“Rookie? She’ll be an expert when I’m done teaching her.” —Dex Moore
Smart guys make the best lovers. We’re curious and want to learn as much as possible, especially when it comes to women. Women are the most fascinating and complicated species on the planet, right? So when we meet a lady who piques our interest, it drives our curiosity to soaring heights. We want to study her. Figure her out.
Lucky SOB that I am, I’ve built a career on this very thing. As a founding partner of Checkmate Inc., a company that’s grown into a multimillion-dollar business, I’m a quasi-celebrity. It’s a role I never expected, and out of all three Checkmate partners I’ve somehow been labeled the jet-setting playboy.
I don’t mind the smokescreen. I can’t commit to a serious relationship while I trot around the globe to oversee our expansion, a venture that could bankrupt Checkmate if I don’t keep my eye on the prize. Besides, the only woman I’d like to study, figure out, and unlock her ear-splitting cry of ecstasy is the one woman I can’t have. And since she’s one of my closest friends and my business partner’s sister, a jet-setting playboy image is the perfect facade to hide my true feelings.
The Checkmate Inc. Series
“Rookie? She’ll be an expert when I’m done teaching her.” —Dex Moore
Let me share a little secret. Smart guys make the best lovers.
Why, you ask? Plain and simple: we work harder for it. Ever heard the phrase curiosity killed the cat? Well, if that were true, anyone with an IQ over 140 would be dead, including me. Let me assure you, I’m alive and well and living the dream.
You see, a high IQ often leads to curiosity and a desire to learn as much as possible. That’s how we humans managed to land a man on the moon, discover antibiotics, and invent social media. That innate curiosity also makes us smart guys want to unlock the mysteries of women. I mean, women are the most fascinating and complicated species on the planet, right? So when we meet a woman that piques our interest, it drives our curiosity to soaring heights.
We want to study her. Figure her out. And if a guy is not only smart but also savvy, he’ll want to find the key that unlocks her mind-blowing, roof-raising orgasms.
Lucky son-of-a-bitch that I am, I’ve built a kick-ass career on this very concept. Okay, my job isn’t really built on the orgasm part. But Checkmate Inc. is definitely successful because we focus on the whole man and helping him transform into a better partner. In my humble opinion, a big part of being a better partner is making sure the lady is satisfied between the sheets.
Soooo. High IQ, curiosity, women, orgasms…see the connection? Seems so common sense to me. Then again, the word obtuse has been used to describe me more than once. That’s right. I, Dexter Moore, was a certified chess team nerd back in the day. Deep down, I still am. Probably always will be. But you’d never know it from the muscle I’ve packed on at the gym, the sharp wardrobe I own, and the magazine covers I’ve graced with my business partners.
As a founding partner of a company that’s grown into a multimillion-dollar business, I’m a quasi-celebrity, and I’m not quite thirty years old. It’s a role I never expected when my college buddy convinced me to turn down a tech job on the West Coast to start Checkmate Inc. in the heart of Manhattan. Leo Foxx was the brainchild behind the company, but opening the retail arm was my idea. Now that we’re expanding our retail studios into Europe and Dubai, I’ve somehow been labeled the jet-setting playboy out of all three Checkmate partners.
Although it’s not exactly the image Checkmate wants, I don’t mind the smoke screen. I can’t commit to a serious relationship while I trot around the globe to oversee our expansion, a venture that could bankrupt Checkmate if I don’t keep my eye on the prize.
Besides, the only woman I’d like to study and unlock so I can hear her ear-splitting cry of ecstasy as I fuck her to the edge of heaven is the one woman I can’t have. And since she’s one of my closest friends and my business partner’s sister, a jet-setting playboy image is the perfect facade to hide my true feelings.
“Why do I find it so sexy when a guy says ‘fuck?’” Ava’s voice is the first thing I hear when I blow through the front door of her brother’s Upper West Side apartment for her twenty-fifth birthday party.
“Hey, man,” Leo says as I shuck my overcoat and hand it to him. His hair is the same dark blonde as Ava’s, and they look so much alike that it still startles me after all these years. “Business meeting first thing Monday so you can bring me and Oz up to speed.” Since Leo is Checkmate’s CEO, he’s always thinking of business. His new fiancée calls his name from the kitchen. “Welcome home. Glad you made it.” He nods in the direction of his sister’s voice. “It’ll mean a lot to her.” Leo disappears with my overcoat.
I’m jetlagged from traveling across more time zones than I can count, but I haven’t missed Ava’s birthday since I met her eight years ago. I follow that fearless voice and weave through the small crowd of guests.
“Seriously.” Her voice rings with humor and wit. “Is it normal to think a guy saying ‘fuck’ is hot?”
