Don't miss the hot new romantic comedy follow-up to the smash hit The Negotiator...
Hot, filthy rich, and usually irresistible, Hudson Carlyle just met the one woman in Harbor City who’s immune to his legendary charm. Nerdy ant researcher Felicia Hartigan is the unsexiest dresser ever. She trips over air. And she’s in love with totally the wrong man. Hudson can’t stop thinking about her.
His regular moves won’t work here. He’s going to need a new plan, starting with helping her win over the man she thinks she wants. And if in the process she ends up falling for Hudson instead? Even better. Step one, charm her panties off. Step two, repeat step one as frequently as possible.
But what if the famous Carlyle charm finally fails him when he needs it most? Or worse, what if she figures out the one secret he’s kept from everyone, including his family, and walks away for good?
Each book in the Harbor City series is STANDALONE
* The Negotiator
* The Charmer
* The Schemer
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Surrounded by Harbor City's elite decked out in Armani and Michael Kors, Hudson Carlyle couldn't take his eyes off of her.
Even in little kitten heels, she barely stood above people's shoulders. Her long, dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, but a few strands of hair had escaped from the hot-pink elastic band and hung like limp string down her back. Then, there was the dress. Boxy and black, it stopped mid calf and left everything to the imagination. She could have been smuggling one of the ant colonies they were supporting with this fundraising cocktail party at the Harbor City Museum of Natural History under the damn thing. There was absolutely nothing about her to make a guy like him pause for a first look, let alone come back for a second and a third — except that's exactly what he was doing. Why? Fuck if he knew. All he could think was that underneath her oversized black glasses were two startlingly blue eyes and a pair of cheekbones that had him itching for a paintbrush and a blank canvas.
A soft cough pulled his attention away from the mystery woman and over to his mother, who'd clearly caught him ogling. Shit. Hudson Carlyle's mother was a barracuda in a bun, and there was no missing the danger signals in her steely gray eyes. He'd seen them before, when she'd set her matchmaking sights on his older brother, Sawyer. And now she was looking at him, her youngest son, with that I-just-found-the-perfect- sacrificial-lamb gleam in her eyes.
Rubbing the back of his neck, he tried to ignore the prickly sensation crawling along his skin and focus on the party before him.
At least the throngs of wealthy guests would help distract Helene Carlyle from whatever mission she was about to undertake. Well, that and the fact that the fundraiser they were attending was in the middle of the Harbor City Museum of Natural History's Ant Lab — which was exactly what it sounded like. Shudder.
Each wall of the lab was made up of two sheets of glass with ant colonies sandwiched between them. If it wasn't for the fact that he loved his family, there was no way in hell he'd ever be caught dead here. He'd much rather be hunkered down in his cabin, finishing up the paintings he'd sold. Or rather, that "Hughston," one of Harbor City's most sought after — and mysterious — artists had sold.
His chest tightened at the thought of all the little white lies he'd been telling his family for years to keep his double life a secret. They thought he was nothing more than a rich playboy, only interested in the next cover model he could get naked, and that was just how things needed to remain.
Still, when his family needed him, he came — even when it was to a place where the walls were literally crawling with bugs. Double shudder.
"Let's mingle," his mother announced in that well-bred tone that brooked no argument, then she hooked her arm through his and started walking.
He shook his head. And I guess we're "mingling" now. Because of his height, he could look over the crowd and see the throngs of charity guests parting as though he was walking Queen Elizabeth across the red carpet, a person nodding at them here, another trying to gain their attention there. His mother acknowledged them with a gracious nod but didn't stop. She was guiding them toward Hudson's older brother Sawyer, who was standing next to, but not actually talking to, his former best friend Tyler Jacobson.
His mother continued as they went, "While I appreciate you being my escort for this fundraiser, I really wish you had someone of your own to bring."
Hudson let a lazy half smile curl his lips and raised one eyebrow teasingly — a move that usually annoyed his mom as much as it made the city's sexiest socialites sigh and lose their better judgment. "Be careful about saying 'escort' too loudly," he warned. "We wouldn't want to give people the wrong idea about what it is I do with all of my free time."
She raised a matching eyebrow. "Considering I know almost every person here, and they all most definitely know who I am, we can safely assume that no one is going to mistake my son for an escort."
"A guy can dream." He shrugged with a laugh, his gaze again settling on his brother and Tyler. The animosity between the two men had lessened over the past few months, but they were nowhere near the friends they'd been for decades.
"A mother has dreams, too," Helene said with a pitiful sigh that she must have practiced for hours. She dropped her gaze before looking back up at him with all the innocence of a honey badger.
