Always putting business before pleasure, Cassie McPherson works hard for her family's construction business. That might explain why she doesn't have a date for the company Christmas party. But it doesn't quite explain why she's crazy enough to hire an escort for the event or - crazier still - why she's dying to unwrap him like a present . . . With whiskey-colored eyes and a killer smile, James is one gorgeous hunk who really knows how to fill out a tuxedo. He charms everyone, including Cassie. And when the night ends, the party doesn't stop. As Cassie falls, literally, into his bed, James falls head over heels in love. Now he has to figure out a way to tell her the truth: he's not an escort. He's her family's fiercest business rival. But all he wants for Christmas is her . . .
Release date: September 25, 2012
Print pages: 337
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Hunk for the Holidays
—RT Book Reviews
“Lane gives readers a rip-roaring good time while making what could feel like a farce insightful and real, just like the characters themselves.”
“Nosy townsfolk, Texas twangs, and an electric romantic attraction will leave readers smiling.”
“Katie Lane is quickly becoming a must-buy author if one is looking for humorous, country romance! This story is an absolute hoot to read! The characters are real and endearing… the situations are believable (especially if one has ever lived in a small town) and sometimes hilarious, and the romance is hot as a June bug in July!
—Affaire de Coeur
“A delightful continuation of Going Cowboy Crazy. There’s plenty of humor to entertain the reader, and the people of the town will seem like old friends by the end of this entertaining story.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Funny, entertaining, and a sit-back-and-enjoy-yourself kind of tale.”
“If you’re looking for a romance true to its Texas setting, this is the one for you. I simply couldn’t put it down.”
“I absolutely loved Colt! I mean, who doesn’t like a bad boy? Katie Lane is truly a breath of fresh air. Her stories are unique and wonderfully written… Lane, you have me hooked.”
“Another fun read and just as good as [Going Cowboy Crazy]… a perfect example of small town living and the strange charm it has. I really enjoyed reading this one and hope that Katie Lane is writing a third.”
“It will make you laugh, and then make you sigh contentedly. Make Mine a Bad Boy is a highly entertaining ride.”
“Romance, heated exchanges, and misunderstandings, combined with the secondary characters (the whole town of Bramble), who are hilarious… This is the perfect summer read. Katie Lane has a winner on her hands; she is now my new favorite author!”
“Entertaining… [with] a likable and strong heroine.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Ah, I want my own cowboy, tall, dark, and handsome, but alas he is only between the pages of the book, a good book at that. Katie Lane knows how to heat the pages and keep you burning for more. Romance, steamy love scenes, humor, witty conversation with a twang, all help the pages keep turning. I’m looking forward to reading other books written by Katie Lane.”
“An enjoyable romp… a fun, down-home read.”
—All About Romance (LikesBooks.com)
“I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It really reminded me of an early Rachel Gibson… or early Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Faith became a sassy, intriguing heroine… The chemistry between these two ratchets up to white-hot in no time.”
I want James Sutton taken out, Cass.”
Cassie McPherson smiled at her father’s gangster phrasing. It wasn’t that hard to picture Al McPherson toting a Tommy machine gun and issuing orders like the Godfather. As reigning chieftain of the McPherson clan and founder and president of M & M Construction, Big Al wasn’t a man you messed with.
“I don’t think we have anything to worry about, Dad.” She cradled the phone with her shoulder and shifted through the stacks of paper on her desk, looking for her day planner. “We both know that Sutton is low-balling. Either his employees are working for dirt cheap or he’s losing money.”
“Either way, I don’t like it. The Calloway Complex is the fifth project we’ve lost to him this year.” Big Al’s voice became louder, as it always did when he was losing his temper. “And I heard from Michaels that he’s wining and dining Steve Mitchell, hoping to get Slumber Suites away from us.”
Cassie found the planner, but not a pen. “Now, Dad, stop getting upset. It’s been only a few weeks since your heart surgery, and the doctor said you’re supposed to take it easy. I shouldn’t even be talking to you about work.”
