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Authors: Mira Lyn Kelly

Touch & Go

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Touch & Go
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

A Loveswept eBook Original

Copyright © 2015 by Mira Lyn Kelly

Excerpt from
Too Hot to Handle
by Katie Rose copyright © 2015 by Katie Rose

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

L
OVESWEPT
is a registered trademark and the L
OVESWEPT
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.

This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
Too Hot to Handle
by Katie Rose. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

eBook ISBN 9780345548320

Cover design: Caroline Teagle

Cover photograph: Vetta / Getty Images

www.readloveswept.com

v4.0

ep

Contents
Chapter 1

Ava Meyers dropped onto the park bench beside her best girlfriend, Maggie Lawson—soon to be Wells—and crossed her arms in a huff. “You owe me this.”

“One night with my boyfriend?” Maggie asked around the hair elastic pinched between her teeth. Then, winding her hair into a messy blond knot, added, “Funny, but I'm pretty sure I don't.”

Ava smiled her sweetest smile. The one that got results and Maggie had the good sense to look more than a mite bit nervous about.

“First off, it's not like I'm asking to take him for a test drive or something. All I need is a little arm candy for this stupid law mixer to get
Stalker Steve
off my scent. Just a smidge of attention and doting and possibly I should borrow your engagement ring too,” she added in a rush, moving on before Maggie had the chance to protest. “Second, Tyler's your fiancé, not your boyfriend. And third, as to owing? If it weren't for me, you'd still be calling him
Apartment Three
and hissing every time your paths crossed. It was the dating pact
I
forced you into that landed that fat diamond on your left hand and Tyler rocking your world six times a night. So consider this your chance to square up.”

Okay, so maybe she was stretching it a bit with the debt-of-gratitude thing, but desperate times…Ava had already asked Sam—her go-to guy for all things fix-it and faux date—but the ass had turned her down with some feeb excuse about preexisting plans. She couldn't ask her brother, Ford, because for this bailout she needed someone to look like he was sort of in love with her and, that would be gross. Which left her with Sam's sketchy cousin Tony, the horny perv who'd been trying to shoehorn himself into her panties since the ninth grade. And while Tony had agreed to fill the role of her love-struck date for the following Friday, there'd been some suspicious noises on the other end of the line and when he started getting all out of breath—well, she didn't want to know, but she definitely needed a different date.

Expelling a frustrated breath, Ava surveyed the park around her. The sun was shining, the air crisp and clean, as tender green shoots and unfurling leaves marked spring's foothold in her favorite corner of Wicker Park. Maggie was getting married in less than a month and Ava was the maid of honor. Life was good and she wanted to get to the part of her Sunday afternoon where she could enjoy it, but this problem of hers was pissing her off and she wanted it resolved.

Only the look Maggie was giving her didn't bode well.

“Sorry. You're just going to have to tell him to back off.”

If only. Stalker Steve, a.k.a. Steven Hapron, was season-ticket-connected with all the major Chicago teams and chummy with about half the partners in her firm. And working toward partner herself, bad press was the last thing she needed. Which meant being exceptionally careful how she handled him. “Mm-hmm, except it would be so much better if he just thought I'd found someone else and he lost interest on his own.”

Maggie was shaking her head with that whole judgy thing going on in her eyes, like she was pretty sure Ava was more than a little off base. Which sucked, because Maggie didn't whip that look out often, but when she did, she was usually right.

Not this time.

The heavy
thunk
of a door closing behind them had both women turning to where Wicker Park's top contractor had parked on the other side of the fence. Sam Farrow rounded the hood of his truck, his wild mop of golden blond catching in the breeze as his long-legged stride ate through the distance between them. He was wearing the Maui Jim Pilot sunglasses Ava bought him for Christmas, a white, long-sleeved T-shirt pushed up his lean-muscled forearms and which hung half tucked over a pair of faded blues and a thick brown leather belt. He was flashing an easygoing grin that was practically his natural state of rest, but even from the distance, she could see something wasn't quite right.

Maggie waved. “Hi, Sam.”

“Everything okay?” Ava asked, moving her stuff to make room for him.

“Hey, Maggs,” he offered, dropping into the open seat, before turning to Ava.

“I don't know, Ave. There I am, walking the aisles of Home Depot, deep in my happy place, when my phone rings and I answer it to Tony croaking out, ‘Looks like Ava's got a taste for some Tony potpie after all.' ”

She cringed and swung around to Maggie. “You see why I need Tyler to take me?”