"Give it up," he said, his steps stalling out as he caught that familiar gleam in her eyes. She pretended her attention was riveted by the soon-to-be-divorced Masons arriving together, but he wasn't fooled. "Don't you dare look at me like that. I know that look. It's the same one you started shooting at Sawyer before you began Operation: Matchmaking Mama. I'm immune."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about." She squeezed his arm, a devious smile tugging at the corners of her mouth — a mouth almost exactly like the one that greeted him from the mirror every morning, except right now, hers looked more like a shark baring its teeth. "But you do look very handsome saying it."
"Mother, you should leave the charm to me. It's scary looking on you."
She patted his cheek, a little harder than she needed to, and then shook her head. "All that charm won't always get you what you want. Not in the long run."
"Don't worry. It does everything I need in the short term." He winked at her then resumed walking, this time guiding her to Sawyer's side. He needed to hand Helene off before she sank her claws in any farther, and his brother owed him. "And the long run? My massive bank account will take care of that."
If Helene Carlyle were the kind of woman to snort, that's how he would describe the sound leaving her throat unexpectedly. As it was, he had to imagine she'd delicately sneezed.
"That attitude might fool most people, Hudson Bartholomew Carlyle, but it doesn't fly with me," she said, her attention zeroed in on his brother and former friend who were pointedly ignoring each other while Sawyer's wife, Clover, talked animatedly with Tyler.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the young woman in the boxy dress weaving through the crowd, heading straight for the same target as he was. She almost looked elegant for a moment, but as she neared Sawyer and Tyler, she tripped over her own feet.
His muscles tensed, wishing he was close enough to catch her, but Tyler and Sawyer quickly reached out to stop her fall. She said something to Tyler as she pushed her black glasses up from where they'd slipped down almost to the end of her button nose. Despite her being only a few feet away, her voice was so soft that Hudson couldn't hear what she said, but it was followed by a gruff "no problem" and a nonchalant "no worries" from the men. The interaction seemed to jolt Sawyer and Tyler out of their silent standoff, though, and for half a second, it looked like they'd actually talk. But instead, both nodded good-bye to the woman and headed in opposite directions, Sawyer tugging his wife Clover along with him.
Douchebags. It couldn't be more obvious that the two wanted to be friends again, but neither of them would do a damn thing about it. Although he had to admit, bro-code and all, he blamed Tyler for the rift. It wasn't like Sawyer encouraged Tyler's fiancée to end up naked in Sawyer's bed. Sawyer had sent her on her way, but Tyler insisted everything was Sawyer's fault. Ridiculous pride.
Hudson's ire started to rise further as he studied his mystery woman, who was still watching Tyler's retreating form. Sadness darkened her eyes, giving the tip of her nose the slightest red tint. As an artist, Hudson had spent his life studying people and learning their secrets so he could better paint them, and one thing was certain about this woman — she was unquestionably in love with Tyler. Poor thing. She was definitely not his type. Tyler liked 'em tall, blonde, busty, and bitchy.
"You need to fix that, Hudson," his mother said, pulling his attention away from the woman — again.
"Me?" he asked, following her gaze toward Sawyer. "Why is this my problem?"
"How I manage not to flick your ears on a regular basis, I have no idea." The words were stern, but she couldn't hide the love in her tone. "He's your brother, and he needs your help — I need your help."
He grinned down at her. "Fixing a broken bromance isn't exactly my thing."
"Fixing things has always been your thing. Sawyer and Tyler have regained some of their footing as friends, but they haven't been able to make total amends. I need you to facilitate that process — without either of them knowing, of course."
Now that would be an accomplishment.
"Why, Mother," he said, shaking his head as if she weren't the original fixer in the Carlyle family, "that sounds downright devious. Who would have ever thought it of you?"
This time Helene definitely snorted. "We all know you're not above a little tinkering to maneuver people to where they need to be. Just look at how you helped Sawyer and Clover get together." Her gaze stopping on someone just over his shoulder. "You know people. You understand what makes them tick — you always have. Take that woman, for instance. What can you tell me about her?"
Hudson pivoted and spotted the woman his mom had caught him checking out earlier, the same one who was still mooning over Tyler, staring at the clueless idiot — now talking to a tall blonde — like he'd just run over her cat. What could he tell his mom about the mystery woman? A lot. What could he say to his cunning mother without giving away his immediate fascination with the mystery woman? Not much.
The petite brunette had an air about her that sucked him right in and made him want to get her on canvas now, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why, and he definitely wasn't going to share that tidbit with his matchmaking mama.
"I can't tell you anything important about her, Mom," he said, forcing himself to look at anyone but the woman. "She probably works here. Well, and she obviously has a thing for Tyler."
"I noticed that, too. She keeps circling around to talk to him and never quite gets up the courage, even when she almost fell right into him."
His fingertips itched just like they always did before something in the world shifted. "And why are you so interested?"