There was a loud snort on the other end. “Bullshit! It’s my company, and I’m going to run it. And I’m sure as hell not going to let some young whelp straight out of grade school put me out of business.”
She located a pen beneath a Snickers wrapper. She stared at the small smudge of chocolate on the side and had to stifle the urge to lick it clean. “Calm down. He doesn’t have enough capital or clout to put us out of business. We could buy his company with pocket change.”
Her father snorted again, but this time with less anger and more humor. “That’s my girl. You think just like your dad.”
“I’ve been working on a plan to take care of Sutton.”
“A plan? Dad, it better not be anything that’s going to put you back in the hospital—or worse, in jail. Have you talked to the boys about it?” She used the edge of an envelope to wipe the chocolate off, then flipped open the planner to jot down the meetings she wanted to have after the first of the year. Unfortunately, the planner was only good through December. So instead she jotted down a list of things she needed to get done before the holidays—including her dreaded Christmas shopping.
“Why would I talk to your brothers about business?” her father said. “They aren’t the least bit interested. I have four sons, and it’s my little girl who got the business sense in the family.”
Cassie rolled her eyes and rocked back in the chair, resting her Frye boots on the desk and crossing her ankles. “Dad, they all have good business sense and work their butts off for the company. They just don’t spend all their time thinking about business. Besides, who can blame them when you forced them to spend every summer vacation in high school doing the grunt work?”
“You did it and loved it.” He chuckled. “The guys on the crews used to call you Cast-iron Cassie because you pulled your own weight. Hell, you can even drink them under the table, just like your old dad.”
She sighed. “Okay, old Dad, enough already. Stop worrying about James Sutton. There’s no way that Steve Mitchell is going with Sutton, not when his father was so happy with the hotels we built for him. But after the holidays, I’ll set up a meeting with him just to be sure. No, you cannot be there. Mom would have both our hides.”
“Speaking of your mother,” her father whispered. “The vulture has landed.”
Cassie laughed. “Give Mom my love, and I’ll see both of you tonight at the Christmas party.” She dropped her feet to the floor and leaned forward to place the receiver in its cradle, knocking over a stack of invoices.
She glared at the mess. This was the part of her job she hated the most. Paperwork. She would much rather be on site, whether in Denver or another city, planning and watching as simple steel and hard work turned into an architectural piece of art. She loved the smell of welded metal and the sounds of heavy equipment. Respected every carpenter, electrician, and steelworker. Her father was right: Her brothers might work for the company, but construction was in her blood.
Too bad her mother didn’t think it was ladylike for Big Al’s only daughter to be working on site. So Cassie was given the position of vice president in charge of accounts—pretty much a glorified accountant.
She heaved a deep sigh and bent down to pick up the invoices. It could be worse. Her mother had almost talked her father into sending her to interior decorating school. Which would have been a real disaster. She’d much rather do paperwork for M & M than stand around with some stuffy socialite while she decided between floral or stripes. One day she would get up the nerve to talk to her father about being an architect full-time. But not now, not after he had just gone through triple-bypass surgery. He didn’t need something else to worry about. James Sutton was quite enough.
What was the man up to?
Cassie flopped back in the chair. Everything her father had said was true. They had lost a lot of business in the last year to Sutton Construction. Until recently, she hadn’t been overly concerned; they had lost jobs before and would lose them again. But now she wondered if maybe her father was right. Could James Sutton actually be stupid enough to think he could run them out of business? If so, she didn’t believe in hiding out and waiting for the bomb to drop.
She sat up and reached for her phone just as her executive assistant walked in the door, looking like a cute blond Christmas elf in her green business suit and bright red high heels.
“Hi, Amy.” Cassie placed the phone back in its cradle. “Just the person I wanted to see.”
“Aren’t I the lucky one,” Amy said sarcastically.
“Lucky for you, you’re my best bud or I’d fire you for insubordination.”
“Then who would be your whipping boy?”
A frown wrinkled Amy’s smooth brow. “Did you skip lunch again today?”