I want to shout fuck, fuck, fuck at the top of my lungs. My hand tightens around the bouquet of long-stem roses I picked up on the way from the airport.
She’s facing the wall of glass that looks out over Central Park, and the lights of Manhattan twinkle in the distance. The circle of guests gathered around her chuckle at her brazenness, and I smile as I walk up behind her. I love that about her too. She’s bold, bodacious, and ridiculously out of bounds sometimes.
It’s such a turn on.
I can barely control the urge to wrap my arms around her from behind and leave no space at all between us. I’d love nothing more than to feel that black clingy dress she’s wearing slide against my expensive Italian dress pants, her ass against my crotch. The red fuck-me stilettos with straps that wrap around her slender ankles would put her perfect, round ass right about level with my crotch, even though I’m over six-feet. I’d run a hand up her half-bared thigh until the mini-dress was hiked around her waist and my fingers were buried in her—
“Dex!” Ava catches my reflection in the window and spins around. “You made it.”
Fucking hell. I realize my jaw is hanging open, and I’m about to drool.
I swipe the back of one hand over my lips. “Uh,” I manage to say. Really? Being the sharp-dressed playboy I supposedly am with an exceptional IQ and all, uh is the best I can come up with?
My eyes slide shut just long enough for her to throw both arms around my neck and kiss me on the cheek. I stiffen because that’s become my automatic reaction to Ava. Every goddamn part of my anatomy goes rock-hard when I’m with her.
She hugs me tight. “I thought you were still in Dubai.”
I’m supposed to be in Dubai. I cut my trip short and hopped a flight just to be here with her. “I wrapped things up early.” I can’t stop myself. I turn my face into her honey blonde hair and breathe her in. Her perfume is sweet and seductive, and it envelopes me until she breaks our embrace and takes a step back. “I just landed and picked these up on the way.” I hold up the flowers.
I specifically bought yellow roses because they’re the symbol of friendship, or so said the florist who might as well have robbed me at gunpoint. The cost of twenty-five roses is almost as much as the set of bangle bracelets I bought for Ava in Dubai’s gold market.
I brush one hand down the front of my black custom suit jacket where the velvet box is nestled in the inside pocket. Ava is worth every cent and so much more. I can’t put a price tag on the kind of friendship we have. How important she’s become.
Even if I can’t tell her. Ever.
Which sucks balls.
“They’re beautiful.” She takes the bouquet and fingers a yellow petal. The tips of her long, slender fingers glide over the silky flowers. One smooth mound, then another.
My balls tighten. My mouth starts to water again, and I clamp it shut so none will escape. Yes, drooling is another response that is beyond my control when I’m with her. My best friend’s kid sister. The girl I’ve helped look after since she was a teenager. The girl I swore to protect from douchebags. I want her.
Ava Foxx isn’t a flat-chested kid anymore. She’s grown into a beautiful woman who turns heads when she walks into a room. Which drives me batshit crazy because I don’t want other men undressing her with their beady eyes or fantasizing over her amazing body.
I want dibs on both.
Not going to happen, though. I can’t break the promise I made to her brother. Leo has tried to shelter her since they lost their parents in a car accident eight years ago. My buddy may be the only man on the planet who hasn’t noticed Ava is all grown up now, but hey, I can’t fault him for that. I admire his fatherly overprotectiveness because I never experienced it from my own dad.
“Happy birthday, Rookie,” I say low enough so only she can hear.
Her vivid blue eyes light up, and a sentimental smile plays at her lips. Happens every time I call her by the nickname I gave her a long time ago. It’s something we share with no one but each other, and that makes my heart thump against my chest. I like knowing I have a part of her that no one else has, even if it’s something as silly as a nickname.
She steps to my side and hooks an arm through mine.
“Everyone has met Dex, right?” she says to the group of friends standing in front of us.
They’re watching with curious expressions. The four young women who are partners in Ava’s up-and-coming web design agency called 5 Muse Designs are part of the small gathering. Vi lifts a brow. Bella raises a cocktail glass to her lips and lets it hover there without taking a drink as she stares at us. Peyton clears her throat, but everyone seems too mesmerized by my interaction with Ava to notice. Only Sophie seems oblivious. She’s the programmer at 5 Muse and the gear-head in her makes her as obtuse as me.
I realize I’ve let the player smoke screen vanish, and I’m wearing my heart on my forty-five hundred dollar sleeve.
No way am I giving Ava the rest of her birthday present now. The bracelets are pretty flashy, so I’ll wait until we’re alone.
I glance around the crowd. “Hi.” Another highly intelligent response from yours truly.
