The last thing Brett Ross wants is to be back in the same old damn small town he grew up in, but his best friend is getting married, so there’s no way he’s skipping yet another visit home. He knows the trip won’t be easy, but the one thing he didn’t count on is how grown up little Anna Hamilton is...or the way she makes him feel when he sets eyes on her.
Anna’s been in love with Brett for years, even if she’s always been his best friend’s annoying little sister to him. But when he looks at her now, she doesn’t see annoyance in his eyes. If anything, she sees a silent calling for her to save him from himself...and she’s just the girl to do it. All she needs is to find a way to escape her pesky, protective older brothers.
And then the game is on.
Each book in the Hamilton Family series is STANDALONE.
* The CEO's Seduction
* Romancing the Bachelor
* Catching the Player
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Picket fences. Lush green lawns. Bright little flowers lining all possible walkways. Sparkling pools and laughing kids. Soccer moms. Basketball hoops. Sunny skies and hot summer breezes. Everything typically found in his familiar Georgia suburban hometown was here, staring Brett in the face.
He hated this goddamned town ...
And the memories it brought back.
After his parents died, his aunt and uncle had reluctantly taken over his care. He used that term loosely. They'd been pretty much the worst guardians ever, but hey, they'd been family. And he'd made it out the other side alive. Still, after he graduated from high school and went to college, he'd moved an hour and a half away to Atlanta to run his father's company ...
And he never looked back.
Not even once.
Now he was too busy as the CEO of his father's successful company, and he lived in Atlanta, so he didn't have time to come back to Jefferson even if he wanted to.
Which he didn't.
The only place he willingly returned to was the Hamiltons' family home. He straightened his suit jacket and headed up the walkway. As he reached for the doorbell, the door flew open. His fingers hadn't even grazed the little orange circle, yet already someone knew he was here.
Ah, life in a small town.
Brett smiled, expecting to see his best friend, Christopher Hamilton, on the other side of the door. Instead, he found an equally familiar pair of gray eyes staring at him. Eyes that he couldn't seem to shake, no matter how hard he tried.
And he fucking tried.
Back when they were kids, she'd looked at him like he held the responsibility for the rising of the sun and the moon. Damn it all to hell if she still didn't look at him that way, too.
Just like old times.
"Brett," Anna Hamilton, Chris's little sister, said, greeting him with a wide grin. Her eyes danced with excitement, and she did a little jump. "You're here!"
His gut twisted into knots at the sound of her soft voice, like he was about to jump off a cliff and crash onto the jagged rocks below. "Anna. Long time, no see. You look ... Damn."
She flushed, a small smile playing at her lush pink lips. "Right back atcha. You know my brothers are all behind me watching you, right?"
"When aren't they right behind you?" he asked drily.
Pursing her lips, she thought about it for a second. "When I'm in bed."
"Anna ..." He leaned in, his cold, dead heart picking up speed when she swayed closer. He lowered his voice so only she could hear. "Did you just invite me to your bed?"
He shouldn't be talking to her like this, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. This was why he avoided her in the first place, as a typical rule. There was something about her that cracked his usually hard exterior and slipped through the fissures.
"Maybe. Maybe not." She thumped his chest. "It's good to see you again."
She stepped back and brushed her hair off her face with her left hand, and for a brief second he caught sight of the scar on her palm. He was the only one who knew where it really came from. He'd been the one to help her come up with a good cover story for it — one that had never been discovered.
"The feeling is mutual. It's been too long."
Smiling, she threw her arms around his neck. She'd always been big on hugging everyone, and he'd always been big on hugging her. He returned the embrace, making sure not to pull her too close since her brothers were watching — and they didn't blink even once.
Not. Fucking. Once.
"Easy, now, Twinkletoes." He let go of her instantly, but she took a fraction of a second longer to step back from him. "You'll get me beat up before I'm even inside the door."
She groaned, but he didn't miss the flush in her cheeks as she glanced over her shoulder at her brothers. "Don't tell me you're still stuck on that nickname."
Once when they were much younger, Brett came over and found her home alone, dancing around the house in a tutu, singing opera out of key. At some point, as he watched her in amazement, she caught him staring. At first, she looked horrified. But then a spark of mischief lit up her eyes, and she came to his side with her hand out. Before he knew what was going on, or what the hell he was doing, he'd been in her arms, twirling around the house and laughing like he'd never laughed before — and he'd never laughed like that again. That's when he'd first called her Twinkletoes, and the nickname stuck. "Do you still dance around the house and sing?"
"Uh, occasionally ..."
He raised a brow. "Then yes, I'm sticking with it."
"Will you dance with me this weekend, for old time's sake?"
"I only dance when we're alone," he said, his voice husky. "You know that."
She licked her lips, and for some reason, he couldn't look away from her mouth. "We'll have to find the time to be alone, then, won't we?"
Was it just him, or was she flirting with him? She was trying to get him killed. If her brothers heard her, or thought he had any intention of taking her up on her offer, he'd be a dead man. Smiling, he tried to think of something neutral to say. "I'd —"
Someone cleared his throat.
