She was ... she was ...
Beautiful. She was utterly beautiful.
And totally not for him. He'd ruin a sweet thing like her in seconds.
Her bright hazel eyes met his without hesitance, and when she smiled, two dimples popped out. Her whole face lit up, too. She looked young, but not too young to be in a bar. "Hey," she said.
He blinked at her. Her voice was magically soft, as if she was singing instead of talking, and he couldn't think of a single word to say back. So he just stared at her.
Mike came over, saving Holt from replying. As soon as he set down the drink, the bartender turned to the beauty next to him. "What'll you have?"
"An appletini, please," she said.
Holt grabbed his drink and stared at it, his heart thumping in his chest, as Mike carded her. He went off to get her order, so she must have been of age, but she couldn't be much older than twenty-one. She was too fresh faced. Too pure.
A piercing pain hit him, and he winced.
"Hey. Are you okay?" she asked, her voice soft with concern. "Did you have one too many, maybe?"
He wished that were his fucking problem. Turning to her, he tightened his grip on his glass. He was determined not to let his vocabulary slip, and to send her running as quickly as possible. A girl like her shouldn't be around a guy like him. He was no good. "Yes. I'm fine."
"Okay." She smiled. "How are you tonight?"
Feeling like a bastard. "I'm ... fine. You?"
"Awful." She dropped the side of her head on her hand, facing him, and smiled. Jesus, she was too gorgeous to be talking to someone like him. "I've had a really bad couple of days, to be honest."
That seemed to be going around. Instead of snarling back at her to scare her away, like he should have, he wanted to ... help her. Make her feel better. "What happened?"
"Well ..." She stared down at the bar. "My boyfriend of two months slept with my old college roommate the other day, for starters."
Fucking prick. Anyone who would do that to someone as sweet-faced as her deserved a punch to the nuts. So she was single, then. But she still had a roommate. That screamed of college or some shit like that. How old was she? "Then he's an asshole."
"Why do you say that?" she asked, blinking at him.
"You're stunning. That means he must be a fool — and an asshole." He shrugged. "Obviously."
"Aw." Her smile lit up her face again. "You're sweet."
Sweet. That was the last thing he was. He was a fucking hot mess, and he should really let her know that before she got the wrong idea. "No. I'm not. You—"
"If you say so." She waved a hand as if swatting away a fly. It was adorable. "But, anyway, he was probably upset because I wouldn't put out."
That was a hell of a lot of information to give a stranger, but she seemed the open type. And it only made him like her more, which had him saying: "Then he's a prick, as well as a fool. Are you upset?"
"No, more angry than anything." She glanced over her shoulder, licked her lips, and turned back to him. "You seem like a really nice guy. So, uh, can I ask you a huge favor that's highly inappropriate?"
Seeing as he'd barely said two words to her, he had no idea how she'd decided he was a nice guy. If she knew who he was, and what he'd done, she would never have fucking called him that. Or sweet. "Uh ..."
"Okay, this is going to sound crazy, but I'm going to go for it." She leaned in and rested her hand directly next to his. Her cheeks flushed bright red. "Can you kiss me?"
He gripped his drink tighter, because, man, he wanted to. He shouldn't want to, but damn it, he did. "Jesus. Do you come on to all the men in ... in ... bars like this?"
"No, but you see, he's here. My ex. And he's watching me. Well, us, technically." She watched him through her long red lashes. "And he looks jealous because I'm with you, which makes me happy."
He glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough, some blond haired dude stood in the corner, watching them. He looked pissed as hell. He couldn't be more than twenty-three. Maybe. "That's him?"
The boy in question looked like one of those football quarterbacks who'd owned the high school hallways and everyone in them. A total douche who wouldn't know where a woman's G-spot was if you gave him a fucking compass and a map. "You could do better."
She flushed and bit down on her lower lip. "Thanks. I'm trying right now."
He wasn't better, and she was crazy if she thought he was. Crazier than he was. But even so, he wanted to be that guy for her, wanted to be nice. But kissing her wasn't really what a nice guy would do, was it?
Not when he was as fucked up in the head as Holt was.
He gripped his glass tighter. "You could do better than me, too. Trust me."
"I disagree." She eyed him, nibbling on her lower lip. "Please?"
Fuuuck, she had the damsel in distress thing down pat. And she might not know it, but he'd never been good at ignoring a woman in need. All it took was a well placed please and a flutter of the lashes and he crumbled. That, at least, hadn't changed in the war. And while he might not be good at all the things he used to be good at, there was one thing he still excelled at.
Seducing a woman.
And she'd damn well asked for it. But before he found out if her lips tasted as sweet as they looked, he had a few questions. "How old are you?"
Her cheeks pinked. "Twenty-three. I just finished grad school." She licked her lips. "You?"
Of-fucking-course. She was practically a baby, damn it. He shouldn't kiss her. Couldn't. He needed to send her running for the hills. "Twenty-seven. Too old for a sweet little girl like you. You need to—"
She rolled her eyes. "Hardly. He's coming. Please."
Damn it, she'd done it again. He shifted in his seat, watching her asshole ex. He started heading their way, frowning. All the reasons he had for not kissing her—her age, his impending migraine, the adorable innocence that made him want to protect her—faded away. The jerk needed to see that she was no longer his. "Do you want me to kiss you so you can get him back, or to show you've moved on?"
"Move on, for sure. There's no way I'll go back to—"
Curling his hand behind her neck, he hauled her close and melded his mouth to hers, cutting her off. As soon as their lips touched, everything seemed to fall into place. It was as if she was a pill he'd taken, and she'd cured him.
The anger, the confusion, the pain, the fear.
It all quieted inside his head, to be replaced by the way she felt against him.