Cassie stood up, smoothing out the wrinkles of her jeans while discreetly brushing away any chocolate crumbs from her lap. “No.”
Amy walked over to the desk and lifted the Snickers wrapper. “I wouldn’t call peanuts and chocolate lunch.” She shook her head. “You should learn to eat a little neater, Cass. Then I wouldn’t catch you every time.”
“Okay, so I had a candy bar. Shoot me. I was planning on getting lunch. I just haven’t had time.”
Amy crumpled up the wrapper and threw it in the trash can. “Even when you have time, you get one of those foot-long, artery-clogging dogs from the vendor. Smothered in sauerkraut and hot mustard.”
The mere thought of a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and spicy mustard had Cassie’s mouth watering. God, what she wouldn’t give for a couple dogs and an ice-cold beer. Unfortunately, there were other things to worry about at the moment.
She walked around her desk and leaned on the edge. “Okay, I’ll bring a tuna fish sandwich on Monday.”
“Monday is Christmas.”
“Okay, so I’ll bring a turkey sandwich on Tuesday. Now, what have you found out about James Sutton?”
“You want it from the beginning?” When Cassie nodded, Amy started sorting through the piles of paper, organizing them as she talked. If there was a personality type that came before A, Amy was it. “Sutton was born in Pittsburgh and comes from a lower-middle-class family. His father worked in the steel mills, and his mother was a housewife until she died of cancer when he was fourteen. Which would probably explain why he goes through women so fast.”
Cassie shot her a befuddled look. “Huh?”
“I read this article about how young boys—especially pubescent boys—can be traumatized by the loss of a mother. I guess sometimes it can affect their adult relationships—either they can’t get enough women or they don’t like women at all.”
Cassie rolled her eyes. “Well, I don’t care if Sutton is a womanizer or gay. I just want to figure out how he’s underbidding us. What else did you learn?”
It took Amy a second to remember where she’d left off. “After high school, he went to Penn State, graduating with degrees in business and architectural engineering. Then, after college, he started building houses in Las Vegas. He got in right before the market exploded and made a fortune. After the bubble burst, he moved here and got into the commercial side of things.”
Cassie turned and stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the steel-gray skies. “So the guy has more money than we thought.”
“If he does, he doesn’t show it. He lives in a nice but modest neighborhood. Although maybe he spends all his money on women. From what his assistant said, he has quite a few.”
Cassie whipped around. “You talked with his assistant?”
“Yeah, the Internet can give you only so much info.”
“Who did you say you were?”
“Amy Walker, of course. The woman didn’t have a clue. I told her I was thinking about doing an article on her boss for the business section of the Denver Post. She was more than willing to sit and gab. I think she has a major crush.” She batted her eyelashes. “According to her, the man is a real hottie.”
“Not in my book. In my book, he’s the jerk responsible for my father’s heart attack.”
Amy looked up from the planner she’d been reading. “Right. Along with fourteen-hour work days, bad eating habits, and lack of exercise. Any of that sound familiar?”
Cassie ignored the comparisons. “Okay, so maybe Sutton isn’t entirely responsible, but he played a big role in it.” She grabbed the planner out from under Amy’s nose and flipped to the next week. “Set up a meeting with him on Monday.”
“Right. Then Tuesday.”
“Most people take the holidays off between Christmas and New Year’s.”
“I bet he doesn’t,” Cassie said. “Just try it.”
“Speaking of the holidays”—Amy came around the desk and gave Cassie the once-over—“please don’t tell me that you’re planning on wearing jeans to the Christmas party.”
“Of course not. I brought something to change into just in case I didn’t have time to go home.”
“You never have time to go home. So what did you bring?”
“My burgundy dress.”
“No.” Amy stared her down. “I refuse to let you wear that thing one more time. Not when it belongs in the wardrobe vault for Saturday Night Fever.”
“But it’s a Liz Claiborne.”