Maggie let out an indelicate snort as she collected her stuff. “Tyler's back.”

Down the block, Tyler Wells—the borrowed date who apparently would
not
be hers—rounded the corner at a steady jog and Maggie pushed up from her seat, her eyes still on her fiancé, who definitely made running look good.

“Later, guys,” she said, heading out.

“Later.”

Sam stretched his arm across the back of the bench and then pulled off his shades, revealing eyes the same color as the worn denim that had so much been a part of his wardrobe since the first day Ava met him.

“Want to tell me why Tony thinks he's got a date with you?”

Man,
he had the best eyes.

“Because you're an asshat,” Ava stated flatly. “You totally abandoned me. Left me completely high and dry, and after all the times I've stood in for you when one of your whirlwind one-nighters suddenly decides she wants more, like a month or forever? You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Sam was nodding, the grin on his face going wider with her every word. “Right. Obviously, I'm the root cause. But maybe you could be a little more specific about the how, what, when, and where of it?”

Ava snuggled in closer to him on the bench, because there was nothing better than the clean smell of his Irish Spring soap, and he was warm and she was a snuggler by nature, so it's just what she did. And then she proceeded to remind him about the law mixer she'd asked him to plus-one for, how he'd turned her down, and how Steven—who wasn't
actually
a stalker, but had serious persistence issues—was going to be there and she wanted to lose him as passively as possible.

Sam pulled his phone from his pocket, dialed, and then held it up to his ear. “Hey, gorgeous. Can't make it Friday. Rain check?…You're perfect, marry me…Yeah, well I'm still picking out china patterns. Later.”

He stared down at her. “All you had to do was say it was serious.”

Ava gaped. “I did. In fact I think my exact words were, ‘Sam, this is serious. I'm desperate.' ”

He shook his head, all don't-give-me-that. “Uh-uh. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Every time you run out of Spicy Thai Kettle Chips, you swear up and down it's an emergency, and we both know it isn't
that
big a deal. You should have said it was Tony serious.”

Ava huffed but after an eye roll was willing enough to agree, because it looked like her best buddy was going to bail her out after all. “Fine. Sorry. I should have told you it was Tony serious.”

Not one to hold a grudge, Sam grinned. “I forgive you. So. What exactly do you need me to do?”

Simple. “Pretend you love me.”

Chapter 2

Deep in the heart of the swank Wyse-Luxen Hotel's fifth-floor ballroom, surrounded by a thick slice of Chicago's legal elite, Sam Farrow grinned down at his pissy date.

“Ave, I'm doing my part, but who's going to believe we're in love with you growling at me like that?”

It was possible he was enjoying Ava's fuming scowl more than a guy who really loved her ought to. Or not. Since the truth was, he loved the hell out of her and had since she was seven years old. She was his best friend, his family. And she was so damn funny when she got all fired up because he was playing at
in-love
with more panache than she cared for.

“Babykins?”
she demanded, forcing that deep red mouth into a smile he was guessing she meant to look affectionate for the crowd but was seriously scary as shit. Or would be, if he didn't know her so well.

His Ava had a hell of a lot of bark in her, but much as she hoped to convince the world otherwise, the girl wasn't much of a biter.

At least not in the context he knew her, anyway. Close as they were—and that was damned close—Ava's sex life was the one place Sam didn't dare to tread, so he didn't know what that mouth of hers was capable of, and he'd made it a lifetime habit not to find out.

Which made this mixer of hers all the more fun.

Because tonight he got to play like he knew his way around her mouth and every other part of her body
intimately,
and it was making Ava crazy uncomfortable.

Leaning deeper into the space cushion he'd been steadily violating since their arrival, Sam needled just a little more. “Aww, Muffin-top, you know you like my special pet names for you. We're in love. It's what we do.”

Besides, he'd made sure the only person in attendance to hear him call her either name was the bartender when he'd gotten their drinks.

Head cocked to the side, Ava looked up at him from beneath thick lashes one shade darker than the fall of deep mahogany hair spilling around her shoulders.
“Muffin-top?”

Uh-oh.

And suddenly her not-so-scary smile was making him nervous after all, because coupled with the spark of challenge he'd just seen light in her eyes…this could get ugly. For
him.