He knew without a doubt, the instant his mouth touched hers, she was different from all the other women he'd kissed. She could make him different, too. That didn't make any sense ... and yet it did. It really fucking did.
Damned if she didn't kiss like a woman who didn't have much experience with this type of thing, and it was refreshingly sweet. She gasped into his mouth, her hands resting on his chest, and he took advantage of the opening she'd given him. Slipping his tongue between her lips, he found hers and swept across it.
Her fingers fisted his shirt, and she moaned.
It was the sexiest moan he'd ever motherfucking heard.
Deepening the kiss, he slid his hand down to the small of her back and drew her closer to him. His whole hand splayed across her from end to end, she was that damn tiny. Almost hesitantly, her hands moved up, curling over his shoulders to latch on to him for dear life. She tasted heavenly, as if she was made just for him.
And she felt like it, too.
He'd kissed a lot of women, but he'd never kissed like this. And a kiss had never made him feel so damn unsettled before. It was as if some invisible force was pushing them together, and nothing he did or said would change the fact that by the end of the night ... she'd be naked in his bed. The bizarre desire to pick her up, throw her over his shoulder, and carry her out of the bar, ass up in the air, hit him like a fist to the gut.
He ended the kiss, because even though he might not know her, he knew one thing for sure. She was the type of woman who deserved more than a one-night stand, and he couldn't give it to her. So it was time to send her running away ... for real this time.
She moaned in protest and strained to get closer. "More," she whispered.
"Uh uh." He pressed a finger to her lips, grinning at her cockily, as if she hadn't just fucked with his head with an innocent kiss. "You want any more, you need to walk out that door with me right now. Come home with me. I swear I can give you a hell of a lot more than a chaste kiss in a bar. And it'll make him hurt even more, too."
He'd bet his life that she wasn't the type to leave a bar with a strange man, so if that didn't make her babble a few quickly strewn together reasons she had to go back to her friends, then he'd wear a pink dress to work tomorrow.
She blinked at him, her plump pink lips wet and swollen. "That was chaste? Are you kidding me?"
"Yep. You have no idea what I'm capable of." He trailed his hand down her thigh, something he'd never usually do without a clear invitation. But he wanted to save her from himself, before it was too late, and if she didn't reject him ... he wouldn't be able to walk away. He wanted her. "Come home with me, though, and I'll show you, baby."
He threw that last part in for good measure.
No woman liked being called baby.
"Uh ..." Glancing over her shoulder at her ex, she pressed her lips together. This was when she would, and should, tell him to kiss her ass, then spin off of the stool and run back to her safe little friends in the corner, who he could see watching them with open mouths. "You know what? Sure. Let's go."
He forced a smirk. "That's what I—" He cut himself off, her words finally registering. "Wait. What?"
She stood and held out her hand. "I said, yes."
Well, shit. Now what the fuck was he supposed to do?
He didn't own any pink dresses.CHAPTER 2
Lydia Thomas took a deep breath and smiled at the guy who'd invited her back to his place, ignoring the voices in her head shouting at her to change her mind about this whole thing. To play it safe. Life was full of choices, and she'd always taken the straight road, instead of the one less travelled. Always made the "right" choice. But not tonight. Not here. His dark hair and scruffy face screamed of danger and passion, two things she'd never had much of in her life. But the glasses he wore ... ah, they were nerdy.
And not dorky nerdy, but hot nerdy.
She normally wasn't the type to take chances, let alone go home with strange men, but she'd never met a man who was a contradiction at its finest, who made her want to go home with him on the first night. She'd spent her whole life waiting for the perfect guy, the one who would cherish her and love her forever, and who would make her feel as if she'd die if he didn't take her. One who would sweep her off her feet and make her feel like a princess.
After countless failed attempts at finding her Prince Charming among the Horny Harrys ... it was time to stop. Just stop. She'd always been the type to fall too fast, too easily, but she'd managed to kill that habit over the last year by taking things slow. Too slow, according to her jerk of an ex. So, yeah, maybe she was taking a step backwards by going home with this guy within minutes of meeting him.
But she didn't intend to fall in love with him ...
I just want to fall into his bed.
If she'd learned anything in her quest for love, and her past penchant for falling too easily, she'd learned one thing: The perfect guy didn't exist. Men nowadays were raw, real, and mostly greedy. It was time she tried lowering her expectations for a short moment. It was time to stop hunting for a prince. To stop waiting for the guy who would sweep her off her feet with his words and his touch ... and go home with the guy who made her want.
And she'd finally found that guy.
Being good was boring. It was time to have a little fun.
"Excuse me?" the guy said. He looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn't put her finger on why, or how. And she didn't care why, either. "I don't think I heard you correctly."
She fought back a smile. The dude seemed shocked she'd said yes, but hey, to be fair, so was she. "Oh, you heard me well enough," she said, losing herself in his dark blue eyes. It took all her concentration to carry on a conversation with him, when all she could think about was kissing him again. "I said, let's go."
He stared at her with an amusing mixture of surprise and desire. It was even more perfectly clear that when he'd made that invitation, he hadn't expected her to accept. But there was something about this guy that demanded submission. That demanded she go home with him, have the time of her life, and leave with a limp and a smile on her face in the morning. This guy could give her both those things.
On the surface, he looked like a nerdy, hot dude in glasses and a checkered shirt. Like he was more at home sitting on his couch playing his Xbox One, than sitting in a bar. She'd bet too many women wrote him off that way, too. But she'd been surrounded by two geek brothers and all their friends her whole life. And one thing she learned by eavesdropping—as younger sisters do—outside their doors? Geeks were the dirtiest, freakiest, sexiest men of them all. Hands down. And this guy might be the king of them all.
Excerpted from Taking What's His by Diane Alberts, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2015 Diane Alberts. 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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