The Proposition, the second book in the contemporary romance sports series, the Players, from Elizabeth Hayley about a professional hockey player who hires a wedding date.
Professional hockey player Ben Williamson doesn't quite know how he got himself into this situation; hiring someone to be his date to his brother's wedding is way out of character for him. But with family pressuring him to settle down, going stag just isn't an option. It would just be one more thing his polite, cultured family uses as ammo against him.
Ryan Cruz is having a bad day. Wait, make that a bad year. Broke, technically homeless, and living on a friend's couch, she's now also unemployed after her sharp tongue gets her fired from her job. So when a handsome stranger approaches her out of the blue with a proposition--he’ll pay her to be his date to his brother’s wedding for the weekend--accepting his offer is a no brainer. She needs the cash and figures it wouldn't be in the best interest of a professional athlete to murder her.
What starts as a simple business arrangement soon becomes more as these opposites attract and get caught up in the wedding magic. Will Ben and Ryan be able to turn their relationship into something more? Or is love based on a proposition too much of an obstacle to overcome?
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Ben leaned against one of the leather bar stools on the perimeter of the Players' Club and spun a dart between his fingers. Since he and his two friends had joined the club a while back, it had always been a place of refuge for them — a spot where they could come and hang out with other professional athletes and take their mind off life's problems. But as Ben played what should've been a relaxing game with his buddies, all he could talk about was the most recent issue that'd been plaguing his mind: his brother David's upcoming wedding. "So what do you guys think? I'm out of ideas."
"I think you should move out of the way," Jace said. "Gabe's up next."
Ben looked at his location in proximity to the game. "I'm nowhere near the dart board."
"That's exactly why you need to move," Jace replied.
"I'm not that bad," Gabe said before tossing a dart that landed about a foot and a half above the board.
"Watch it, Torres," Mike yelled to Gabe from across the club. "Unless you plan on patching up my walls, you better improve your aim."
The guys laughed, but Mike had probably only been partially kidding. He put his heart — and a shit-ton of money — into the club, which catered to select current and retired professional athletes. Ben was sure Mike didn't want any holes in the wall.
"How are you even a shortstop for a major-league team?" Ben asked Gabe. "Your aim is shit."
Gabe ran a hand through his short dark hair and threw another dart, which hit the board this time. "Darts and baseballs aren't even close to the same thing."
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," Jace said.
"You better watch it or this next one's getting thrown at your pretty, blond little head," Gabe retorted, his dark eyes daring his friend to test him, though the guys knew Gabe was all talk.
Jace shrugged. "Fine with me. You won't hit it."
Before Gabe had a chance to make another dumb comment, Ben spoke again. "Can we get back to my problem, please? I've had months to think about this, and I still haven't come up with anything."
"Why don't you say you're injured?" Gabe suggested. "My knee's still fucked up, and my surgery was over a month ago. Which, by the way, is one of the reasons that my dart game sucks."
Ben chose to only respond to the first of Gabe's comments. "Saying my knee hurts isn't going to get me out of having to go to my only brother's wedding. It's not even a month and a half away. And besides, my family will know it's a lie. I'm a professional hockey player, not to mention one of the few black players the league has. If I were having knee surgery, the news would be all over it."
Ben stood and walked over to line up for his turn. "My family gives me enough shit for choosing to play a 'game' for a living," he said, using air quotes to emphasize how little his highly educated parents thought of his career choice. "I don't need to give them another reason to get on my case. My mom already made my brother push the wedding back to accommodate my season. David and Natasha wanted it to be in the spring because New England summers are humid as hell. Just gives David one more reason to hate me."
"I'm confused," Jace said. "How is your mom making your brother push back the wedding your fault?" Ben rubbed a hand over his short beard before tossing a dart hard at the board. "It's not. But he'll act like it is."
"You should've told him the end of April was fine," Gabe said. "The Knights haven't gone past the first round of the playoffs since you got drafted. It's like the Curse of the Bambino, only instead of the team sucking because someone left it, it sucks because someone joined it."
