Authors: Jaci Burton
Titles by Jaci Burton
Wild Rider Series
RIDING ON INSTINCT
RIDING THE NIGHT
WILD, WICKED, & WANTON
BOUND, BRANDED, & BRAZEN
THE PERFECT PLAY
CHANGING THE GAME
TAKING A SHOT
PLAYING TO WIN
(with Jasmine Haynes, Joey W. Hill, and Denise Rossetti)
(with Eden Bradley and Lisa Renee Jones)
LACED WITH DESIRE
(with Jasmine Haynes, Joey W. Hill, and Denise Rossetti)
NAUTI AND WILD
(with Lora Leigh)
“The Ties That Bind” from
“No Strings Attached” from
LACED WITH DESIRE
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“No Strings Attached” previously appeared in
Laced with Desire
, published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
A Heat Special / published by arrangement with the Jaci Burton, Inc.
Copyright © 2010 by Jaci Burton.
Thrown by a Curve
by Jaci Burton copyright © 2013 by Jaci Burton, Inc.
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HEAT and the HEAT design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Heat Special / February 2013
Cover photograph: “Beachside Rendezvous” © iStockphoto / Thinkstock.
Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility
for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Charlie, the man I love being tied to. Forever.
Budgets and bids and the upcoming contract next year all tornadoed around Ella Hicks’s
head. She tapped her pencil and tuned out the Tulsa Building Industry president’s
speech. Business as usual at the monthly meeting, as it had been for the past five
years since her husband, James, had died suddenly, leaving her the CEO and chief of
everything involving Hicks Construction.
Thank God for work, for the unending seven-day-a-week schedule that had saved her
sanity after those shocking, bleak days following James’s death, when she couldn’t
wrap her mind around how a healthy, robust thirty-year-old man could simply fall to
the ground and die. Just like that. One second he’d been alive and laughing with her,
and then, just like that, he was gone.
She’d spent the last five years reliving that day, remembering the shock, the crushing
pain, the thought that her life, too, was over.
But she hadn’t died with James. Because they still had a business to run, and it had
fallen on her to do it. She couldn’t let James down, refused to fall apart. He’d have
hated that, would have wanted her to pick up and get the job done. So she had. For
five years she’d worked
sunup to sundown on Hicks Construction. She’d fought with the foreman and the business
manager, had gone head-to-head with the workers and other owners, and had stood her
ground, letting her grief out only when she came home at the end of the day, dusty,
dirty and too tired to even think. Then she’d strip and turn the shower on, letting
the steamy water pour over her. Only then would she allow herself to cry.
She tapped her pencil on the paper, not even able to remember how many nights she’d
sobbed uncontrollably for hours, until the water had gone cold, until she’d dried
off and climbed into bed, falling into a—thankfully—dreamless slumber. And so it had
gone, every day like that.
For too damn long. She’d eventually stopped crying at night, but she still worked
herself hard, just like she worked everyone at the company. There was nothing she
asked them to do that she wasn’t willing to do herself. Staying busy had been her
lifeline, and she was grateful to have it, to have this tiny piece of James to tuck
away in her heart. His name, his company.
company now. And she’d succeeded. She’d made it work. James would be proud of her.
But James was gone and it was time she found a life again.
Though it wasn’t a whole new life she was searching for. Not right now anyway. There
was only one thing she needed, and she intended to get it—soon.
“The bids for three upcoming projects should be posted at the beginning of next month.”
Ella pulled her focus to the business at hand, jotting down a few notes.
“You aren’t paying attention.”
She shifted her gaze to the man who’d whispered to her. Clayton Mansfield—Clay—owner
of Mansfield Builders, one of her biggest competitors. Same age as her late husband,
Clay and James had been good friends as well as rivals. They’d gone hunting and fishing
together, and Clay had been nearly as devastated as she had been over James’s death.
He’d also been a very good friend to her over the past five years, had helped her
with the business when she’d needed it, despite it not being in his best interest
to do so. But he’d been James’s friend, and she knew that was why he’d been there
for her. She was grateful to have a strong shoulder to lean on, someone who knew the
business end of things inside and out, because while she and James had worked side
by side to build Hicks Construction, she’d focused more on the office side of things.
Getting out there and getting dirty had been James’s job. After his death, it had
become hers. That was where Clay had helped her.
He nudged her with his elbow. “Late night?”
She smothered a snort. “Hardly. Just trying to stay awake through the droning.”
Clay nodded, stretching out his jean-clad legs under the table. “Next time we vote
on a president for our council, we need to make sure they can talk, and talk fast.”
He shifted again, folded his arms over his middle. He’d rolled up his shirtsleeves,
and she glimpsed dark hair over tanned skin. And muscle. A lot of muscle.
Stop. Do not look.
She never looked. Okay, she did. What breathing woman wouldn’t? At six-five or so,
Clay was imposing. And he was model gorgeous, with sea blue eyes, coal black hair
and a body that spoke of a man who really worked for a living. And his mouth—she’d
always been drawn to his mouth. Full bottom lip that she’d thought of often lately…though
she shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Not with Clay.
Which was why this new…project…was so imperative. She’d been thinking of Clay…of
“That should wrap things up, unless there’s any new business?”
Ella held her breath, praying no one would speak up. They’d been in this meeting for
two hours and her ass was numb. She had things to do, plans to make.
Fortunately, they adjourned. Ella pushed back her chair and resisted the urge to rub
Ella nodded. “Thanks for letting us use your conference room.”
He shrugged. “No big deal. Easier on me. Now I can get back to work.” He winked, and
she felt butterflies in her stomach. Ugh. Things between her and Clay had always been
easy. She’d never felt anything for him. Ever. Of course there’d always been James,
and then there’d been mind-numbing grief. She hadn’t felt anything…for anyone.
But now she was starting to feel again, the grief for her husband diminished to one
of aching loss. She’d reconciled it, come to grips with the realization that James
had died, not her. It was time to start living again. With that in mind…
“Is Tish in today?”
Clay arched a brow. “Yeah. Should be at her desk. Why?”
“She has a condo in Hawaii she told me about.”
“You going on vacation? Finally?”
She offered up a bright smile. “Yes. Finally. And I’m going to take Tish up on her
offer to let me use her condo. She said it’s right on the beach.”
“It’s a nice condo complex. I’ve got a place there myself.”
“Do you? So it’s worth the trip?”
He nodded. “Definitely worth the trip. When are you going?”
“Next week. We’re on the tail end of a few projects, and since it’s not quite spring
here yet, I have a month or so before the new ones start up.”
“Perfect timing. Hawaii is great this time of year.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Taking anyone with you?”
She shook her head. “No. Going alone.”
He leaned against the conference table. “That’s no fun.”
“Oh, believe me. I intend to have a lot of fun once I get there.”
“Yeah? How so?”
Her body heated at the thought. Or maybe it was just standing so close to Clay. She
took a step back and grinned. “Can’t tell you everything, you know. I’m off to find
Tish. See you soon.” She waved to him and hurried down the hall toward his offices.
She intended to make these plans and make them fast, before she changed her mind.
Tish smiled at her as she approached. “How was the meeting?”
“Mind-numbingly dull. So do you have the reservations?”
Tish nodded. “All set. You sure you want to do this alone?”
“Yes. Of course. I’m ready.”
“Are you? Are you sure?”
Tish had been one of her closest friends in the industry. She’d actually started working
as a clerk for Ella and James, until Clay had recognized her talents and lured her
away to work as his assistant.