While Sam had the good sense to keep his teasing on this side of the line, boundaries weren't really Ava's thing. The girl fought dirty and she fought to win. A trick he'd taught her himself when she was nine.

So maybe he should have stopped at Babykins.

“You're right,” she agreed, going up on her toes to murmur at him. “It
is
what we do, my little Dippin' Dot. My sweet gherkin. My darling
Tic-tac.

Christ.
He couldn't help his grin, and the best thing about Ava was neither could she.

When she turned it on?
Damn.
He was surprised there was only one guy in residence she needed to shake.

And that's where his smile lost some wattage. Because that's why he was there. Steven had gotten it into his thick skull he wanted Ava, and for all the letters after his name, the numbnuts hadn't mustered enough brainpower to figure out she wasn't into him.

And speak of the devil, there he was cutting through the crowd, eyes a little too intent on the woman at Sam's side.

Poor schmuck.

Catching Ava's hand in his own, Sam threaded their fingers together and nodded at the guy closing in fast. “Hey, Steve. Good to see you again.”

“Sam, you too,” he replied, his eager eyes barely flicking away from Ava for even a second before locking back on target. “But Ava, if I'd known you were just bringing a friend, we could have come stag
together.

Beside him, Ava opened her mouth to reply, but when one of her usual quips failed to launch, Sam took the lead, laughing as he pulled her in front of him and wrapped her into his arms.

“Ava, honey, didn't you tell
anyone
from work?” he asked, bowing his head low to her ear, but being sure to speak loudly enough for Steven to hear. Then looking up at Stalker, who was definitely giving off the creep vibe right then, he grinned amiably. “Only took us twenty years, but I think we finally figured it out.”

“You're together?” Steven asked skeptically. His rapidly cooling stare shifted between them as he floundered between what he knew to be true—that Sam and Ava had never been anything more than friends—and the line Sam was feeding him.

Not a problem. Sam could do this all night.

“For what is it now? Almost a month, Sweets?”

His arms tightened, pulling Ava deeper into his hold. And he had to admit the novelty of holding her like this—with her back tight against his chest and her slim little body snug within his arms—wasn't lost on him. She was the kind of perfect fit he never found with other women—funny, since she was barely five-four to his six-two, but that's just how it was with Ava. She fit.

Ava shifted in his hold to peer back at him, wrinkling her nose as she batted her lashes a few times. “Yeah,
Peanut,
I think you're right. A month this Tuesday.”

Peanut?

Ava, Ava, Ava.
She'd be paying for that one.

Turning back to Steven, she sighed in that dreamy way girls had that always seemed to get a guy thinking about the bedroom. And sham or not, it was weird having Ava make that kind of noise over him. Or even the pretend him who was doing all sorts of things the real him wouldn't ever do.

Wouldn't want to do.

Not with Ava, who this ass was watching like he wasn't sure he believed what they were saying.

“Wow, a month already?” Steven commented, adjusting his shirtsleeves. “Ava, I'm surprised you didn't tell me.”

What surprised Sam was this guy thinking she would.

Within the circle of his arms, Ava's narrow shoulders shrugged. “It was new and I was nervous. But now…” she said, following with another one of those breathy sighs that was causing a strange reaction deep in Sam's gut, something that might have made him uncomfortable except this was Ava, and with her he had nothing to worry about. “It's been amazing. Better than. Isn't that right, Nibblet?”

Sam nodded his agreement, putting his all into this love-struck farce.

When this was over, Ava was going to owe him so big.

—

When this was over, Sam was a dead man.

Okay, when the mixer was over and Ava had recovered from the hangover she was sure to have thanks to her current frequent flier status at the south bar, where Micky made a wicked good vodka tonic—her acknowledged crutch for muscling through the night.

“Sam, so help me, if you don't stop, you're going to be sorry.”

“Sorry how, Buttercup?” he asked, voice low, that knowing grin firm on his face as he slid his thick fingers in and out between her own. And
cripes,
as if the genuine physical response rearing its ugly head wasn't the dead last thing she needed while she was faking a love affair with her lifelong best friend. But
geez,
the way he was weaving their hands together one way, then slowly, faux-unconsciously weaving them back another…
yeesh!
The subtle friction against skin that rarely got any was sending signals to all the wrong places.

