Don't miss the hot new romantic comedy follow-up to the smash hit The Charmer...
Tyler Jacobson has a plan for everything—except how to handle his completely annoying, utterly frustrating, and totally sexy upstairs neighbor. He couldn’t care less if Everly Ribinski thinks he’s equally irritating—until he discovers she’s the only one who can help him land a business deal that will finally make him feel like he’s more than just a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.
Color him shocked when Everly refuses to help, insisting she should have run him over in the parking garage when she had the chance. Harsh. But possibly deserved. Tyler may have spent the last few months reveling in annoying the fiery gallery owner with a dark past, but he’s got secret leverage she can’t refuse.
If only they could stop trying to one-up each other long enough to realize the pranks are nothing more than foreplay. Of course, he figures it out quicker. He's smart like that. Too bad Everly wants nothing to do with him. Or does she? Wait. What is she up to now?
For a man who’s always scheming, the best-laid plans never felt so good falling apart…
Each book in the Harbor City series is STANDALONE
* The Negotiator
* The Charmer
* The Schemer
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Jet-lagged and so tired his brain was leaking out of his left ear, Tyler Jacobson jerked to a stop in the narrow hallway of his apartment building, barely avoiding getting crushed to death by eight feet of boxes.
So this is how it's all going to end. He was going to die getting run over by a stack of boxes moving straight at him, seemingly all on their own power. Well, it was a pretty unique death, even if being dead would really get in the way of his plans to take over the world.
"Hey, I'm walking here," he called out as a joke, using a line from one of his favorite movies and using a fake blue-collar accent. His normal accent was much more refined, thanks to six months' worth of voice lessons to get rid of his natural working-class inflections when he'd first graduated college.
The stack of boxes halted and tilted forward slightly, followed by the muffled sound of the metal dolly clunking against the carpeted floor. But no one appeared. Okay, he'd been kidding about the whole ghostly boxes thing. He owned the building, even if he didn't handle the day-to-day management of it, and knew it wasn't haunted even if he'd been the kind of person to believe in that kind of bullshit — which he wasn't. He may not sound like it, look like it, or act like it anymore, but some parts of growing up across the harbor from the glitz and money of Harbor City didn't go away, and a skeptical worldview was definitely one of them.
"Sorry, didn't see you," said a woman's disembodied voice from behind the boxes.
"I'm not surprised." The woman needed help. Times like this, he wished the building had a doorman to assist with moving boxes. He really needed to look into renovating so there would be room for a small lobby. When she didn't make a move to go around the boxes, his curiosity got the better of him. "Are you hiding back there?"
A woman peeked around the boxes. A pretty woman. Scratch that. A gorgeous woman — with large, expressive eyes that were too big for her face and the kind of hair a man could wrap his hand around in bed.
She narrowed her sharp brown eyes, taking a full summary of him in a nanosecond from her rather impressive height, assessing the situation with a calculated ease that told him without her having to say a word that there was more to this woman than her looks. She had the kind of perfectly smooth hair, perfectly applied makeup, and perfectly sexy set of legs encased in designer jeans that screamed "contained" — but just barely.
"Why would I hide?" she asked, her thick Riverside accent as real as the attitude she was copping. "You don't scare me."
Tyler had the feeling very little did. He liked that. And from her accent he could tell her roots were as blue collar as the ones he did his best to hide. Jury was still out on how he felt about that.
He held out his hand. "Tyler Jacobson."
"Everly Ribinski," she said as she shook his hand, quick up, down, and release. Her gaze had widened ever so briefly when their skin had touched, but she'd caught herself. Could be mutual attraction or she was shocked he'd not tried to use the moment to linger. Jury was still out on that, too. He imagined a woman as beautiful as she was got a lot of unwanted extra touching by men when strictly business should be the name of the game. His belly tightened for a moment at the thought of any man sexually harassing her, but she met his gaze with such confidence, he figured they'd been treated to a verbal kick to the groin had they tried it. He found himself grinning at the mental image of her putting some man in his place.
And then he realized he was standing in the hallway, blocking her from finishing her move-in, and grinning like an idiot at her. When she simply raised one brow, he shook his head. Get it together, Jacobson.
He tried to get his fried brain to work. Gorgeous women weren't new to him. They liked him. He liked them. Winwin. However, for some reason, Everly made his very fast brain stutter to a near stop. He blamed the fact that he'd had to take the red-eye from Hungary with a teething and very angry baby on board and a seatmate who loved to talk.
"Nice to meet ya," she said when he didn't move. "But I gotta get these up to my apartment."
The sexy way she dropped her A's was doing crazy things to what was left of his addled brain.
"You're 3B." Of course, his mind picked that moment to actually start working. The gallery owner who was leasing the street-level commercial property in the building. "I'm 2B, but don't worry. I don't mind being beneath you."
What the fuck did you just say, Jacobson?
In his sleep-deprived mind, he'd meant that because he owned the building, he didn't mind not being on the top floor. But she didn't know he owned the building, and now he wasn't sure telling her wouldn't seem like he'd said that just to work in he owned the building. Remain rude or look pathetic? Either option left him looking like the asshole he'd just acted like.
