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Lauren Layne’s Sex, Love & Stiletto series simmers to a boil as two high-powered magazine writers find love amid a war of words.
As a leading columnist for Stiletto, Grace Brighton has built a career warning women about rotten, cheating liars. She just never suspected her fiancé would be one of them. After Grace takes a heart-mending hiatus, her first assignment is to go on a couple of dates with a counterpart from the men’s magazine Oxford and report her impressions. Grace 1.0 may have been instantly smitten with the gorgeous correspondent, but Grace 2.0 has sworn off relationships for six months, and she’s not falling for his outstanding bod and trophy-winning kisses . . . or is she?
Jake Malone wants to get back to the fly-by-night, who-knows-what’s-next guy he used to be, and he knows exactly how to do it. Oxford is adding a travel section, and Jake—with no wife and no kids and a willingness to live anywhere, eat anything, do everything—is perfect for the job . . . except that his playboy reputation makes his new editor nervous. To get the gig, he must agree to a fluffy joint article with Stiletto. But after just one date with snooty, sumptuous, sensational Grace Brighton, Jake starts taking this assignment a whole lot more seriously.
LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH – EXCERPT
“You want this one?” he called.
That got her attention. “What?”
Mr. Too-Good-Looking gestured toward the open cab door. “The cab. You want it?”
She narrowed her eyes as though to ask,
His grin never faded as he nodded toward the cab. “Come on now. You have I’m-in-a-hurry written all over you.”
Of course she did.
She was in a hurry. Normally, being a little late to a Monday staff meeting wasn’t a big deal. As long as it didn’t happen regularly, her boss was pretty chill about such things. And Grace in particular was likely to get a free pass—she’d been out of the office for a month, and everyone would figure she was struggling to get back into the swing of things.
Everyone would be understanding. Oh, poor Grace, give her a break. She’s been through a lot.
Her stomach twisted at the thought. Hell, no.
A quick scan showed her that another cab had turned onto the street but had already been flagged by someone upstream. Crap.
“You’re sure you don’t mind?” she asked, not making eye contact with the stranger.
In response, he stepped aside and gallantly swept his arm toward the open door. All yours.
Apparently chivalry wasn’t entirely dead after all, and for that, Mr. Charming got a smile. A small one.
“Thank you,” she murmured as she hurried to the waiting cab. “I really appreciate it.”
“Consider it a thank-you,” he said in a low voice when they were face-to-face.
“A thank-you for what?” Damn it. She hadn’t meant that to come out all low and flirty.
“For looking the way you do.”
Grace blinked in surprise, torn between flattery and disgust. “Wow. Wow. That is some line.”
He grinned, and suddenly the perfect white teeth looked a little . . . predatory.
“Too much?” he asked, looking slightly sheepish.
Grace lifted a shoulder as she lowered herself into the cab. “A little obvious. Maybe go back to the drawing board on that one.”
She tilted her head up to give the guy one last thank-you only to realize that he was no longer standing beside the cab. He was getting into the cab.
“What are you—what the—hey!” she said as he gently tapped the backs of his fingers against her hip in a universal move-over gesture, before crowding her to the other side of the taxi.
“Where to?” he asked as he shut the door. The admirably patient cab driver started the meter and turned around. Both men looked at her expectantly.
Pride demanded that she exit the cab, but practicality . . . she glanced at her watch. Crap. Fine. She’d share a cab with this cretin.
“Fifty-eighth and Eighth,” she said.
The cab-crasher paused in the process of pulling his phone out of his pocket, looking startled.
“What?” she snapped.
“That’s all the way uptown.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said sweetly. “Did I forget to mention that when I begged you to share a cab with me?”
He shrugged and turned back to his phone. “Doesn’t bother me. Tribeca’s just an interesting neighborhood choice for someone who works in the Central Park West area.”
Grace straightened her shoulders and looked primly out the window. “I like Tribeca.”
Actually, Grace wouldn’t have minded escaping the land of yoga moms and upscale day cares to try a new part of town. But after she’d packed up and moved out of the apartment she’d shared with Greg, she hadn’t been about to tuck her tail between her legs and slink off to the furthest possible neighborhood from him.
