“She wants to get Wilde. She should be careful what she asks for.” —Ethan Wilde
There are worse things in life than owning a thriving business in the heart of Manhattan and being labeled one of the Big Apple’s most eligible bachelors. Trust me, I know. I’ve had some bad $h!t go down before I got to where I am.
No matter what curve balls life lobs at me, I take a swing. If I strike out, I learn, adjust, and make the best of it. For instance, when an injury ended my dream of playing in the Bigs, I could’ve sunken into self-pity. When my fiancée dumped me about thirty seconds after the major league scout did, I could’ve become a drunk. Instead, I got off my ass, finished my senior year of college, and put the degree my baseball scholarship earned me to work.
Seven years later, I’m living a new dream. I’m single, well off, and about to take my business to the next level. I’ve got plans for A Pound of Flesh Fitness gyms to open nationwide.
Except the one person standing between me and my dream has become a fantasy. A hot, redheaded fantasy. My competition…my business enemy, is five feet nothing and packed full of dynamite, and I can’t get her out of my mind or my fantasies. Her sexy as sin body, her sultry voice, and her bold personality that’s just as fiery as her hair may have gotten under my skin, but there’s no way I’ll let her stay there.
Because no one gets to Ethan Wilde.
There’s just one little detail I can’t stop wondering about. The one thing that has brought men down since the beginning of time. I can’t leave it alone until I know for sure: Is she a true redhead?
The Checkmate Inc. Series
I’m so getting laid tonight.
One elbow propped at the far end of the long bar at 7th Inning Stretch—my favorite sports bar on 79th—I angle my body so I can sip my frosty mug of Guinness with the whole crowd in view. It’s Friday night, and every bar in Manhattan is teaming with energy that flows through New Yorkers looking to blow off steam.
I mean, why shouldn’t I get laid? The organizers of the Big Apple’s first annual Weekend Warrior competition haven’t shown, and I seem to be the only person who didn’t get the memo that tonight’s meeting is canceled. No reason to sit here all by my lonesome.
I scan the possibilities. I mean, scan the room…because I’m not a total douche when it comes to women. My Irish mother taught me better manners than that. I understand and appreciate the value of a woman and how to treat her, and I’m always honest about my aversion to long-term commitments.
But, hey, I’m a guy. I’ve got sex on the brain most every waking hour, and a lot of the non-waking hours. too. Why do you think they call it morning wood? We wake up with a hard-on because we dream about sex. A lot.
I just don’t like to get attached. Not after getting fucked over in my early twenties. I’m not wet behind the ears anymore, and I don’t take advantage of women who are. I like the women I’m with to be in it for the same reason I am—one and done. No expectations beyond that, and no one gets hurt.
For instance, take the tall blonde at the corner table. The dark red brick wall at her back makes her long blonde hair stand out, and she catches my eye. She’s giving me a predatory smile that speaks a thousand silent words. That knockout body of hers, which is gloved in a slinky black dress that shows a ton of skin, will feel really good sliding against me when we’re both naked. She’ll get out of bed when she’s done with me and make small talk while she pulls on her clothes. With a wink and a free-spirited kiss, she’ll say, “I had a nice time.” Then she’ll leave without asking if we can hookup again.
Maybe we’ll stay friends. Maybe we won’t. One thing is for sure, though. We’ll never cross home plate again, and I know she’ll be fine with that. Her smoky gaze tells me she’s not looking at the long game. She’s only thinking about tonight’s adventure.
Just my type.
I turn back to the bar and peel off a few bills to cover my tab and a hefty tip.
“Thanks, man,” Chase Manning says.
Chase and I played baseball together in college. His dream of playing pro ball died about the same time as mine, but for different reasons. He didn’t wallow in self-pity either. He started this bar with a couple of our teammates, Jacob Rush and Pete Steele. Now they’re living the life.
“Sure thing, dude.” I grab my beer and turn around again to go introduce myself to the pretty blonde.
“Hi.” An attractive redhead is standing right behind me and I almost plow into her.
“Whoa,” I pull up short. Where the hell did she come from?
At six-one, I tower over her. She’s all of five-foot-nothing, so I look down to make eye contact.
It’s like something moves in my chest. The nuanced bar lighting glints off her silky auburn hair. It tumbles around her shoulders in long, loose waves and frames her creamy cheeks. Her sea green eyes glitter as she smiles up at me. Oh, not the same way the blonde did. Red’s smile is both sexy and sweet. The kind of sweet that says she probably isn’t looking for a one and done. She’s more of a long game kind of girl.
Hot as hell, but not my type.
I glance past all that sexy red hair, and the blonde is frowning in my direction. I should breeze past Red. Make a beeline to Goldilocks who has been eye-fucking me for the last several minutes.
Instead, my gaze slides back to Red. Goddammit.
She’s still smiling up at me, but a small wrinkle knits her brow. I want to run my finger over it to smooth away her worry.