Ben glared at him, but he couldn't argue with Gabe's point about the postseason. The fact that the Knights hadn't made it into the playoffs was the reason he was able to leave Denver for part of the spring and into the summer, so he could shoot the shit with his buddies in Philly until Jace went to training camp and Gabe was healed enough to play baseball again. "I'm the Knights' leading scorer. It's obviously not my fault we've become allergic to the postseason."
"So what are you trying to do exactly?" Jace asked. "I mean, what'll make the time you have to be up in Connecticut easier on you?"
Ben thought for a moment. "I need a buffer or something, I guess."
"Well, me and Aly'll be there. And you're going, right?" Jace asked Gabe.
"Yeah, for sure. I need to get a date to this thing, though." Gabe took a sip of his beer before setting it down on the sleek, wooden ledge that ran around the perimeter of the club. "Wait," he said suddenly. "I have a great idea for a bet."
Ben couldn't help but laugh as Jace shot a "Fuck you" at Gabe for mentioning something Jace would much rather forget.
"Maybe 'buffer' isn't really the right word. I think it's more like a diversion — something to get my parents off my back. They're already disappointed that I don't have a career that requires me to use my brain instead of possibly injure it. And now that I'm close to thirty, my mom's been on my case to settle down and start a family."
"Ha!" Gabe said loudly. "Your mom does know you're ugly as fuck, right? So no woman's gonna want to make you the father of her children."
"You sure your knee's not healed enough for you to play?" Ben asked, thinking that if Gabe had been traveling with the Premieres right now, he wouldn't be here.
"Nope," Gabe said. "I'm all yours for at least another month until I'm better."
"Great," Ben replied.
"All right, all right," Gabe said. "I'll be serious and help you."
"Thank you," Ben said, happy he had the support of both his best friends. The three had been practically inseparable since they'd met in college and roomed in the athletic dorm. All three had been lucky enough to play professionally, Gabe as a shortstop for Philadelphia and Jace as a quarterback for New Jersey. His friends' close proximity to one another was the reason Ben chose to get an apartment in Philly and spend his time here in the off-season. "I knew you were kidding when you mentioned the bet, but —"
"I wasn't kidding. I have an idea that might work."
"No," Ben said sternly.
"Didn't you learn anything from me, Torres?" Jace asked Gabe. Now that the bet they'd made last summer was behind them, they could all joke about it. But a year ago, it would have been a different story. Jace had nearly lost Aly when the three friends had competed to see who could bring the hottest date to an awards ceremony. Jace had unexpectedly fallen hard for the beautiful doctor, but all of that had almost crumbled when she'd learned he'd initially asked her out because of a bet.
"Okay, I get why doing a bet again would be a bad idea, but I do think that finding some arm candy as a distraction is a solid plan. A buddy of mine brought some chick he met at an airport to his parents' anniversary party, and everyone thought they'd been dating for months."
Ben was skeptical. "Like a fake girlfriend? There's no way that'll work."
"I don't know, man," Gabe said. "It might. The secret to a good lie is you gotta believe it yourself."
"You're so wise," Ben said flatly.
"I'm serious," said Gabe. "The chick I was telling you about ended up getting my buddy's grandmother's crab cake recipe, and that shit's for family only."
"Just to make sure I'm understanding you right, I should believe you because of a crab cake recipe?"
Jace raised his eyebrows at Ben and Gabe. "It's actually not a bad idea."
Ben rolled his eyes. "Not you too."
"You got any better ideas?" Jace asked. When Ben was silent, Jace continued. "I didn't think so. There's a decent chance this could work. We just need to figure out who to get to pretend to be your girlfriend. You're gonna be up there for a few days."
Ben rubbed a hand over his forehead in frustration. "I don't know. Fuck. No one'll want to spend that much time with my family. A few hours with them is more than enough."
