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Authors: Jennifer Dawson

The Name of the Game

BOOK: The Name of the Game
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Books by Jennifer Dawson
The Name of the Game
The Winner Takes It All
Take a Chance On Me
 
 
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
The Name
of the game
JENNIFER DAWSON
ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To the Rini Girls
Mom, Aunt Be-Be, Aunt Grace,
Kristen, Jordyn, Samantha, & Ivy.
I am forever grateful to be blessed with
your never-ending love and support.
I think Grandma is proud of her little flowers.
 
To my editor Esi and my agent Courtney.
Thank you for not throwing up your hands, screaming, and
running from the room when this book was a total mess.
If it wasn't for your support, patience, and guidance,
this book wouldn't have been possible.
Chapter One
“How can you drink that stuff?” Gracie Roberts wrinkled her nose at the offending protein shake in James Donovan's hand. Of course, his drink of choice wasn't her business, but whenever she was around the stuffy professor of forensic anthropology for more than five seconds, she couldn't resist the urge to antagonize him. In her defense, as a baker, his obsession with health food went against her nature.
How could she trust a man who didn't eat sugar?
One brown brow rose as he stared at her, not speaking. Behind black, wire-rimmed frames, his cool, evergreen eyes studied her in a way she could only describe as dismissive. The standard expression he wore in her company.
When they'd met eighteen months ago, they'd taken one look at each other, and it had been instant dislike.
Which was strange. In her thirty-three years she'd rarely met a person she didn't like. She loved people and people loved her right back. Her momma had always said she'd been born with more charm than should be legal.
Why, Gracie hadn't had a nemesis since the eighth grade, when Katie Womack told Greg Holbert that Gracie had lice, so he'd take Katie to the spring fling instead. But in the end that turned out to be a godsend because now Katie was saddled with five screaming children and Greg cheated on her with a bottle blonde in the next town over.
Good riddance.
She eyed the professor with matching disdain as they squared off, prepared for yet another battle. Living hundreds of miles apart meant she should be able to avoid him, but he came with her best friends. Since Gracie loved her friends she was stuck with James. When she'd volunteered to come up to Chicago and help Cecilia Riley move into the fabulous house she'd bought with her fiancé, she'd known she'd have to endure the presence of her nemesis, but it didn't make it any easier.
She sighed. The things she suffered for friendship.
She glared at him. “What are you looking at?”
A flickering once-over. “Not a thing.”
She shouldn't engage him, but found it impossible this bright, sunny morning. Everything about him irritated her. He'd forsaken his normal geek-wear of tan slacks and a polo shirt, which made him look like a customer service rep for GEICO, for jeans and a vintage-inspired, faded blue
Empire Strikes Back
T-shirt. The cotton stretched over his broad chest and flat abs, emphasizing all those hard muscles he'd worked to hone.
She planted her hands on full hips she'd been told belonged on a 1940s pinup model, and glared at his offending drink. “Why don't you drink chalk? I'm sure it tastes better.”
“This drink contains the perfect blend of protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins.” James eyed the powdered-sugar doughnut resting on a paper plate at her fingertips. “Which is more than I can say for that fried, sugary monstrosity you're calling a breakfast.”
How dare he?! Doughnuts were universally loved. Only sickos and crazies didn't like them. Gracie opened her mouth to blast him, but before she could, his older brother came to his rescue.
Shane held out his hands like a referee breaking up a couple of prizefighters. “Let's not start another round of the food wars. It never ends well and it's going to be a long day.”
Next to him, Cecilia, nodded. “We appreciate the help this weekend, but it's only been an hour and you've bickered nonstop.”
Disgruntled, Gracie pointed at James. “He started it.”
He gave her the disapproving scowl he reserved for her. “
You
started it. I was standing here minding my own business.”
“You insulted my doughnut!” A stray blond curl flopped into one eye and she pushed it behind her ear even though it never stayed put.
“After you turned your nose up at my shake.” James crossed his arms over his chest and his biceps rippled.
For a second, the corded muscles running the length of his arms distracted her, but she quickly regained focus and snorted. “Shake! That's an insult to shakes. Real shakes are made with actual ice cream. And I'm not talking low-fat frozen yogurt either. I'm talking—”