Amy looked at her in disbelief. “My God, woman, you need to read some fashion magazines once in awhile instead of Architectural Digest. Liz might be fine for tea with your in-laws. But if you want to make a statement—attract attention…”
She swept out of the office and in less than a minute returned holding a hanger covered in long white plastic. “You need Versace. I took the liberty of shopping for you today at lunch.” She closed the door behind her. “I charged it to your credit card account, of course.” With a smile a mile wide, she whipped off the plastic to reveal a slinky red—
Cassie lifted an eyebrow. “Where’s the rest of it?”
“The shoes and accessories are in my office.”
“No, I mean, where’s the skirt that goes with it?”
“This is it.” Amy held it up to Cassie and nodded her approval. “Perfect.” She reached for the rubber band that held Cassie’s hair back and tugged it out, along with more than a few jet-black hairs. “You desperately need a cut and some highlights.” She plucked at the thick strands. “Lucky for you, men love long hair.”
“Cut it out, Amy.” Cassie grabbed back the rubber band. “I’m not you. The men who work for me would laugh their asses off if I tried to strut around like some froufrou girly girl.” She jerked her hair back into a ponytail.
Amy crossed her arms and glared. “You’re being stubborn again, Cass. Just because you dress femininely doesn’t mean men won’t take you seriously. Besides, you’re the boss’s daughter; no one would dare laugh at you. Not with Big Al as your daddy and four brothers. So live a little. Lighten up. Stop acting like one of the guys and start acting like a woman. A very attractive woman who needs to get laid before her female parts become an exhibit at the Smithsonian.”
Cassie’s eyes widened. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“Try eighteen months.”
Eighteen months? Had it been eighteen months? She turned back to the window and quickly did some mental calculations. Yep, it had been eighteen months since she’d been dumped by Mike. And not really dumped. Their split had been a mutual agreement after she’d come home to find him wearing a pair of her thigh highs. She might’ve forgiven him the hosiery if he hadn’t stretched out her most comfortable pair of black pumps.
She turned back around. “Okay, so it’s been eighteen months. So what?”
“So what?” Amy stared at her. “Are you telling me you’ve been so busy you haven’t had time to miss sex?”
No, she missed it. So much so that she just recently had to clean off all the hard water deposits from the pulse setting on her shower massager.
“So what do you want me to do,” she asked, “grab the first guy that walks through that door and slam him down on the couch?”
Amy laughed. “I would like to see that. Especially if the next guy through the door is Grumpy Gates. But how about just having sex with one of the hot escorts you hire?”
Cassie glanced around to make sure no one had slipped into the room without her noticing. “I told you not to talk about that,” she whispered.
Amy shrugged. “Why not? It was my idea.”
“And a stupid one, at that.”
“If you think so, why do you keep hiring them? Especially when all you do is take them to public functions, then go your separate ways.”
It was a good question. Why had she gotten into the habit of picking up the phone and ordering a guy just like she would chicken teriyaki from Mr. Tokyo? Maybe that was it. It was just so easy and convenient. And as much as she’d told Amy it was a stupid idea, it had worked out pretty well. Especially for a woman who had a family like hers.
If her brothers and father weren’t scaring men off, her sister-in-law and married cousins were trying to fix her up with “the perfect man.” The perfect man who always ended up being some imperfect date that she had to suffer through. She either spent the evening searching for conversation starters or fighting off some sex-crazed guy’s advances. Hiring a man to escort her was much simpler. The escorts were a little young, usually college students, but nice and well mannered. And because they didn’t particularly want anyone to know what they did for a buck, they were discreet. Sometimes she would get the same guy and sometimes she’d get someone different. It didn’t matter as long as her family assumed she was happy playing the field.
“So why don’t you just have sex with one of them and get it out of your system?” Amy asked.
“Because I could catch some fungus or worse, that’s why.”
“And you don’t think you could’ve caught something from Mike? If a man is sneaking into your underwear drawer, he’s sneaking into other places he doesn’t belong. Besides, haven’t you ever heard of a condom?”
“Those aren’t fail-safe, you know.” Cassie walked over to the couch and flopped down.