"There's just something about her, isn't there? I can't place my finger on it, but it might just be what Tyler needs. You could help her. No one has quite your way of charming people into doing what you want. If you could help her win over Tyler, then I do believe Tyler and Sawyer would be able to fix their friendship themselves. He just needs help getting over that dreadful ex before he can forgive and forget."
"What are you saying?" he asked. The image of his mystery woman with Tyler left a sour taste in his mouth, like he'd just licked chalk.
"I'm saying that love conquers all." She got that misty look in her eyes, and the lines around her mouth softened just like they always did when she thought about his dad, who'd died a few years ago. "Now, go do that fixing thing that you secretly do so well and help your brother get back his best friend, and then maybe we can get you to use that talent for the benefit of Carlyle Enterprises. There's more to the family business than just sneaking cookies from Mrs. Esposito in the company cafeteria. You do know you have a corner office collecting dust, don't you?"
"I have an office?" He winked at her and then shifted his gaze back to Tyler Jacobson.
Hudson cocked his head and grinned as his favorite kind of plan started to form in his head — one that helped the people he cared about and allowed him to get what he really wanted, all while keeping his secret life ... well, secret. Oh yeah, this was going to work like a charm.
Felicia Hartigan's life would be so much better if she could just get back to her honeypot ants. Of course, as her boss had pointed out rather specifically to her earlier today, that wasn't going to happen if Harbor City's rich and bored didn't donate money to the natural history museum's ant lab. So here she was. Lucky her.
"It could be worse," said fellow researcher Stan Gabrys. Tall and thin, with red hair that had started to go wispy, he was currently trying to pull off a Van Dyke beard that always made her think "magician" when she saw him. "One year, we had to put on a show-and-tell demonstration."
"I love talking about my ants." Sure, she was a researcher, but as an academic, she couldn't overlook an opportunity to educate.
Stan grimaced as a rosy flush creeped up from the silver hook of his clip- on tie. "We had to dress up like the ants we researched."
Felicia imagined herself dressed in a giant bubble to represent how the honeypot ant gorged itself on food until it looked like Violet from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so it could feed the other ants in the colony when there wasn't enough food to be found. The picture was even worse than having to go out like she was now, in her cute new classic little black dress rather than her regular T-shirt and jeans (with the cuffs tucked into her socks if she was out in the field). Why am I still single? She mentally shook her head.
"So, who's the guy over there talking to your rich friend?" Stan asked.
An excited buzz started in her stomach. "Tyler Jacobson?"
She only had one rich friend, and he was the reason she was here, despite her boss's insistence notwithstanding. Everyone else here was either Harbor City elite — and therefore out of her social strata — or someone she worked with, making them a big, giant no-no. She didn't mix her ant species, and she didn't mix her work and personal lives. Felicia believed in boundaries, the importance of evidence-based science, and that success came with never deviating from the plan. In this case, that meant not giving up on getting Tyler Jacobson to really see her. And if he was looking at her, then spending the birthday check her mom had sent her early — "Thirty days before thirty! Go have some fun," she'd written — on this flattering black dress had totally been the right move.
Stan shook his head. "No, I've met him before. You introduced him at another one of these things. It's the guy he's talking with, who keeps staring."
Felicia glanced in the direction Stan motioned with his head. Since animal classification was kind of her thing, she assessed and categorized the man talking with Tyler in an instant. He was tall, with longish light brown hair, and lean muscles that he used to his advantage as he exuded the easy confidence of the obnoxiously rich. His lazy smile proved just how often he got his way. Just as she was thinking it, he turned and zeroed in on her and that smile of his went from nice enough to dangerous, as if he not only knew what kind of panties she was wearing, but how to get her out of them, too. He was too tall, too handsome, and too full of himself. To put it bluntly, she would classify him scientifically as Family: Man, Genus: Not for Her.
Now, Tyler Jacobson? He was all dark hair, blue eyes, and brains. Smart wasn't the new sexy. It was the only sexy as far as Felicia was concerned. Super-stud over there with his I-have-sex-for-breakfast-every-day grin didn't stand a chance in her world.
She turned around and shrugged. "No clue."
"Well, he's coming this way with that Travis dude," Stan said.
"Tyler," she corrected as heat pricked her cheeks. Out of habit, she smoothed her hair back and straightened her spine to add as much as she could to her five-foot-nothing height.
This was it. This was why she allowed herself to be pushed into doing exactly the opposite of her usual Thursday night plan of a hot bath, a single glass of red wine, and the latest issue of the Journal of Myrmecology. With her birthday only a month away, she still had time to check off Make Tyler Fall for Me on the list of career and personal goals to hit before thirty that she'd made when she was fifteen. There were already black check marks by every other item on the list (graduate first in her class, land a premium research position, move across the harbor from Waterbury to the big city), and she wasn't a woman to leave things undone.
Excerpted from "The Charmer"
Copyright © 2017 Avery Flynn.
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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