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Excerpt: An Ambitious Engagement

Excerpt: An Ambitious Engagement

Book 8: Clover Park Series

Luke Reynolds downshifted his Porsche 911 Carrera on the winding country road leading to the Majestic River golf course and grumbled to himself, “Friggin’ ass crack of dawn.”

He accelerated, flew over a dip in the road, shaking up the car, and making him take a deep breath. He wasn’t a morning person to begin with, but to be up this early on a Monday for a seven a.m. tee time in Connecticut, a good hour’s drive from his Upper West Side Manhattan apartment, was ridiculous. The only reason he’d agreed to the ungodly hour was because his prospective client, Bentley Williams, had told him Ken Ward, Luke’s competitor for the account, had already agreed to the time.

Grr…he had no idea who this upstart Ken was. He’d never heard of him before and could find literally nothing on him. He scratched at his light brown beard, considering his competitor. Must be some kind of stealth sabotage from a rival wealth management company trying to take advantage of the newly-made billionaire.

Bentley had unexpectedly inherited the Williams Oil fortune after his older brother died of a heart attack. He’d heard rumors that Bentley was a little eccentric, that his family had put him in charge of non-oil related activities. In other words, parties. That was just fine with Luke. He enjoyed a good party, especially if big spenders were there who needed some guidance in their future investments. Luke wanted this client so badly he could taste it. His firm, Campbell Financial Group, had a rare opening on the small team focused on the top tier of wealthy clients. If he could land Bentley, that promotion was his. Not to mention job security. His boss had recently confided, in a not-so-subtle attempt to light a fire under him, that the firm planned on downsizing every team except their top tier.

A cherry red Mustang started tailgating him. He hit the brakes, annoyed, and the car got right up on his bumper. He powered down the window and hollered, “Back off, asshole!”

He glanced in the rearview mirror to see a blond woman gesturing to him to speed up.

He slowed even more. It was a no passing zone—a narrow road with no center line and plenty of blind curves.

The Mustang gunned the engine and passed him with a roar. “It’s a thirty-mile-per-hour zone, Grandpa!” the woman yelled as she passed, nearly clipping his car and forcing him off the road. He slammed on the brakes, stopping a heart-stopping inch from a giant oak tree.

He smacked the dashboard. Grandpa? He was thirty-two years old! In his fucking prime! He hit the accelerator and veered back on the road, quickly catching up to her. He rode the tail of the Mustang, who sped up, dangerously fast for this stretch of dimly lit road. The sun was still partially hidden by the trees. He slowed. Fuck it. Let that idiot end up wrapped around a tree. Not him.

He blew out a breath and told himself to calm down. He mentally reviewed what his firm could offer Bentley through their connections and collective experience. What he personally could offer with his track record of successful investments, his prior years of experience on Wall Street trading stocks and managing portfolios, and twenty four-seven access to him through his personal cell number. He was more than ready for the big time as a financial planner to the rich.

By the time he arrived in the lobby of the Majestic River country club, his golf bag thrown over one shoulder, he was completely composed. Bentley, his thirty-year-old potential client, greeted him with a boyish grin. He was a good head shorter than Luke’s six foot and his messy brown hair falling into his blue eyes only added to his boyish look. He wore a blindingly yellow polo shirt with pink and green plaid Bermuda shorts. Two beautiful blondes stood on either side of him; one of them towered over him. Hell, maybe when you were a billionaire, you could have two blondes at all times. Luke had a couple million stashed away, partly earned, partly inherited from his asshole biological father, which never hurt in the woman department, though he’d never had a threesome. He didn’t like to share.

The tall blonde smiled at him, but his world stopped when the short blonde met his eyes with a fiery glare. The contrast of all that fire combined with her petite, almost angelic beauty had him soaking her in longer than was polite. Her blond hair was pulled back in a small ponytail that accentuated her delicate cheekbones and jaw. Smooth, creamy skin, pink lips, and a sexy athletic body, trim and toned with perky breasts, in a simple white polo shirt and white shorts. His hands actually tingled with the need to touch, until he reached her fiery blue eyes again and suddenly realized why all that fire was focused on him. This was the woman who’d run him off the road! She’d better not turn Bentley against him for his part in their little game of chicken. He pulled his wayward thoughts back on track and reached out to shake Bentley’s hand.

“Nice to meet you, Bentley, I’m Luke Reynolds.”

Bentley shook his hand vigorously, which made his messy brown hair fall even further into his eyes. He tossed his hair back with a shake of his head. “Great to meet you too! Hope it’s not too early for you. I’m an early bird by nature.”

“No problem at all,” Luke said smoothly. “Had a coffee on the drive in.”

“Good, good,” Bentley said, all early-bird smiles. “This is my wife, Candy.” The tall blonde beamed. With her high-heeled sandals, she matched Luke’s height.

Luke shook her hand and gave her his full-on charming smile that always worked on women. “So nice to meet you, Candy.”