“Okay, so you don’t want to screw the hunka-hunka-burnin’-loves,” Amy said. “So stop hiring them and try to find a nice guy to date. Or do you just like the control so much that you’re addicted?” Her brown eyes narrowed. “That’s it, isn’t it? You can’t control your dad or your four brothers, but you can control some young sap for money.”
Man, the truth hurt.
“Shut up, Amy. Just because some of us have found the man of our dreams doesn’t mean the rest of us can be as lucky.”
The sparkle faded from Amy’s brown eyes, and she seemed to deflate right in front of Cassie. “I wouldn’t say I’ve found the man of my dreams.”
“What do you mean? Did you and Derek break up?”
“No.” Amy flopped down next to her and smoothed out her wrinkle-free skirt. “I just wouldn’t call him the man of my dreams.”
“But I thought you said he would make a perfect husband.”
“He would—I mean, he will.” Amy picked at a piece of lint on the arm of the couch. “He might not be the man of my dreams, but he’s dependable and very organized. Besides, I learned a long time ago that dreams don’t always come true. It’s much better to plan out your life and work toward things that are achievable. Derek is a great guy who loves me and Gabriella. What more could a girl ask for?”
Cassie thought she could ask for a lot more. “So you don’t love him?”
There was a long pause before Amy shook her head. “But love isn’t everything. I loved Gabby’s dad and look where it got me.”
It had gotten Amy pregnant and then cast off like a dirty shirt, not only by her high school sweetheart but by her own family. Amy was nineteen when she showed up at M & M with nothing but a GED, a baby girl, and a heart the size of Texas. Since then, she’d worked hard to be a good mom and put herself through college. After all she’d been through, she deserved to be happy. But since Cassie was struggling to find happiness in her own life, she wasn’t about to give advice. So she kept her mouth shut and stared down at the scuffed toes of her boots.
After a few minutes, Amy spoke. “Look, I’m sorry for getting on your case. I guess I’m just worried about you. Since your father’s heart attack, you’ve looked so lost.”
Cassie wanted to say “you don’t know the half of it” but instead she forced a smile and said, “I’m okay, really. I just need a little time off. And possibly some good sex.”
“Now you’re talking.” Amy stood up and forced a smile almost as fake as Cassie’s. “I’m going home to eat dinner with Gabby, so I’ll see you at the party. The rest of your outfit is on my desk, along with a few little Christmas gifts.” Before she closed the door, she issued one last order. “Live a little.”
Once Amy was gone, Cassie leaned back on the couch and looked at the tiny garment that lay across her desk. Maybe Amy was right. Maybe she was spending too much time at work. But since her father’s heart attack, she felt as if the weight of the company was on her shoulders. Her uncle and brothers helped, but her oldest brother had a family to worry about, Rory had just returned from Chicago, Patrick liked working on site, and Mattie was still in college. Which meant that she was the only one her dad could count on. She wasn’t about to let him down.
Getting to her feet, she walked over to the desk and lifted the dress up to her body. But certainly one night wouldn’t make a difference.
What the hell; it was almost Christmas.
Maybe it was time to get a little festive.
A few hours later, Cassie wasn’t sure if she looked festive or like a desperate hooker. The dress was a shirt with a hem and neckline that ran at opposite angles, showing off her right shoulder and a whole lot of left thigh. The “few little Christmas gifts” Amy had left included a strapless bra that shoved her boobs together and a satiny pair of panties that covered very little of the front and none of the back. Then there were the shoes, which weren’t shoes at all, but some kind of torture chambers that imprisoned her feet in skinny, crisscrossed red straps that ran from ankle to toes and kept her feet from sliding off the skyscraper spiked heels. Mike would have drooled over these puppies, she thought. Not that his size thirteens would’ve fit in them.
The entire ensemble made Cassie feel like a tall, flashing red light that said something like SEX FOR SALE; COME AND GET IT or DESPERATE, SEX-STARVED WOMAN NEEDS BREAK FROM SHOWER NOZZLE.
But Cassie didn’t have much of a choice. Her burgundy dress and shoes had mysteriously disappeared from the executive bathroom. Or . . .
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