And to think he had used his brain and communications skills to put millions of dollars in the bank in the matter of only a few years. Come on, Jacobson, think of something to say that isn't an innuendo or bragging. Something helpful. And then get the hell out of here while she still lets you.
His mind jumped around from pivot to pivot, each follow-up potentially life-threatening in the minefield he'd just created.
"I can hook you up with a great guy I know; he helps people get rid of accents." Okay, not his first choice of topics upon just meeting someone, but it qualified as helpful.
She planted a hand on a round hip and narrowed her eyes. "Accents?"
"Yeah." He nodded, realizing too late what fuckery his jet-lagged brain had just gotten him into.
"And what's wrong with how I speak?" Everly asked, her tone hard. No A's were dropped suggestively that time, as each word came out like bullets from a machine gun.
He thought he heard the faint ringing of a bell before a boxing match began in the distance of his subconscious, and his gaze darted around for a way to get to his apartment quickly. She deserved an apology, he was sure, but he was afraid he'd just dig the hole even deeper, he was so jetlagged and off his game. "Umm. Nothing?"
Tyler could read anyone, know their weaknesses in a moment, and use them to his own advantage. It's how he had turned his consulting firm into the one organization in Harbor City guaranteed to make businesses successful. Part coach, part drill instructor, part Machiavelli, he brought whatever was needed to the table to transform companies and take them from good to great. But for the second time that day, his scheming mind was drawing a blank. As the shock of that settled into his belly and set up shop, he had no choice but to throw her a self-deprecating half smile he'd seen his friend Frankie do all too often, which always charmed the ladies and got Frankie out of sticky situations. Hopefully he wasn't as rusty at trying to charm his way out of a mess as he felt.
She pursed her cherry-red lips together, her intelligent eyes narrowing as she picked up on his change in tack. This woman was far too clever, and she was having none of it. She nodded as if she were actually considering what he'd said. "But I should change it?"
Minefield. Minefield. "Forget I said anything." Really. It would be a blessing at this point, since they were going to be neighbors. He sure as hell wasn't going to let her know he actually owned the building after acting like such an ass. Thank you last-minute red-eye flight from Budapest.
Normally, Tyler was the one in any situation analyzing the room, looking for the best angles. But as he watched her options flash behind her eyes while schooling her features to remain calm, he was impressed by the plotting going on behind those big, dark eyes of hers. She seemed to consider smiling. He could see the corners of her eyes almost crinkle. But, from how he imagined her perspective, if she played it flirtatiously, she might get a neighbor who constantly cornered her for more attention. Her mouth started to turn down. She could try anger that he was in her way, that he had insulted her, but they had to share the same building, so that was unnecessary stress, especially with her business downstairs. Finally she seemed to settle on a guarded but friendly persona that shut down any opportunities on his part for help or further conversation. Damn. She was good.
"Okay," she said with a smile that looked almost genuine if a little annoyed, then waited, staring at him. "Tyler?"
"Yeah?" he asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets and gracing her with another of what he hoped was a charming smile.
"Can you move?" she asked, her tone teasing. "I don't want to run you over."
"Oh," he said, moving like lightning to get out of her way. "Sorry."
She just nodded, disappeared behind the stack of boxes loaded on the dolly, and moved past him down the hallway. Okay, this entire interaction had been a dumpster fire of jet-lagged idiocy on his part, but watching her heart-shaped ass move as she walked away was pretty damn good.
* * *
Forty-eight hours later, and Everly was breaking down the last moving box. The rent on her new apartment was obnoxiously high — nothing new for Harbor City — but she couldn't beat the commute. The Black Hearts Art Gallery was in the same building on the ground floor. Since she put in a ton of hours trying to keep the gallery in the black while covering her nunni's expenses at the nursing home, that three-minute commute was worth the extra rent.
Moving all her stuff from her old, small apartment had been a pain in the ass, but it was done now. That deserved a celebration. She shot off a quick text to her friend Kiki, inviting her out for drinks, and then headed to the hall to drop the boxes in the recycling area. She made it two steps before the smell of smoke hit her.
She ran to the stairwell. It wasn't tire-fire thick black smoke, but there was still a gray haze floating up to the third floor along with the smell of charbroiled something to make her whip her phone out of her back pocket as panic squeezed her lungs. She didn't see smoke yet or hear an alarm, but she was sure that was just a matter of seconds away.
"9-1-1, what's your emergency?"
"There's a fire in my building."
After giving the operator her address, she hustled down the stairs with only one thought in mind — getting the hell out of there before she got stuck in some sort of towering inferno situation.
"Fire!" she hollered on her way down, knowing her voice was loud enough to carry back to Riverside.
She made it to the second-floor landing when someone called out her name. Acting on instinct, she turned and immediately regretted the too-fast movement. Her four-inch heel caught in the carpet, and she flailed forward, gravity yanking her downward at the same time. Moments before she could stop her fall with her nose, a strong arm wrapped around her middle and yanked her back against something unyielding and — she sniffed — smelling of burned baker's chocolate.