Everyone returns the greeting.
Gerard emerges from the dining room with his husband, Magnus, right on his heels. As always, they’re dressed razor-sharp, and their slightly graying hair gives them a distinguished and wise look. “Dexter, daaaaling,” Gerard says. They fly in my direction with both hands extended. Not to shake mine, mind you. Instead, they take turns grasping my shoulders and kissing both of my cheeks.
I stole this couple away from the fashion scene in Milan when we opened the retail arm of Checkmate. After years in Italy, they like to think of themselves as European. Gerard’s West Virginia accent is barely noticeable anymore.
“So glad you’re back,” Magnus says. “You look exhausted, Dexter.”
Since they train and manage all of Checkmate’s life-stylists, and I’m in charge of Checkmate’s retail studios, they both report to me. Truth is, they saved my ass. I mean, a straight guy—whose typical daily wardrobe included a Columbia University sweatshirt, white socks, and flip flops—wanting to open a chain of high-end clothing stores for men? Come on. After Leo and Oz finally stopped laughing and agreed to the venture, it took me all of thirty seconds to figure out I was in over my head.
Magnus and Gerard pull me toward the kitchen, one on each side. Each step leeches away the warmth I feel in Ava’s presence. As I leave her, coldness settles over me, even though Leo’s apartment is warm and cozy.
When I step into the kitchen, Leo has donned an apron and is helping his new fiancée, Chloe, prepare more food.
“Hey, Dex!” Chloe says, then holds out an open palm in front of Leo. “Told you he’d make it. Twenty bucks. Cough it up.”
I’ve only known Chloe a month and a half, and she can already read me too well. Her woman’s intuition could be dangerous. I absolutely do not want Leo to find out how I really feel about his sister.
Oz descends on me with a slap on the back. “You’re here.” Another brilliant deduction by a super smart guy. “You came all this way for free food and booze? You’re such a damn cheapskate,” Oz says like the hard-nosed smartass he pretends to be.
Okay, so the smartass part is right on target. But underneath the harsh exterior, he’s really a great friend with a heart of gold, and he does a kick-ass job with Checkmate’s research and development, so our products are always new, fresh, and cutting edge.
The three of us have been friends since our punk-ass college days on the chess team. We’ve come a long way since then, trading in our khaki team uniforms for expensive wardrobes. The only outward evidence that we were geeksters in our former lives is the glasses. We made a pact never to lose the glasses. Everything else that telegraphed ‘nerd’ is history. Even the casual jeans Leo and Oz wear nearly every day cost as much as a fucking Fiat.
I walk around the white granite and chrome island to give Chloe a kiss on the cheek. “You look great. Vacationing in Russia was good to you.”
She angles her cheek while cutting a stalk of celery into sticks.
“Sure you still want to marry this riffraff?” I nod to Leo. “I have better taste in clothes, and I drive a faster car.”
“Watch it, asshole.” Leo fans out the celery sticks on the tray. “I can still kick your ass.”
I lift both brows and point at his apron, which sports a picture of our favorite chess piece—the horse—and says Knight of the Kitchen. “Right. You’re a badass.”
Oz belly laughs.
“The Bolshoi was a spectacular engagement present from Leo.” She smiles at him and dishes up more finger foods. “I didn’t know we were going until we got to the airport. It was incredible, and he was a champ about the whole thing.”
“I don’t know, man.” Leo shakes his head. “The whole dudes-frolicking-in-tights thing was disturbing.” He tries to mask a shudder but doesn’t quite succeed. “Especially since we were sitting in the front row.”
When Magnus and Gerard both sniff and cross their arms, Leo says, “No offense. It’s just not my idea of sexy.”
I laugh and snag an hors d’oeuvre from Chloe’s tray. She swats at my hand.
“I almost forgot.” Oz pulls out his phone and taps the screen.
My pocket dings.
“I’m sending you a number.” Oz takes a sip of his beer. “Remember Cynthia Ethridge?”
How could I forget? I dated Cynthia several months ago. It was short lived but lasted long enough for our picture to show up in every gossip mag in the city. Turns out, Cynthia forgot to mention she had a husband tucked away on Long Island.
Oz still hasn’t let me live that one down.
He gives me an evil grin. I swear, I’m going to crush him into dust the next time we play chess.
I narrow my eyes at him. “What about her?” I’m sure I’m going to regret the question.
“I bumped into her the other day.” Oz takes another long, lazy drink like he’s enjoying this. “Wanted me to tell you hi since you’ve changed your number and she can’t reach you herself. She gave me her cell in case you’ve misplaced it.”