"She doesn't have to want to spend time with them," Gabe said, a look in his eyes that told Ben he was up to something Ben was probably going to want no part of.
"Should I even ask what you're talking about?" Ben said.
"Probably," Gabe said. "Because I have the answer to your problem."
Ben looked at him expectantly, but when he realized that wasn't enough, he said, "Fine, you're really gonna make me ask, aren't you? Why doesn't it matter if she doesn't want to be there?"
A smile spread across Gabe's face. "Because you're gonna pay her," he said simply.
"Like a prostitute?" Ben replied.
"Not a prostitute," Gabe said. "An escort."
"Coming," Ben called as he headed toward the door of the Philadelphia apartment he'd moved into for the off-season. His voice echoed as it carried through the two-story loft. He had no idea who would be at his door at nine thirty at night on a Sunday.
He pulled open the door to see Gabe and Jace standing there, but before Ben could even ask what the hell they were doing, the men took hold of both Ben's arms and yanked him into the hall. "You're comin' with us," Gabe said.
"What the fuck?" Ben asked, struggling to break free of his friends' tight grasp. Though he was slightly bigger than Gabe and about the same height as Jace, the two of them managed to restrain him. "Coming where? I don't even have shoes on."
Jace looked at Ben's feet. "I'll go grab some."
Knowing that as soon as Jace left, Ben would be able to overpower Gabe, especially given his knee injury, he didn't protest. "Where are we going?" he asked.
"Stop asking questions, or we'll blindfold and gag you," Gabe said.
That earned him a laugh from Jace who'd just stepped inside Ben's apartment. As soon as he was out of sight, Ben yanked his arm away and sidestepped Gabe so he could wrap an arm around his neck. "Let go! You know I've got a bad knee," Gabe pleaded once he was in a headlock and at Ben's mercy.
"Well, you're about to have two if you don't tell me what the fuck you guys are up to."
"Fine. Let me go and I'll tell you."
Ben tightened the chokehold.
"Okay, okay. We're taking you to book your escort."
Ben released Gabe slowly and, once he was standing upright, gave him a playful shove to the shoulder. "We can't seriously do that. I'm fine finding a woman I know and asking her to go as a favor, but I'm not hiring an escort."
"Fine, I'll hire her," Gabe said. "As long as you're the one who pays her."
"Gabe!" Ben said. "This is ridiculous."
"Is it?" "Yes," Ben said loudly. "It is."
"I don't think it is," Gabe said. "And neither does Jace."
"Okay, so you're both morons."
"We aren't morons. An escort is totally the way to go. They're used to interacting in different situations, so whoever it is'll have no problem getting your family to believe that she's your girlfriend. You can pick how you want her to dress and her level of education."
"You seem to know a lot about this," Ben said, but Gabe continued as if Ben hadn't even spoken.
"She won't be looking for more after you guys leave or expect you to put a ring on it or anything. It's a business arrangement. She'll be totally professional."
Ben had to admit — though not aloud — that Gabe did make some good points. It might be more awkward to bring a friend than it would be to bring someone he didn't know. "I don't know, Gabe. This feels like it might backfire."
"It won't. That's what I'm trying to tell you. This would be her livelihood. Keeping everything secret is what these people do. No one else will be able to guarantee that. Plus me and Jace'll have your back the whole time you're up there."
Ben thought about the voicemail he'd ignored from his mom asking if he was bringing someone to the wedding. "Fine," he finally said.
"Yeah. Fine. I'll do it. But don't make me regret it already by acting like you're surprised I said okay."
"I am surprised," Gabe said. "I expected to have to use physical force."
Ben crossed his arms over his chest, making his shoulders and arms appear bigger than they already were. "Well, you would've needed your accomplice to help because you weren't getting me in that car on your own."
Before Gabe had time to respond, Jace appeared with a pair of red Nikes. He thrust them in Ben's direction. "Put these on."