Don’t go there. Look away!
Swear to God, that smile has the angel on one of my shoulders shouting at me to run. Unfortunately, the devil on my other shoulder is doing a victory dance.
I let my stare travel over her toned shoulders, covered only by the thin straps of her green sundress. I can’t help but think how perfect the color matches her amazing eyes. My gaze dips to her thin waist. She definitely works out. Then my stare travels all the way down her firm legs. I’m greeted by hot pink toenails, which are hemmed in by a pair of blingy platform flip-flops.
I probably should mention the only reason I’m familiar with the term blingy platform flip-flops is because I’ve got a younger sister. Anyway…
There’s something vaguely familiar about Red, but I can’t quite put a finger on it.
I would, however, love to put a finger on her. Anywhere on her body she wants.
Not gonna happen, though.
Red pulls in a weighty breath like she’s gathering courage. “Would you like to have a drink?”
I’m about to say no and excuse myself. Really, I am. But I glance at Goldilocks, who gives me a glare that could reduce the entire building to a pile of rubble. She snatches up her purse and storms through the crowd and out the front door.
Hopefully to meet a therapist for anger management counseling.
Red eases up to the bar next to me. “I’ll have an Appletini,” she says to Chase.
I don’t miss the slight lift of his eyebrow. This is a sports bar not a trendy cocktail lounge. Appletinis aren’t in high demand.
I shrug when Chase shoots me a look. “I’ll have another Guinness,” I say.
He has the drinks in front of us in a flash because he’s good at his job. 7th Inning Stretch isn’t rated one of the top sports bars in Manhattan for nothing.
The crowd has grown thicker, the din of laughter and buzzed chatter has risen to a low roar. And I have no idea why the fuck I’m still standing here, drinking with a girl who’s gone completely silent and won’t look me in the eye. Red faces the bar and sips her Appletini. I take a long swallow of brew and study her profile.
The slight upturn at the tip of her nose is cute.
Wait. What the fuck? Did I just think the word cute?
I slam my mug to the counter harder than I’d planned, and she startles. Those green eyes turn on me, and they’re as big and bright as the sun.
There goes that shift in my chest again. It’s like gerbils have rented space in there and are making good use of their spinning wheel.
“Look, thanks for coming.” A nervous smile turns up one side of Red’s mouth. “I know it’s awkward, but it never hurts to meet new people, right?”
No idea what she’s talking about, but I don’t ask her to explain. Can’t because my stare is glued to her full, sexy-as-fuck lips as they mold around the rim of her glass and she takes a long pull of the fruity cocktail.
And now that I’ve let the words cock and tail off their leashes in my filthy mind, my chest isn’t the only part of my anatomy that’s shifting. Especially when she swallows and traces her full lips with the tip of her pink tongue.
“I mean, this doesn’t have to be a marathon.” She’s shifting from one strappy flip-flop to the other like she’s getting more nervous with each word. “We just need to do it quick and easy.” She takes another nervous sip of her Appletini, a rosy color seeping into her cheeks. “I think an hour is plenty of time, don’t you? And if we want it to last longer, that’s fine. As long as I’m home by midnight. I’ve got a busy weekend.”
Now that’s a surprise. Red just might be the one and done type after all. I’m pretty good at reading women, but I gotta say, I didn’t see that one coming.
Aaaaand the shifting going on south of the border could probably register on a Richter scale now that the word coming has been thrown out there, too.
I realize I still haven’t said a word to this girl. You know, the one who has the look of a good-girl prom queen but just propositioned me. So unlike me to get tongue tied, but I’ve seriously misjudged Red.
I lean into her and let my gaze roam over her thick auburn hair. “Nice to meet you.” My voice is a low rumble, and I realize I’m even more turned on than I wanted to admit. “Red is my favorite color.” For hair…stilettos…thongs…and… My stare drops to several inches south of her waist.
She relaxes. “I’m Adeline. I’m really glad you’re as tall as you claimed on your dating profile. Did you know that height is the number one thing that men lie about?”
“What the fuck?” I blurt. “What do you mean profile?” I can guess, but I so don’t want to go there.
That wrinkle over her brow grows deeper. “Are you…Dave? From the online dating service?”
Now I’m offended. Don’t get me wrong. I have several friends who’ve met great people through online dating. It’s just not for me. I can find women on my own the good old-fashioned way. This is New York City, for fuck’s sake.
“Do I look like I need to sign up for desperate dot com to get a date?” Shit. That came out way more douchey than I intended.
One hand goes to her hip, and the color of her eyes darkens to the deepest shade of emerald I’ve ever seen. “I guess not, but you might consider joining Assholes Anonymous.” She puts her drink down and fumbles through her purse. “Sorry for the mix up. I’ll just pay for my drink and be on my way.”
Best idea I’ve heard since she walked up a few minutes ago. No idea why I shrug and say, “Suit yourself, but I bet I’m a lot more fun than Dave.”