A loud, piercing whistle filled the air and Gracie covered her ears.
Cecilia's four-carat diamond ring flashed, nearly blinding Gracie, as she sliced a hand through the air. “Please. You two are giving me a headache.”
Shane slid a big hand around Cecilia's waist, pulling her close. “And I'm the only one allowed to make her upset.” He leaned down and kissed his future wife's neck.
Between Shane and Cecilia getting married, and Gracie's friends Mitch and Maddie Riley being newlyweds, the constant love fest had started to grate. While she was overjoyed they were happy, it forced Gracie to bear witness to their public displays of affection all too often.
And Gracie was big enough to admit she was a tiny bit jealous. She loved herself a little PDA, only she had no one to PDA with. The year anniversary of her unintentional celibacy had come and gone and she was starting to get twitchy. Abstinence hadn't been the plan. She loved sex. She'd dated plenty, only no one had flipped her switch enough to get her into bed.
She shot a sidelong glance at the professor, always so proper and reserved. He probably thought kissing in public was as disgusting as doughnuts. Hell, he probably only had sex in the missionary position with the lights off. Anyone that uptight would be a complete dud in the sack. Of that much, she was sure.
Not that she thought about what he was like in bed.
When Shane's tongue flicked over Cecilia's skin, Gracie's brows pinched together. “Hey, stop that.” She jerked a thumb at the professor. “You're going to give him nightmares.”
Shane sucked on Cecilia's neck, his teeth scraping over the soft flesh. Gracie couldn't blame her friend one bit when Cecilia's eyes practically rolled into the back of her head.
Unlike his brother, Shane Donovan was not the kind of man who fucked with the lights off.
James sighed, a deep, heavy sound of the resigned. “Once again, you've managed to lose me.”
Shane lifted his head and grinned at his younger brother. “She thinks you're a prude, Jimmy.”
James scowled for several seconds, and then shook his head as though Gracie was just too silly for words. He picked up the box labeled “kitchen” off the counter and started toward the door, saying over his shoulder, “You make a gazillion dollars. Why aren't those movers you hired taking care of this?”
That . . . was actually a good point. “Hey! He's right.”
“Holy fuck, you agreed with him.” Shane craned his neck and called after his brother. “Did you hear that, Jimmy? She agreed with you.”
“I'll mark it down in my calendar and drop dead of a heart attack,” James said wryly and out the door he went, thus concluding round 513 of their on-going battle.
“That's it? That's all I had to do?” Gracie grinned at Cecilia. “Think of all the time I've wasted.”
Shane narrowed his green eyes. At first, Gracie had thought all the Donovans shared the exact same eye color, but James's were different. A cool, crisp evergreen amongst the rest of the clan's warmth.
“Do you have to antagonize him?” Shane asked.
Indignant, Gracie placed a hand over her expansive cleavage. “Me? What did I do?”
“Don't play innocent. You bait him. You've been baiting him since the day you met.” Shane slid a hand onto the counter behind Cecilia, and when her friend shivered a little, Gracie suspected he'd worked his fingers under Cecilia's black top. Again.
Gracie sighed.
Cecilia nodded. “I'm afraid he's right.”
Gracie rolled her eyes. “Ugh. I miss the days when you guys didn't constantly agree with each other.”
Cecilia grinned at Shane, her sleek ponytail perfectly in place even though they were doing manual labor. “I'm trying, but I can't seem to work up a good mad.”
Shane tugged her mane of caramel-colored hair. “I'm sure you'll think of something soon.”
“How about the fact that you don't have movers?” Gracie asked. After spending last night hearing
way
too much, she wasn't sure how much longer she could stomach their ooey-gooey love. Between them and the stuffy professor, her body couldn't decide if it was stuck in a voyeuristic fantasy or
My Fair Lady
.
Shane's hand settled on Cecilia's neck. “The movers will be here in thirty. Ce-ce wanted to take care of the important stuff herself.”
Determined to show her friends the enthusiasm they deserved, Gracie smiled at the happy couple, pushing aside her pettiness. “It's hard to believe six months ago Cecilia cried on my couch over you. Now look at you guys, moving in together and getting married.”
Cecilia's expression held nothing but complete adoration as she gazed at her fiancé. “Pretty crazy, huh?”
Shane brushed a kiss over her lips, and Gracie looked away.
