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From the New York Times bestselling author of Off the Clock comes a story of love, hate, and the fire that ignites when the two collide...
Dr. Elle McCray has a plan. Work hard. Be the best. And do it alone. After her ex-husband’s betrayal, she’s learned being feared is a hell of a lot easier than being humiliated. So when trouble personified, Lane Cannon, dares to flirt with her, she shuts him down cold. Too gorgeous. Too cocky. And his job as The Grove’s sexual surrogate is to sleep with patients. No, thank you.
Former escort Lane Cannon has spent enough years with people looking down on him. Stupid. Trailer trash. Rent boy. He’s heard it all. He’s worked too hard to shed his past to let some haughty doctor cut him down. But something about Elle’s ice queen act has his dominant instincts perking up and his body taking notice. He can’t walk away.
After an evening of verbal sparring turns into a night of steamy hate sex, Lane’s ready for round two. But Elle proposes a business deal. How better to keep things strictly physical than to pay him for his services?
Lane wants her, not her money. But he’ll play along in exchange for one thing—all the control. It’s only supposed to be a dirty little fling between colleagues, but these two are about to learn a lesson in love…by the hour.
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Excerpt 1 (Long)
Every time she looked at Marin and Donovan together, that was all she could think about. I’ve become that woman. I screwed up and let myself feel something for a man. Once again, the man had reminded her exactly why she couldn’t let her guard down. He’d bailed, leaving her looking pathetic and petty. Runner-up to some other woman. Again.
Second place. First loser.
It was her own fault. She’d broken her rules. Lesson learned. Never again. That was the main reason she’d forced herself to this party—to show that she wasn’t bothered, that she was a grown-up. That, and the fact that it was her birthday and it felt a little too pathetic staying home alone for it. Not that anyone knew her calendar had clicked over to a new year today. The only birthday card in her mailbox had been from her mother. The inscription had been the same as the one on the Christmas card she’d received from her a few weeks ago. Best wishes. Love, Mom.
There’d been an expensive bottle of Pinot Noir delivered with it. Elle had brought it to the party as a gift, an olive branch of sorts. She’d even managed to congratulate Marin and mostly mean it. At the end of the day, it wasn’t Marin she was angry with. The situation with Donovan had been fucked up before the woman had ever arrived on campus.
As if hearing her name from Elle’s thoughts, Marin glanced her way, a wrinkle in her brow. The woman was probably wondering why Elle had shown up. They’d managed to forge a professional working relationship in the last month or so, but they were not friends who hung out after work and would never be. But before Elle could attempt to give some sort of polite, nothing-to-see-here nod, Marin walked with purpose over to one of the other guests. The man she singled out turned and offered Marin a smile full of warmth and affection, the expression lighting his already too handsome face.
An unwelcome ripple of awareness went through Elle.
Great. With all her ruminating, she hadn’t noticed him walk in.
Lane Cannon. Resident sex surrogate for The Grove’s sex therapy wing—or the X-wing, as most of the staff had dubbed it. Big. Blond. And way too cocky for his own good. Though, he probably should be, considering he’d figured out how to make a legitimate living sleeping with their wealthy, often famous clients. Therapeutic assistant. That was his official title. But in her opinion, getting some certificate in California didn’t make what he did much different than being a prostitute who happened to be a good listener.
She’d said as much to a colleague one day when he’d suggested one of the patients may benefit from Lane’s services. Of course, Lane had walked up and overheard her calling him a hooker. He hadn’t said a word, but the dimpled smirk he’d given her had held a big dose of go fuck yourself.
Then, he’d proceeded to talk to her colleague about the patient and ignore Elle completely.
First, it had pissed her off. It was her wing, dammit. Her patients. She’d started to interrupt, but then he’d sent her a look of simmering challenge, brow cocked, eyes daring her. For some reason, it had sent a rush of wildfire through Elle, heating her from the inside out, and it’d had nothing to do with anger.
She was so used to people deferring to her, being exceedingly polite, being professional because she was a doctor, because she was a boss, because she was in charge. Because she could be a scary bitch and didn’t apologize for it. But with that one look, Lane had thrown down the challenge. You don’t intimidate me, doctor. You don’t impress me. Just try and play those games and see what happens.
It had been further proof that her wires were tangled now when it came to sex and men. Other women wanted romance, sweetness, love. She’d been that way once upon a time. Her ex-husband had promptly burned that fantasy to the ground, exposing it for the sham it was. Window dressing on lies. Now, she got turned on by the thought of a good hate fuck. Those were honest. Those were real. Pure physical release.