“You too,” Candy chirped. “I’m just here to watch. Bennie likes me to meet all of his business associates.”

Bentley pulled Candy close, one arm wrapped around her waist. “I just can’t bear to be separated from my Candy. I love being married.”

“Me too, sugar bear,” Candy said.

They rubbed noses and cooed at each other.

“Everyone should be married,” Bentley said with a goofy smile. Considering Bentley had only been married six months, Luke was sure the shine would rub off soon. Though two of Luke’s five brothers had married, with one soon-to-be married, Luke still found the whole love thing to be more of a random event. Like getting struck by lightning. His own parents’ marriage and bitter divorce had made an impression. But their story wasn’t so different from half the country. With a fifty percent divorce rate, it was a wonder anyone ever felt optimistic enough to tie the knot. His brothers were on the good side of that statistic he hoped, but only time would tell.

He turned away from the lovebirds and met the baby blues of the horrible driver. Her expression was grim.

Luke decided to be the bigger person. “Sorry about earlier. I’m not much of a morning person.”

She crossed to him. “I noticed,” she said with an unexpected smile that made him instantly wary.

“So you two know each other?” Bentley asked.

Luke started to shake his head no when the short blonde said, “Yes.”

And then she went up on tiptoe and kissed him. Her warm lips brushed over his and a jolt of raw lust gripped him. Her flowery scent washed over him as she whispered in his ear, “I’m Ken.” He stiffened. She pulled back, and her lips curved into a sweet smile. “Love you.”

Luke was rendered mute; a strange, foreign experience for him. He prided himself on being a smooth talker. Love? Ken was a woman? She kissed him. He wasn’t sure which of those things was more of a mind fuck. Actually the kiss was pretty—

“Honey, don’t be shy,” Ken said, smiling up at him from her five foot and change of devious woman height. “You can tell Bentley.”

Luke slowly blinked. “Tell him what?”

She looped her arm through his. “That we’re engaged.” She beamed. “The jeweler is resizing my ring. That’s why I’m not wearing it right now.”

His brain finally kicked into gear, and he sucked in a breath to correct that hideous lie, but something went down the wrong pipe, and he ended up choking like crazy while Ken helpfully pounded his back.

“Wonderful!” Bentley exclaimed with a huge smile. “I hadn’t heard. Luke, I know you work in the city and, Ken, you’re in Connecticut. How’d you meet?”

Luke hesitated just long enough for Ken to reply quite convincingly, “Through mutual friends.”

Bentley beamed. “Now our little competition will have a happy ending no matter what.”

“What competition?” Ken asked.

“Best score today gets my business.” Bentley beamed like his announcement was the best part of everyone’s day. “But now it will all stay in the family. Awesomesauce as Candy says!”

Candy smiled. “I do say that.”

Wait, he had to win the game? He was okay at golf, not great. He glanced at Ken. She smirked.

“You can’t be serious,” Luke managed.

“I look forward to it,” Ken said.

Bentley beamed. “Don’t worry, Luke. Once you’re married, you share the money. Right, Candy?”

“That’s right!” Candy sang.

“Thank you,” Ken said graciously. “You won’t be disappointed. I’ve been studying your company and your current investments, and have so many—”

“Let’s not talk business now,” Bentley said with a dismissive wave. “Let’s go hit the course.”

He and Candy led the way outside. Luke grabbed Ken’s arm and pulled her back out of earshot.

He got in her face and spoke in a harsh whisper. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m making sure he likes us,” she said, matching his harsh whisper.

“By lying?”

“You saw him with Candy,” she hissed. “He loves being married.”

“Couldn’t you just pretend to be engaged to someone other than me?”

She slowly shook her head. “That probably would’ve been better. I blame your sexy smolder.”

He stepped back. “My what?”

“You were smoldering at me, like maybe you liked what you saw.” She shrugged. “Too late now.”

“I was not…” He trailed off as he realized he must’ve been too obvious in his once-over. Dammit! He jabbed a hand in his hair. He had to nail down this business and losing it in front of Bentley wasn’t going to help. Still, this was crazy. Where the hell did she get off? Running him off the road, calling him Grandpa, announcing they were getting married for crying out loud!

He glared at her, and she glared right back. He couldn’t afford to damage his reputation. In the wealth management business, results and an honest reputation were critical. And the wealthy elite were a small circle where word got around fast. They’d be lucky to have a job at all if Bentley thought they were screwing with him.

He kept his voice low. “And what happens when Bentley finds out the truth?”

Her chin lifted. “I plan on breaking off the engagement next week.”

He stared at her defiant little chin, which was a mistake because his gaze caught on her slender throat exposed by the lifted chin. A very unwanted desire pissed him off even more.

“You’re a horrible driver,” he snapped. “You ran me off the road.”

“I did not. I passed you.”

“And nearly clipped my car.”

She tsked. “Please. I’m an excellent driver.”

