The Plus One Chronicles, Book 1
Jennifer Lyon Books (February 26, 2013)
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Rich, sexy and volatile, Sloane Michaels has a dark agenda that keeps his heart on ice. His extreme wealth gives him the control he craves and his skills as an ex UFC fighter the tools he’ll need to extract his ultimate revenge. But when the woman he never believed he’d see again crosses his path, Sloane is caught between the vengeance he needs and a sexual conquest he craves.
Kat Thayne has been in survival mode for six years, hiding behind the sweet creations for her bakery. But when a random carjacking brings her face-to-face with her darkest fears and hottest fantasy, Kat is forced out of hiding and offered a dangerously passionate proposition. One she knows she isn’t strong enough to refuse.
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Excerpted from The Proposition: Book one of The Plus One Chronicles by Jennifer Lyon Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Lyon. Excerpted by permission of Jennifer Lyon. All rights reserved.
Tuning out the music and noise of the wedding reception in full swing, Kat Thayne studied her creation with a critical eye. The custom-designed cake rose in five amazing tiers of snowy white buttercream and was topped with lavender flowers dripping Swarovski crystals. White chocolate doves carried whimsical lengths of lavender ribbons made of dyed spun sugar, which wrapped around the tiers. The effect was soft yet opulently romantic.
Determined to make sure the cake-cutting pictures were killer, she swapped out some starting-to-look-wilted flowers with fresh blooms.
The photographer’s impatient voice cut through her concentration. She blasted him with a glare. “Do I tell you how to set up your shots?”
He gave her an irritated grunt but kept his mouth shut until she closed her tool kit, grabbed the handle and stepped back. Then he snapped into action, treating her cake like a swimsuit cover model as he tested angles for the best shots.
Kat instantly forgave him his earlier pushiness. Treat her sugar babies right and she could overlook most anything.
Getting out of his way, she tucked herself into one of the many corners that the La Jolla, California Opalescent Hotel offered, and surveyed the ballroom. The bride’s theme of Diamond Nights was brought to life with white roses and orchids draped with yards of satin ribbons and spilling out beautifully designed crystals. The night was represented with dramatic lavender lighting pouring down from the domed ceiling glittering with star-shaped crystals.
A perfect stage for the bride in her white sheath gown trimmed with handsewn crystals. She seemed to be basking in the adoration of her guests.
Kat mentally shuddered. The thought of that kind of attention aimed at her made her uneasy. She’d been born into the world of wealth and privilege, but she didn’t fit in and never really had. The work of trying to be something she wasn’t had nearly destroyed her. After a brutal mugging six years ago…
Don’t go there.
She was here to do a job that she loved, not relive old memories.
Instead, she watched the guests who were dressed in stunning gowns and tuxes that rivaled the cost of her car. They milled about, talking and laughing while sipping Cristal champagne. The gowns were true works of art, and she enjoyed studying the lines of the dresses, picturing the scrolls and designs she could replicate on her cakes.
Kat turned her attention to the bride, who was surrounded by her bridesmaids with her tolerant groom trailing behind as she approached the cake. The guests gathered in.
She heard the whispers. Praise for her work floated around her. It was the sweetest, most satisfying sound to Kat.
Then a ripple moved through the crowd with an electric sizzle.
Guests craned their heads, looking past where Kat stood partially hidden by a flower-wrapped column.
Even the bride slowed to eyeball the new arrival.
From her sheltered spot, Kat zeroed in on what had caused the commotion.
In the doorway of the ballroom stood a man. Hitting at least six-and-a-half-feet in height, he towered over everyone in the room. He wore an elegant midnight-black tux without a speck of color to soften it. Even his shirt and tie were black. He looked like Death. Very sexy, very intriguing Death.
Excitement began to stir the crowd, growing and bubbling. All over a man. Kat was immune to the fizzle-charm that always wore thin and died off quickly. But she was human after all, and curious about the man who had the wealth-and-power set practically vibrating. She leaned out from behind the pillar to make sure she didn’t miss anything.
The new arrival shifted seamlessly from his dramatic pause in the doorway into a rolling stride. For a huge man, he moved with surprising fluidity as he made his way past the tables and closer to where Kat stood. Every eye in the room followed his progress.
Instinctively, she pulled back to shield herself in the corner. The tool kit hanging from her hand hit the wall with a dull thump. Crap.
The man slid to a stop, and aimed a potent stare directly at her.
Like chocolate mixed with water, she seized into an immovable clump. His dark, intense eyes stripped her of her usual sense of blending into the background. Exposed her. Captured her. She drank in the sheer magnitude of him: Raven-black hair with a rogue wave, scorching brown irises lit with amber specks. The angles of his face were brutally square. Even his chin was harsh, like rugged cliffs carved by experience.