Right. Misplaced. “File thirteen.” That’s code for trash. I deleted Cynthia’s number about thirty seconds after I found out she was married. “I can find plenty of single women to date.”
“Blow up dolls don’t count.” Oz reaches for Chloe’s plate, and she cuts him down with a laser stare. He blanches and draws back an empty hand, at which point, Oz turns his smartassery back on me. “Regardless of what the gossip columns say, I know you haven’t been out with a woman in a while. Are you sure you’re not gay?” He makes a sweeping motion to indicate my attire. “I mean, you did take to the whole metro-stylish look like a duck takes to water.” Oz hitches his chin at Magnus and Gerard. “What do you guys think?”
They look me up and down. And that’s not the least bit awkward since they’re a married gay couple, and I’m straight as a fucking arrow.
Gerard shakes his head. “Not registering on my gay-dar.” He looks at his husband, who has one arm crossed over his chest and is tapping his jaw with the other hand as he studies me. “You?”
Finally, Magnus shakes his head. “Straight.” He sighs like it’s a shame, and he and Gerard wander into the dining room to join the fray of guests. And probably to polish off the rest of the champagne. Gerard is from Appalachian moonshine country, even if he acts European. Ish.
I take out my phone and delete the contact info Oz just texted to me. “Oops. I’m pretty bad about misplacing things these days.”
“That’s why you need an assistant,” Leo says. “I’m tired of both of you using mine. She has too much on her plate.”
My longtime assistant moved to California a few months ago, and I’ve yet to replace her. Oz, on the other hand, chews them up and spits them out like gum.
“I’m not going to be around enough to need an assistant of my own,” I say.
Both of my business partners frown at me. Chloe stops chopping some sort of unrecognizable vegetable and gives me a soft look.
“That’s what we need to discuss during Monday morning’s business meeting. During the expansion, I may have to be on-site more than we’d planned.” I reach for another hors d’oeuvre now that Chloe’s look seems more sympathetic.
She slides the plate in my direction.
“You’re still going to need an assistant.” Leo shrugs. “So we hire someone who can travel with you.”
I’ve got enough to worry about. I don’t want an assistant tagging along. Maybe after things settle down, I can hire someone, but not until I figure out what the hell I’m doing overseas. Until then, I’ve worked out a plan with Leo’s assistant. It’s called email, telephone, and Skype—pretty cool inventions. And it’ll be fine. I just have to nip Leo’s determined look in the bud before it takes root and grows into an oak tree. When he gets an idea in his head, he won’t let it go until the rest of us surrender. That’s how I ended up on the cover of GQ instead of Technology Today.
It’s also the reason my parents disowned me.
“No assistant right now.” I shake my head.
Leo ignores me. “I’ll have Human Resources start interviewing applicants.” He pops a carrot into his mouth and chomps. “Maybe we should hire a guy instead of a woman.” Ava walks in, holding an empty platter at the same moment Leo says, “Otherwise, you’ll end up fucking her.”
Ava stops cold and stares at her brother, then at me. The brightness in her eyes dims. It’s hardly noticeable, but I notice everything about Ava.
Oz laughs. “Dex fucking his assistant,” he says to Chloe, since she’s our public relations account rep. “Now there’s a PR nightmare for you.”
Ava’s eyes simmer, and her face flushes. Just barely, but I’ve come to learn every movement, every gesture, every miniscule flash of emotion in her expression, and I know this bothers her.
No one else seems to notice that Ava’s usual grand entrance has been replaced with silence.
And they call me obtuse.
An ache starts deep in my chest, but my chest expands at the same time because of what I hope this means. Her feelings for me might go deeper than friendship. And doesn’t that make me frontrunner for Asshole of the Year? I mean, really. I deserve a trophy or something, because no matter how we might feel about each other, I can’t go there. But I don’t like the look of disappointment on her face, and I want to do something…anything to wipe it away.
Truth is, I know exactly what I want to do to her. I want to take her in my arms and kiss her. I want to peel that goddamn dress off of her and fuck her to the edge of heaven. All night long.
Since that’s not possible, I scramble to salvage the situation some other way. “I don’t want any attachments while I’m working on the expansion, so I won’t be fucking anybody for a while.”
The shade of Ava’s face deepens to scarlet.
She’s so still, she could be carved from marble. She’s a work of art, more beautiful than any of the famous pieces I see in the museums around Europe when I travel there for business.
I’m a founding partner of a cutting-edge company that has made me filthy rich. I have a kick-ass apartment not far from here with a killer view. I’ve been labeled a drop-dead gorgeous player in the city that never sleeps. All things that can get me laid any night of the week and much more than twice on Sunday. So why does it suck so goddamn hard to be me right now?