He gritted his teeth. “Ken is a man’s name.”

“It’s short for Kennedy.”

“I’m sure you get that all the time. Why do you abbreviate it? You should go by Kennedy if you don’t want any confusion.”

Her blue eyes flashed, and he ignored the jolt it gave him. “I should go by what I want people to call me.”

“Try tailgater.”

“You were the one driving like an old man.”

“I was tired.”

She smirked. “So are old men.”

He straightened to his full six foot. “It wasn’t fully light! That road had dangerous curves—” He clamped his mouth shut when he realized he’d gotten loud.

“So do I!” Candy piped up, which made Bentley throw back his head and laugh. The happy couple were by the door, waiting for him and Ken to catch up.

“You’re a riot, honey!” Bentley said. He turned to Luke and Ken. “Isn’t she?”

“You’re a lucky man,” Luke said.

“Mmm-hmm,” Ken said.

Bentley beamed again. “I’m thrilled you’re getting married! I’ve talked to a number of financial planners, but none of them had that special something I was looking for on a personal level. So I narrowed it down to you two. Luke because of his reputation and Ken because of her incredible record. But I just couldn’t decide, so—” he lifted his palms “—I’m letting the game decide.”

Luke’s brows shot up in surprise. Kennedy’s record? She couldn’t be past twenty-five. How much experience could she possibly have?

They followed Bentley outside to the golf course that had another party of four on it. Luke had thought for sure they’d be the only ones crazy enough to take on a Monday morning seven a.m. tee time. Luke puzzled over the fact that Bentley had already narrowed it down to him and Ken as Bentley took a few practice shots on the putting green. Clearly Luke had more experience, so that should automatically give him the advantage. He took a few practice shots and stepped back to let Ken take a turn. She had a flawless, controlled swing. Dammit.

“Ready to go?” Bentley asked when they’d finished warming up.

“Ready,” Luke and Ken said in unison.

Bentley signaled for a couple of caddies to join them. The young men checked out Candy surreptitiously, who preened under the attention. Bentley remained oblivious.

“Ladies first,” Candy said, gesturing for Ken to take the first shot. “I’m just going to watch.”

“I’ll go last,” Bentley announced.

Ken lined up with the ball, her hips wiggling as she adjusted her stance. Luke tried valiantly not to notice her heart-shaped ass in those snug white shorts and gave one of the leering caddies a good glare for doing the same. The ball arced beautifully in the air with an impressive drive, landing with what would surely be an easy approach to the green. Luke broke out in a sweat over the game that he had a sinking feeling he was not going to win. Why would Bentley put his financial future in the hands of a game? Was he really as crazy as people said?

Bentley and Candy started sucking face.

Ken raised a brow at him. He bristled and lined up his shot, closing his eyes for a moment as he tried to visualize the end result.

“Don’t fall asleep,” Ken teased.

His eyes flew open. He swung hard in a drive that hooked left, landing in the small sand pit just off the green.

“Too bad, Grandpa,” Ken whispered as she brushed by, her flowery scent temporarily distracting him.

“Why are you here?” he whispered, snagging her by the elbow. “You look like you just graduated college.”

She leaned into him and smiled, probably for Bentley’s benefit, though Bentley was still busy stuffing his tongue down Candy’s throat. Not an easy task given that Bentley was a good five inches shorter. “I graduated two years ago. I’m the hungriest at the firm, and my boss knows it. I’ll do anything to nail this account.”

“Even me?” he asked in a husky voice meant to scare her off.

She lifted her chin defiantly, and he stared at the pulse point in her throat beating rapidly. “Whatever it takes,” she whispered.

He stroked one finger over the wildly thumping pulse of her throat and felt himself go hard. Fuck. This could not be happening. He was getting sucked in by her intriguing vulnerability coupled with the ballsiness. She didn’t flinch at his touch or pull away, instead she held his gaze steadily. He had the strangest Neanderthal urge to toss her over his shoulder and bring her back to his place. This was insanity. He was not a Neanderthal kind of guy. He was smooth, sophisticated, cultured. He’d worked damn hard to be.

“Don’t play with me,” he warned.

“I play to win,” she growled.

Yes, growled. He’d never been so turned on. What was wrong with him?

“My turn, lovebirds!” Bentley called before teeing off with a gorgeous swing that had his ball even closer to the hole than Ken’s.

Ken leaned against his side, one arm wrapped around his waist, and the way she fit perfectly made him actually imagine for one bizarre moment that they were a couple.

“When I win,” she said out of the corner of her mouth in a low voice meant only for his ears, “we’ll both be happy about the shared business. And then you’ll quietly walk away.”

“Like hell.”

“Thanks, sweetheart!” She pulled away and gestured toward the green. “Your turn.” She smirked.

“Furthest away goes next.”

It hit him as he stalked toward the rough that Ken was exactly like him—fiercely ambitious, calculating, and driven.

He mentally rubbed his hands together. Let the games begin.

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