Instead she’d picked one of the newer buildings just a few blocks from her old place. Far enough to have a different Starbucks, but not so far that anyone could mistake her as running away.
If he wanted to put more distance between them, then he could pack his shit and move uptown, crosstown, out of town, off the planet . . .
She felt the stranger studying her, but she didn’t turn to meet his eyes.
“Got a husband?” he asked.
Grace stiffened. “No.”
“No.” Although I thought I was on the verge.
“No!” she exploded, finally whipping her head around to glare at him. “A little personal, don’t you think?”
“Sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all. “Tribeca is just very family-friendly. I thought maybe that’s why you picked it.”
“Do you have a wife, kid, or dog?”
“No way,” he said as he began typing something on his phone.
Of course not. This man practically reeked of bachelor.
“Then why do you live here?”
“I don’t,” he said simply. “I live in midtown.”
Grace’s brow furrowed. “Then what the hell are you doing catching a cab all the way down here at eight in the morning?”
His eyes flicked up then, locking with hers and holding. His gaze wasn’t smug per se, but it was expectant, as though waiting for her to put something together . . .
“Oh!” she said. “Oh. That.”
He smiled but didn’t respond. He didn’t have to.
“Let me rephrase,” she said, not really sure why she was pushing. “If Tribeca is so family-friendly, why are you doing the walk of shame out of here?”
“Seems you’re not the only single woman lurking amid the day care set.”
Grace narrowed her eyes. “What makes you think I’m single?”
He typed a message on his phone before responding, then slid the phone back into his pocket and angled his body to face hers.
“You really want to know?” he asked.
No. She absolutely did not want to hear that her pathetic loser-ness was visible. “Yes,” she replied.
“The spark,” he said in a bored voice.
“The spark,” she repeated.
“Between us. You felt it,” he said, his eyes cutting to hers. “Women in a happy relationship don’t give off a spark like that.”
And damned if her stomach didn’t give a little flip. And double damn if she didn’t know exactly what spark he was talking about.
She feel it.
But she could just as easily ignore it.
“Happens all the time when I’m annoyed,” she said, keeping her voice placid and bored.
He grinned again. “And that,” he said, pointing a finger at her, “that prickliness—that’s how I know you’re not just single, but recently single.”
Grace folded her arms across her chest. “Well, don’t you just have me all figured out.”
He leaned his head back on the seat as though bored. “Let’s see . . . you’re late twenties, I’m guessing twenty-eight, give or take, but you take care of yourself. Probably yoga, because you read in some magazine that it’s good for your mind and body, and you think balance is pretty much the holy grail. You love your job, mainly because it allows you to wear tight skirts and high heels, although you have family money that supplements your income, which is why said skirt and high heels are designer instead of off the rack. The hair color’s natural, the lip color’s not, and the only reason you didn’t go flying out of the car when I climbed in here with you is because you’re desperate to get to your oh-so-important job.”
He turned his head to meet her murderous gaze and gave a wide grin. “How’d I do?”
“I’m twenty-nine,” was all she said in reply, narrowing her eyes slightly. “But not bad.”
And then, because he’d been so damn right about her—scarily right—Grace gave him her best ice-princess smile. The one that ensured drunk guys in bars kept their distance, and that catty women didn’t dare gossip about anyone in Grace’s circle of friends.
But this guy? This guy didn’t seem to interpret her special smile for what it was. Because if anything, his dark brown gaze grew warmer.
No. It grew downright hot.
And suddenly Grace realized that she was playing it all wrong with this guy. Even though she shouldn’t be playing at all.
This guy didn’t need ice from her—he could melt it with that perfect grin and won’t-you-come-to-my-bed eyes. No, this one deserved fire.
Fire was something Grace Brighton had always been a little short on.
But luckily for this jackass, she’d spent the past several months getting over the bone-searing pain of having the former love of her life cheat on her.
And now? Now she was done with the denial. Done with the tears.
The anger had set in.