"Incoming," Cole said, warning in his voice.
"Is that Brett?" a familiar voice called out.
"Yeah." Brett forced his eyes away from Anna and back where they belonged — on his best friend. Who would kill him if he flirted with his baby sister. "What's up, man?"
"Nothing much." Christopher grinned and bounded forward. His gray eyes were remarkably similar to Anna's, but his hair was a darker blond. Anna stepped back when Christopher enclosed Brett in a tight hug, slapping him on the back in that way that men always did to show affection. "Just getting married."
"And you haven't run yet?" Brett asked with mock horror, holding a hand to his chest.
Chris rolled his eyes. "Give me some credit."
"Yeah, what was I thinking?" Brett pursed his lips. "You wouldn't run until after the bachelor party."
Christopher laughed. "Who would've thought I'd be the first one to get married? I mean, come on, I'm only twenty-seven. Cole, you better get a move on before you go gray."
"Not likely," Cole said. He smoothed his brown hair and stepped forward. "I'm thirty-three — not dead in my coffin. I won't get married till one foot's in. Maybe not even then."
Brett tipped his head to the side. "You know ... I think I already see a little bit of gray in your hair."
"Yeah, right." Cole gave him an indignant look — but then looked in the mirror hanging on the wall to make sure he was actually kidding. "Fuck you, asshole."
Brett burst into laughter. It was so easy to slip back into his role as the sarcastic best friend. He'd been dreading come back to this town, but it felt good to be here with these people who cared about him.
It felt like home.
Wyatt clapped him on the back. He had lighter hair than the rest of the men, blue eyes, and was almost thirty. "It's good to have you back. It's about time someone else gave Cole shit besides me."
"Looking good, Brett," Eric Hamilton, the second-oldest brother at thirty-one years old, said. He had the same brown hair that Cole did, but his eyes were an odd mixture of gray and blue. The startling effect had always made Brett uncomfortable. "Nice suit. That Armani?"
Brett rubbed the back of his neck and shifted on his feet. "Yeah. Thanks, man."
Eric nodded once.
"Gray's your color." Cole stepped forward. "It's been too long since you've come home."
He lifted a shoulder and didn't meet the other man's eyes. "Been busy."
"Too busy for family?" Wyatt asked.
Family. Brett's gaze wandered to the left side of the living room. His old home stood on the other side of that window. He shrugged and forced a smile, tearing his attention away from his past. "Companies don't run themselves."
Christopher raised a brow, silently calling him out on his bullshit, but otherwise kept his silence.
Brett cleared his throat. "So, where's the lucky bride?"
"She's upstairs." Anna stepped forward. "I'll take you up to meet her if you want, and then show you to your room."
Christopher's brows lowered, and he leveled a hard look at Brett. Brett just stared back, completely unsurprised at the warning in his stare. It was a well-known fact that Anna had always had a crush on Brett. Just as it was a well-known fact that Brett wasn't allowed to act on it, even if he wanted to. He might be a ruthless businessman now instead of a gangly teenager, but even he wouldn't go back on a blood promise.
"Brett?" Anna asked, blinking at him. "You want to meet Nina?"
"Yes. Of course." Brett cleared his throat. "Lead the way." "Follow me," she said, her voice light and flirty.
"Gladly." Brett stepped aside to let Anna walk past him. She started up the stairs, her hips swinging with every step she took. Looking at the rest of the Hamiltons, he raised a brow. "I'll catch up with you guys in a few?"
"We'll be waiting," Eric said, his jaw tight. "Don't take too long."
"Of course not." Don't worry. I'll only take long enough to defile your sister in the upstairs hallway. "We'll be right back."
As he followed Anna, his gaze level with her swinging hips, four sets of eyes bored into his back, singeing holes in his favorite suit jacket. Just in case they could see through his skull, he focused on the back of her head. Her blonde curls bounced with each step she took. For some reason, he found himself wondering if her hair was as soft as it seemed, and he almost wanted to find out.
When they reached the top of the steps, she held on to the banister. "Don't pay attention to them. They still think I'm a little girl who needs protecting."
She did need protecting. Men were assholes. "Aren't you?"
"Oh God." She turned on him, her frown showing him her disappointment even if she didn't sound mad. "Not you, too?"
"I'm not going to be protecting you, if that's what you're asking." He stopped on the second-to-last step. "But I think you'll always be someone they need to protect. Kind of goes hand in hand with having four older brothers."
"Yeah, well, I don't think they need to worry about you." She motioned toward him, her cheeks going bright pink. "I mean ... it's you. You're nothing to worry about."
He swallowed a laugh at her words. "Are you insinuating I can't get it up, Twinkletoes? Because I assure you, I've had no complaints in that area."
"Yeah, I know. I've heard," she muttered.
"I mean ..." She gestured somewhere in the vicinity of his cock. "What I mean to say is, I'm sure everything is fully functioning down there. Not that I've asked around or anything. That would be super creepy. Like, really creepy. It's not like I talked to your exes, or put up cameras — "
He held up a hand, choking back a loud laugh. "Maybe you should just stop now while you're ahead. If you tell me you've been watching me on surveillance cameras, even I'll get freaked out, and I do some sketchy shit to close a deal at work sometimes."