Ben's eyes narrowed. "Those'll look stupid with this," he said, looking down at his gray sweatpants and royal-blue Under Armour shirt. "If you're choosing where we're going, I at least get to choose what I'm wearing."
Jace rolled his eyes. "Fine, Kendall Jenner. Go get changed and meet us in the car."
As Ben closed the door, he briefly thought about dialing 911 and telling them that there were two strange men trespassing. That would teach his dickhead friends a lesson. Not to mention, it would be funny as shit.
But he knew that despite how ridiculous hiring an escort to bring to a family wedding sounded, it also seemed like the best possible solution. And the only thing worse than walking into an escort service and admitting you wanted to pay for a date was walking in alone. He needed his two best friends.
He finished tying his shoes, grabbed his wallet and keys, and headed downstairs to where Jace's car was waiting with the valet. He had his hand on the passenger's side rear door when Gabe spoke. "You're lucky this isn't a car with a regular trunk or we would've made you ride in it."
"Fuck off or I'll strap you to the roof rack."
Jace had barely pulled away from Ben's building before one of them spoke again. Of course it was Gabe. "So where did you tell Aly you were going tonight?"
Jace looked at him, clearly confused. "What do you mean?" "God, you're dense. What lie did you tell Aly so she'd be okay with you going out tonight?"
"I didn't lie. I told her we were going to hire an escort."
The other two men laughed. "You told your girlfriend you're hiring an escort? You've got bigger balls than I thought," Ben said.
"I'm not hiring an escort. You are. And me and Aly love each other." Jace shrugged. "She trusts me."
Ben shook his head at his friend's declaration. "That's the most sickening thing you've said since you told us about the infection you got from that tick that latched onto your ball."
Gabe burst out in a fit of laughter. "That shit was disgusting."
"And that's why I'll never sleep in a tent without clothes on again."
"Well, you're a fucking moron for doing it the first time," Ben said.
Jace was quiet for a moment while he drove. "Speaking of sleeping arrangements though ... what's gonna happen when you and your new lady friend head up to Connecticut for the wedding festivities?"
Ben was confused. "What do you mean? It's not like my parents will be with us at night. I have a hotel room."
"With two beds?" Jace asked.
"No. One king. But I'm not gonna expect her to have sex with me."
"She will if you want her to," Gabe said.
"I don't want her to," Ben fired back, his eyes wide. "I'll set the ground rules first and let her know that under no circumstances is she going to need to have sex with me. Then I'll call the hotel and get a room with two beds."
"No rooms left," Gabe said. "When I called to book mine two months ago, they waitlisted me. They emailed like a week ago to say one opened up."
"Whatever," Ben said as Jace turned into the parking lot. "I'm not worried about it. I'll sleep on a cot or the floor if I have to so she doesn't feel weird." He looked out the window at the nearby buildings as Jace pulled into a space and shut off the car. "Where is this place?"
"Right there." Gabe gave a nod toward a neon pink sign that stood on the top of a tan brick building.
"Daisy's? That's a strip club."
"You say that like I don't already know it," Gabe replied.
"Stripping and escorting aren't the same."
"Hey," Gabe barked. "Who's the expert on this? You or me?"
Ben threw his hands up in surrender. Gabe had a point. This adventure was much more in Gabe's wheelhouse than Ben's. "Okay, okay. Lead the way."
"Thank you," Gabe said as he opened the door and gestured for Ben and Jace to enter. "Would I ever steer you wrong?"
In a matter of seconds, Ben took in his surroundings. Despite the dimly lit space, he could see enough to know that this place probably didn't employ anyone his parents would believe he was dating. Most of them looked to be at least fifteen years older than he was and seemed a little too ... rough, for lack of a better word. His eyes darted around the room like they were afraid of what might happen if they settled on one particular spot.
Ben opened his mouth to speak, but as if Gabe could sense what Ben was about to say, he muttered a "Don't answer that" as he signaled for one of the waitresses.
Excerpted from "The Proposition"
Copyright © 2017 Sarah Glasgow and Shauna Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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