"You okay?" Tyler asked, letting her go once she'd regained her balance.
"We gotta go." She grabbed his hand and yanked him toward the stairwell — well, she tried to yank him, but he was too solid and muscular for her to move an inch. "The place is on fire!"
"What? No. I was cooking and set the heat too high in the oven," he said, as if it were no big deal to almost burn down a building. "It was smoking up my whole apartment when I got out of the shower."
She looked around, noticing that the smoke was indeed lessening. That's when the first blare of the sirens sounded, barely louder than the fear pounding through her body. "The fire department."
"Tell me you didn't call them," he groaned. "They've already been out three times this month."
"For your cooking?" she asked, not thinking about her question, just concentrating on calming her breathing before she hyperventilated. After the apartment complex next to hers had burned to the ground when she was a kid, even the idea of a building fire freaked her out.
He crossed his arms across his chest. "Yeah."
Any other time and she would have checked out the way his biceps looked in his short-sleeve shirt and the sinewy lines of his forearm. Arm porn was usually her weakness. As it was, she was too busy giving herself a pep talk to do more than barely notice. In. Out. In. Out. Don't lose your shit. Stay in control.
"Ever think of cooking lessons?"
His jaw squared and the vein in his temple bulged. "Ever think of checking things out before you overreact?"
"Overreact?" And whoosh, the panic came roaring back along with the memory of the screams coming from that burning building. "I came out of my apartment and the hall was filled with smoke."
He looked up the stairwell, and even with the anger dueling with her panic, she couldn't help but take advantage of the perfect opportunity to take a long look at his face without being observed. The man was too good-looking for her taste. Square jaw. Model-perfect nose. Dark hair that could work in a shampoo commercial. And his eyes? That shade of blue should be outlawed for what it did to a woman's heart rate — not to mention her panties — when he stared right at her.
They hadn't run into each other since the day she'd moved in. When she'd gotten over her annoyance at his rude suggestion for voice lessons, she'd remembered the fatigue she'd seen around his eyes. Another neighbor had mentioned he'd just gotten back from Europe, and she'd been prepared to let the mishap go and start fresh. She'd reminded herself that just because a man is rich and would go to the lengths of taking voice lessons to shed his blue-collar upbringing did not make him like her father. The fact that he'd wanted her to lose her accent too though was a red warning label in neon lights that she would do well to pay attention to.
But they were going to be neighbors for a while, so it was prudent to not create avoidable situations. Nothing to do with how his hand had felt holding hers or that ridiculously sexy half grin he'd tried to use on her. Of course, her second impression of him was not faring any better than the first.
"I barely see any smoke," he grumbled.
She jerked her gaze upward and saw ... nothing but air. "It must have dissipated."
"Sure it did," he said, sounding exactly the way her nunni had whenever she'd called Everly out in a lie without actually using the words "liar, liar, pants on fire." The sound of sirens blared outside, followed by the thunder of booted footsteps on the stairs. "Tell that to the firefighters."
She did. They weren't convinced. By the time the firefighters had checked the building, specifically Tyler's apartment, and left, she was more than ready for that drink with Kiki. Before she could head back upstairs, though, Tyler appeared next to her with a bakery box that he handed to her with an apologetic grin. Inside was a plate of burned-to-hockey-puck-hardness brownies. And that solved the mystery of what in the hell had been smoking up the building.
"And then he just left?" Kiki asked a few hours later while they were tucked away in a corner booth of their favorite wine bar.
"Yep," Everly said, still trying to wrap her brain around it. "He walked back into his apartment and closed the door."
Peering at her over the top of her wineglass as she took a drink, Kiki gave her friend a questioning look. "This is the hot one you talked to in the hallway who made the crack about your accent?"
"Yep." God, she got sick of people thinking someone with her accent needed to change it or she wouldn't be taken seriously. All through college that had been the number one piece of advice from people in the art department. She'd told them to take a flying leap then, and she would now, too. She was proud of where she was from, and even people from Riverside could appreciate art.
"And today he gave you inedible brownies?" Kiki asked. "Do you think he's crazy?"
She shook her head. "Just pissy."
"Look, you're gonna have to live in the same building as the guy. I say you make a peace offering."
It wasn't a bad idea. Who wanted to go to war with their neighbor as if they were urban Hatfields and McCoys? "Suggestions?"
"Here." Kiki reached into her purse and whipped out a gift certificate for her company, Be Merry Catering. "The guy obviously can't cook. I can provide a week's worth of meals. All he has to do is call and tell me what he wants from our at-home menu."
It was brilliant. "You're the best."
"True story." Kiki lost some of her teasing humor. "So how did your last visit with Nunni go?"
A heaviness invaded Everly, and her limbs felt like concrete blocks. "About as well as could be expected with the dementia. She thought I was my mom again."
Kiki winced in sympathy. "So you got the lecture?"
Excerpted from "The Schemer"
Copyright © 2018 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.