"God, yes. I'll just stop talking now. Like, forever."
He burst into laughter, reaching out to squeeze her hand, which still rested on the banister. When his fingers brushed hers, a jolt of something he didn't want to name shot through his veins. He jerked back in surprise, completely caught off guard. Since when did touching Anna make him ...
Nope. I'm not putting a name to whatever the hell that weird jolt was.
Her eyes widened, and she stepped back and pressed her hand to her stomach. Shit. Had she felt it, too? "I ... uh ... Nina's this way." She gestured over her shoulder awkwardly. "Down the hallway."
"Great." Swallowing hard, he forced a smile. "How's life as a speech therapist treating you?"
She came to life at the mere mention of her work, washing away the last of whatever the fuck had happened between them a minute ago. "It's great. I love working with kids. It's so rewarding to watch them progress as they learn the right way to make sounds. To see their eyes light up when they properly say a word they couldn't figure out before. The look they get when they realize, finally, that they can get a sentence out without having to repeat themselves ten times." She cut off, her cheeks going pink again. "Sorry, I'm babbling."
"You're not babbling," he said, his gaze locked with hers. He couldn't look away from her right now even if he wanted to. The joy on her face was mesmerizing. "It's refreshing to see someone so happy with their career choices."
"I am happy. What about you? Are you happy, Brett?"
She smoothed her hair, her hand looking steady and sure, even though she'd shaken him with her touch. She'd always been so certain what her life should be like. Always comfortable in her own skin. It had taken him leaving this town and making something of himself, as CEO at his dead parents' company, to find that strength. But now that he had it, he was never letting go again. He was still alone in the world, sure, but this time it was by choice. That wouldn't be changing anytime soon. "Of course I am."
Halfway down the hallway, she grabbed his hand, making him stiffen because there was that damn feeling again. He fought the urge to yank free. This was Anna — just Anna. The same girl he'd grown up with, played house with, when she wrangled him into playing with her since her brothers wouldn't. All it had taken was a pout from her, and he'd been putty in her hands.
That probably would never change, even if he never really saw her anymore.
"I've missed you. I wish you came back sometimes." She tucked her hair behind her ear. "Are you really busy?"
"Yes," he said, his voice soft. "Why would I lie about that?"
She let out a little puff of air. "I don't know. Maybe this place brings back bad memories. Memories of ... you know."
"No. I don't. It's just a town, like any other."
Her eyes caught on to his and didn't let go, but then she shrugged and headed down the hallway. "If you say so."
Letting out a sigh of relief, he followed her, shoving his hands into his pockets. When Anna stopped and knocked on a door, he stepped back to wait. The door opened, and a pretty brunette with green eyes stood there smiling. She looked at Anna first, then closed in on Brett. She stared at him for a few seconds, and then her eyes lit up. "Oh, you must be Brett!"
"I am." He held his hand out, but she ignored it and hugged him close. "Oof."
He'd have to get used to hugging again.
Life as a recluse CEO didn't really allow for such things.
The brunette stepped back, still smiling. "I'm Nina, and I'm so happy to meet you. You're cute. The way Chris talked about you as a kid, I was expecting ..."
"A scrawny nerd?" he supplied helpfully.
She pointed at him. "Kind of, yes!"
He laughed, not sure what to say to that, because he had been a scrawny nerd.
She looked him up and down. "And then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, when Anna described you, I thought for sure she was exaggerating because she had that big crush — " "Is that Chris calling you, Brett?" Anna interrupted, her cheeks red. "I think I hear him."
Nina rolled her eyes. "That man ... "
"I think I heard him, too," Brett said. He smiled at Nina and took a backward step. "It was lovely meeting you," he said to the bride before turning to Anna. She was doing it again. Staring at him like he was a king. And for the first time ever, he kind of liked it. Fuck me. Forcing his smile to remain in place, he added, "And, as always, it was great seeing you again, Twinkletoes."
Her cheeks flushed pink. "I'll see you at dinner. I think we're seated next to each other."
Close. Together. The whole time.
"Great. That's ... great," he said, still smiling.
And then he did what any sensible man would do when faced with unknown and unwanted feelings for his best friend's little sister.
He got the fuck outta there.
Later that night, Anna stood by her chair, staring at the place card next to hers. Earlier in the day, she'd made sure to put Brett next to her for dinner, but on second thought ... maybe she shouldn't have been quite so enthusiastic to be near him again. Heck, earlier when he had squeezed her hand, he'd pulled away like she was contaminated and looked at her like she'd drooled on her chin or something.
She glowered down at the place card. Craaaapppp. Why had she thought drawing a perfect little heart in the upper left corner of the card was a good idea? With that there, how was she supposed to sit next to him throughout dinner and act like she didn't know he knew she was half in love with him? Maybe it wasn't too late to switch his seat ... after she gave him a new card minus a heart. She reached for his card, but as soon as her fingers closed around it, she sensed him behind her.
Excerpted from "The CEO's Seduction"
Copyright © 2016 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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