So yeah. She just happened to have a fresh dose of fire in her arsenal.
“My turn,” she said sweetly.
His brows lifted condescendingly. “Think you’ve got a read on me, huh?”
Oh, I know I do.
See, the guy had been pretty dead-on in his assessment of her, but there was one very important detail that he hadn’t hit on. The job that enabled her to wear her “tight skirts and high heels”? That job just happened to be a career in this very type of thing.
And then writing about it.
Sure, Greg might have pulled the wool over her eyes—maybe stomped her ego a little bit—but Grace was determined to regain her title as Stiletto magazine’s expert on men and the games they played. She wasn’t one of the lead columnists of the country’s best-selling women’s magazine for nothing.
And this guy was what she needed to get back in the saddle.
“So let’s see,” she said, resting her head against the back of the seat and mimicking his posture. “You work out religiously, probably to counteract the scattering of gray hairs popping up prematurely at your temples. I say prematurely, because you’re only thirty-three, but you work hard and you play hard, and you hate like hell that you can’t control your hair as easily as you do your biceps. Your job requires you to be endlessly charming, something that you happily carry over to your personal life, which I’m guessing means your longest relationship is somewhere in the proximity of . . . four months? Give or take. You fancy yourself a New Yorker, but your accent smacks of small-town Midwest—something you probably hate, though you’d never tell your parents, whom you’re close to.”
Grace paused to take a breath.
“It’s never occurred to you that a woman wouldn’t want to share her cab with you, and now you’ll spend the rest of the day wondering why I wasn’t fishing for a reason to give you my number. Then you’ll forget all about me tomorrow when the next tight skirt catches your eye. Also, your one-night stand with Miss Tribeca guarantees you’re wearing yesterday’s suit, although I’m guessing you drew the line on dirty underwear, which means you’re currently commando, which, in conclusion, I would like to point out is completely disgusting.”
As if on cue, the taxi came to a stop in front of her office building, and she pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and leaned over to tuck it neatly into his suit jacket pocket.
“How’d I do?” she asked sweetly, her hand already going for the door handle.
He moved quickly, reaching out a hand to grab her wrist even as he pried open her fingers and placed the twenty back into her palm. “Not bad,” he said, his voice husky.
Her eyes collided with his, and if they’d been warmly flirtatious before, they were burning hot as hell now. “But?” she asked, more than a little curious about how close she’d come.
His thumb flicked across her inner wrist, making her pulse jumpy. “You got everything right but one detail.”
She gave him a look of sympathy. “So you are wearing the dirty underwear, then?”
“No,” he said, his voice dropping even lower. “I mean you were wrong about the part of me forgetting you by tomorrow.”
Grace’s mouth went dry.
“Something tells me I’ll be remembering you for a long time.” With that, he released her arm, and Grace clawed for the door handle, her composure completely shot to hell by one handsome guy.
Grace 1.0 was practically tittering at the pretty words, and 2.0 was howling at the sky in anger.
Since 2.0 was noisier, Grace clung to disdain instead of swooning, and refused to spare the man a second glance as she tucked the twenty-dollar bill back into his pocket and climbed out of the cab.
Good girl, Grace 2.0 said with a little football-player-style slap on the ass. This is supposed to be your time. Single time, girl power, whatever you want to call it.
Right. Got it. Grace straightened her skirt and headed into the lobby of the Ravenna building for the first time in over a month.
First day of her new life and all that.
It was time to figure out who Grace Brighton really was. And that meant no relationships. No sex. No men. For six months, at least.
Especially not tall dark playboys who climbed into cabs with strange women and likely skipped underwear after one-night stands.
About Lauren Layne
Lauren Layne graduated from Santa Clara University with a B.S. in political science that she has yet to put to good use. After dabbling in an e-commerce career, she decided to quit talking about writing and actually do it. A Seattle native, Lauren’s also tried on the Bay Area, Orange County, and most recently Manhattan. She’s currently back in the Pacific Northwest, missing the big-city life but also enjoying the cheap price of wine in the burbs. She lives with her husband and badly behaved Pomeranian.
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