Her hands itched to trace the wild beauty of his face, to memorize those ruthless lines and recreate them later in one of her cakes.
She heard her own heartbeat in her ears. Her skin tingled, the hair on her arms lifting in an electrified reaction.
Damn, she wasn’t as immune as she thought.
Kat forcibly cut her gaze away, determined to regain control. She hadn’t had that kind of reaction to a man in…well…
Reflexively she tightened the fingers of her left hand around the plastic handle of her tool kit and steeled herself to combat this strange attraction sparking inside her. She didn’t date. Couldn’t. Don’t look. He’ll keep moving. I’m just the help. Don’t look. She focused on her cake. Her creation. That seemed to help.
Except her peripheral vision worked perfectly fine. The man pivoted left.
He was coming toward her.
Every eye in the room shifted with him and landed on her. Oh shit. As long as the focus was on her cakes, or cookies, or even her business in general, she was fine.
Totally in control.
His scrutiny seared her skin, creating a sensation of hyperawareness, and that control melted into a pool of nerves and worry. Squashing the urge to run, she summoned her will and faced him.
He was a few feet away, looming over her, trapping her in the corner that only moments ago had been her haven. As he studied her features with singular concentration, it felt like her prison. She breathed in, desperate for calming oxygen.
Instead, the scent of soap and something dark and completely male teased her.
She tried to grasp what he wanted with her. All around her, gorgeous, coiffured women wearing magnificent gowns and jewels filled the room, making her acutely conscious of her lavender-streaked brown hair pulled back in a simple ponytail, her T-shirt and black pants covered by her work apron. So why was he focused on her?
He stopped right in front of her, and Kat desperately fought for a sense of calm that just wasn’t coming.
Relaxing the too-tense muscles of her throat, she asked, “Something I can help you with?” She hoped that sounded aloof to him because to her it came out thin and brittle.
His gaze traveled a leisurely path over her face, down her throat, all the way to her athletic shoes.
It felt like he was visually peeling off her clothes. Kat jerked her tool kit up and wrapped her arms around it to get something solid between them.
Raising his eyebrows, he asked, “Do I know you?”
His voice had a silky bite to it, and his words completely surprised her. She couldn’t imagine having met him and forgotten. Some things may have been wiped from her memory, but him? No one would forget a man that vital. This close, she saw a scar slashing through his left eyebrow, and another bracketed the right side of his harsh mouth. He wasn’t classically handsome, more like savagely beautiful.
Lowering his chin slightly, he regarded her beneath his arched brows. “And if I want to know you?”
Traitorous warmth bloomed in her belly. She shut it down by digging the corner of the kit into her hipbone. That shaft of pain snapped her brain into action. He had to be amusing himself at the expense of the help. It was the only explanation she could think of. “Do you need a dozen cookies? A cake? Perhaps an emergency brownie?”
Crinkles dug in at the corners of his eyes. “What kind of emergency requires a brownie?”
She lifted one hand in a careless gesture. “Oh the usual. Breakups. In-laws arriving unexpectedly. The always popular dealing-with-the-jerk-boss. Running out of wine. And the classic…” She trailed off, telling herself not to do it. To shut up.
Challenge sparked in his eyes. “Come on, don’t be shy. I must know the classic emergency that requires a brownie.”
Don’t say it. But her mouth was already moving. “P.M.S. or to the uninformed, Pushy Male Syndrome.”
Seconds stretched out.
Kat was brutally, sickeningly aware that she had gone too far. With a man who was clearly powerful. Entitled. And totally focused on her. Her stomach churned, and the kit slipped in her suddenly sweaty hands. She tightened her grip and just held on.
The left corner of his mouth twitched. “Do you have a particular confection for the man suffering cruel rejection from a pretty baker?”
For the space of one heartbeat, everything slid away except the man in front of her. As if they were the only two people in that room.
Someone cleared their throat.
Reality broke through the strange fog in her brain that made her stupidly want to believe insincere compliments. But Kat knew better, he was just toying with her as some form of entertainment. Time to end this. Now. She lowered her tool kit and strode to his side. Ignoring the constriction in her chest, she looked up.
Right into his face. He watched her as if she were his prey.
Reminding herself she was perfectly safe in a roomful of people, she channeled fake confidence into her answer. “I’m fresh out. Maybe you should try the local bar?” Not waiting for his response, she headed for the door to the hotel kitchen.
The weight of every eye in the ballroom pricked her nerve endings. Including his. Especially his. That stare rode her back from her shoulder blades to her ass, leaving a trail of shivers comprised of a mix of want and fear.