In six months Cecilia had changed her entire life around. She'd gone from a shut off, work-obsessed woman stuck in a job and life she hadn't wanted, to the vibrant woman she was now. She'd quit her job as her father's political advisor, disowned said father, made amends with her brother and mom, started a new business as a PR consultant specializing in image repair, and fallen in love with Shane.
Gracie couldn't even manage to get herself laid. Which was pretty much her fault since she kept turning men down. Good men. Hot men.
She shook her shoulders. Enough of that. She had a great life. Sex and companionship weren't the key to happiness. She had everything a woman could want: a thriving business, great friends, and a beautiful home she shared with her brother.
She was a self-sufficient, empowered woman. Men were secondary. Nice to have but certainly not vital.
James strolled back into the room, moving with an easy grace that irritated her. She'd be hard-pressed to pinpoint why she'd taken a dislike to him. Other than his addiction to health food and exercise, there wasn't anything the least bit objectionable about him. Like his testosterone-laden alpha brothers, he was handsome enough—in a bookish sort of way.
At six-two, he was the shortest of the three Donovan boys, and while he had a body that rivaled his brothers', there wasn't anything threatening about James. He was an ordinary guy. Nothing exceptional. Nothing objectionable. With most men, especially harmless men, she went out of her way to flirt and flatter, but for some reason she couldn't do that with James. It was something about the way he looked at her, as though he was on to her. Had figured her out. Only, she couldn't figure out what he understood that she didn't.
“What?” James asked, startling her out of her thoughts.
Her stomach did an unwelcome little jump, as it sometimes did when he gave her that hard glare and his jaw got all stern. She waved a hand. “Oh, nothing.”
He pointed at one of the boxes on the kitchen table. “Are you going to get to work, or stand there?”
Gracie huffed. “Um, I was here an hour before you.”
A quirked brow. “But did you do anything?”
“You are such an ass.” Gracie shook her head at the ceiling. How would she survive this day? Let alone the whole weekend?
“You're getting repetitive.” James cocked his lean hip against the island countertop and took another drink of his disgusting shake. “You've already told me that twice today.”
Gracie searched her mind for a proper comeback only to find herself flummoxed. Another reason he irritated her. While she'd never admit it in a million years, she often got tongued-tied around him. She made men like him nervous, not the other way around.
Ignoring him, she whirled around to Cecilia. “Do you see what I have to put up with?”
Cecilia pressed her lips together to suppress a laugh.
Shane, however, did not have the same problem. “You did kind of start it.”
Cecilia elbowed him in the ribs and shushed him before crooking her finger at Gracie. “Come on, let's go start on the bedroom.”
Shane grabbed Cecilia's wrist and tugged her back, bending down to whisper something that made color splash onto her cheeks before letting her go. Cecilia wobbled, then righted herself, a secret smile on her lips. “We'll just have to see about that, now won't we?”
Shane gave her a long, slow once-over. “Yeah, we will.”
Gracie rolled her eyes. God help her. See, this was why she had sex on the brain. It was their fault.
Cecilia spun on her heel, head held high. “Come on, Gracie.” As she passed, Shane smacked her on the ass and she yelped. “Hey!”
Shane laughed and Cecilia glowered, although the huge grin on her lips gave her away. Gracie sighed, a bit wistful, as she followed her friend up the back staircase.
Nobody had smacked her ass in, like,
forever
.
 
 
James Donovan watched Gracie climb the back stairs, her fantasy-inducing ass encased in a pair of tight jeans that clung to her showgirl legs, in annoyed awe. The sentiment pretty much summed up his yearlong, animosity-filled acquaintance with her. The tight red T-shirt she wore displayed her hourglass figure in all its lush glory, and he'd about broken into a cold sweat as soon as he saw her.
If it was just her body it would be one thing, but her face was equally compelling with those dancing cornflower-blue eyes and wild mess of blond curls that refused to stay tamed no matter how many times she tucked it behind her ears. She was an odd mix of heart-stoppingly cute and wickedly sexy.
His jaw clenched. The kick of desire he felt bothered him. James's mind and body had been under control for a long time, and his attraction to the blond sex goddess was a reminder of parts of him better left behind.
BOOK: The Name of the Game
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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