And everything in that look that day had said that Lane was more than capable of hating her right into a screaming, begging-for-more orgasm.
So when Marin handed Lane a fresh glass of wine and nudged him Elle’s way, Elle should’ve known that it was time to get up and leave. She didn’t like Lane. He didn’t like her. And she certainly didn’t need Marin sending him over because she pitied Elle sitting alone. Screw that.
But Elle couldn’t seem to make herself get up and bail. With Lane eating up the space between them with those long, powerful legs, his green eyes locking with hers, she couldn’t seem to do anything at all. His lips curled at the corner, as if he knew the effect he had on her. To others, the expression probably appeared friendly. After all, he was the laid-back, good-time guy in everyone else’s eyes. The guy you’d call when you got a flat tire or if you drank too much and needed a ride. But she saw the wicked glint beneath. The one that said he liked to stir up trouble, that he liked to put people off balance. That he could put her off balance.
And damn, it didn’t help that he was nice to look at. Dark blue henley stretching over broad shoulders, jeans soft and worn in the right places, and thick-soled boots that made a heavy sound against the wood floor. Nothing pretentious or overdone. He looked like a guy who drank domestic beer and worked with his hands.
Hands. The thought snapped her back into reality. The guy did work with his hands. On other women. Hell. This is why she needed to steer clear of Lane Cannon. He scrambled her goddamned brain, especially after so many months of abstinence.
She sat up straighter in her chair and crossed her arms, sending the go away signal with a bullhorn. That always worked. She had a Ph.D. in that signal.
Lane ignored it. He grabbed the chair next to her, slid into it, and then plunked the glass of wine he’d been carrying onto the table in front of her. When she didn’t reach for it or acknowledge him, he draped his arm over the back of her chair as if she’d invited him there. He didn’t touch her, but his body heat warmed her neck as he stared out at the group like she’d been doing.
“You know, I’ve heard you can’t really kill someone with a look. But good on you for continuing to test the theory.”
She didn’t look his way and tried to keep her expression smooth as he did the man-spread next to her—knees wide, big body taking up too much space. He smelled like laundry soap and dark, rich beer. And when the side of his knee bumped against hers, soft jeans brushing bare skin, an uninvited spark of awareness shot straight upward, announcing his presence to her renegade lady parts.
She cleared her throat. “Brave of you to be a test subject.”
His lips quirked in her periphery. “I saw you give the death ray to Donovan earlier. Figured if he survived, I was safe.”
She frowned, hating that any of her emotions about Donovan had slipped through, hating that she even had emotions about Donovan. “Don’t be too confident. If you’re coming over here to tell me to smile or join the party, I may dial the look up to eleven.”
“Ouch, Spinal Tap level.” He took a drag off his beer. “But no. You do your thing. I don’t need you to smile and fake it to make me comfortable. I’m good.”
“Because you’re comfortable anywhere,” she said, not hiding the wryness in her tone.
He shrugged. “Pretty much.”
She grabbed the wine and sipped, enjoying the smooth warmth of it and hoping it would settle the jumpy feeling Lane’s presence was causing. “Must be nice.”
“It is.” He peered her way. “So why are you so uncomfortable?”
“Never said I was.” She took another long gulp of wine.
“Right. So you’re totally chill with watching the guy you used to hook up with fawn all over his new woman?”
The wine caught in her throat, making it burn and forcing her to cough. No one except Marin was supposed to know about her and Donovan’s history. They’d been so careful. “He’s not—we weren’t.”
“Calm down. Not judging. Just observant.” He glanced back at Donovan and Marin as the two goofed around and danced to some upbeat country song drifting from the jukebox. “If it helps, she turned me down for him. So that just proves that fate had a plan for them.”
She snorted. “Fate?”
“Absolutely. Because, let’s face it, I’m really hard to turn down. I mean, look at me.”
Elle turned automatically and he grinned.
“Made you look.”
She groaned. “Can you go away now?”
He swigged his beer. “Nope. This is fun. We should do this more often. Or are you afraid my hooker cooties are going to get on you?”
She sniffed. “If you’re expecting me to apologize for stating an opinion, don’t hold your breath. You get paid to get off. I call it like I see it.”
“Is that right?” He cocked his head. “Always so sure you know it all, huh? Must be a nice view from that glass tower.”
Her teeth pressed against each other.
He leaned in, getting way too close, and lowered his voice. “Truth is, you don’t see me at all, doc. You don’t try to see. Not me or anyone else at this party.”
Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her cooking, watching reality television, or picking up another hobby she doesn't need--in other words, procrastinating like a boss. She is a RITA Award winner and a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.
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