Something Sam seemed to have figured out at the first betraying gasp she'd tried to mask with a cough—because he hadn't let up since.

“Sorry, like turnabout is fair play, Jelly Bean,” she replied with a coy turn of her head, double-checking that no one was headed over to the otherwise empty table they were occupying. Probably better to skip the witnesses when Sam started backpedaling as fast as he could. Which Ava expected to happen anytime now.

Sam's grin looked a little stiff there for a second, but then it stretched to lethal proportions, reminding Ava why this particular game might not be the smartest one to play. Despite their years of friendship, she wasn't exactly immune to the guy's charms.

Still, she wasn't backing down.

Freeing her hand from Sam's, she bit her bottom lip—because everyone knew that was how it was done—and then slowly, lightly began to trace the outer edge of his fingers one at a time.

She'd barely hit the first knuckle on his middle finger before Sam cleared his throat and those worn-denim eyes lifted to hers. “Uhh, Ava, you sure you want to play this game?”

Not really. But Ava didn't get one-upped by anyone. And what was the worst that could happen? Steven—who'd pretty much been watching nonstop from whatever corner of the room he'd camped out in—would get an eyeful of Ava happy and in love with Sam. He'd have to give up.

Another generous sip of her drink and she purred, “I'm sure you'll cry ‘uncle' before I do.”

Sam stared a few seconds longer, amusement etched deep in the lines of his face.

Clinking her glass with his own, he knocked back what Ava could only consider a telling gulp of liquid courage. “Bring it,
Schnookums.

Sucker.
“As you wish,
Fern-tip
.”

Thirty minutes later Ava had endured Sam's knuckles running lazily up and down her spine while they chatted with some law school friends. A score of butterflies to the man.

She'd earned a few points herself, brushing an imaginary bit of something from Sam's bottom lip as she wet her own while a couple of Trust guys they'd been talking to got caught up in a debate about the Bulls' last season.

Those darkening eyes…
score, thank you.

Sam took the next point by violating the inside of her wrist with teasing circles from his thumb while a handful of Bankruptcy girls dished about the highlights of the previous year's event. And yeah, that feather-light business was knee-meltingly effective.

Which meant Ava needed to get serious. She'd already garnered more hands-on experience with Sam's skills in the art of seduction than a woman in her situation should ever have.

One more bold move and she'd have him backing down for sure.

Twining Sam's tie—a gorgeous weathered blue that matched his eyes—around her finger a few times, she pulled him down so she could reach his ear. Then, letting her lips come in soft contact with the shell, she murmured, “Just give up. I always win.”

The arm that slid around her shoulders was notably tense. And Ava moved to step back so she could see Sam fold.

Only instead of giving her space, Sam pulled her in closer, shifting so it was
his
mouth against
her
ear.

Oh no.

One breath, warm and wet, and a tremor sliced through her.

A shift of his head, and the slight scrape of his jaw skimmed along the column of her neck, waking the sensitive stretch of skin with a prickly awareness that stole the air from her lungs.

His words washed over her in a low rumble. “You only win because I always let you. But not tonight.”
Oh God,
she was done for. He was right. Of course in this case it probably had more to do with the handicap she was playing with, but whatever her excuse, Sam had her.

Literally. She wasn't sure her legs would hold her if she didn't have that hard, solid arm pinning her in so close to his body.

And right then Ava was wishing like hell she were one of those women with enough confidence in the sanctity of their personal space to keep a vibrator on hand. But Sam Farrow had been burrowing through her crap for two decades, so anything she didn't want him to find, she didn't keep at home. And secure as her lockbox was at the bank…well, a vibrator wasn't happening there either. Which sucked, because she was in a sorry state and something told her taking the edge off tonight was going to be a monumental undertaking.

Stupid Stalker Guy.
This was all his fault.

Even as she thought it, she caught sight of him from across the room. Eyes locked on her like he didn't believe a second of what he was seeing. Which was pretty ironic, actually, considering the last moments were probably the most honest Ava had allowed in too many years to remember.

But whatever.

“Jesus, this guy doesn't give up,” Sam growled, following her eyes with his own. “How bad do you want to get him off your back, Ave?”

An entire evening of seeing her with someone else and he was still watching? “Bad.”

“Yeah, that's what I figured. Here, come with me a second.” Smoothly, Sam guided her over to the terrace door and stepped outside.

The wind had picked up and despite the half-dozen strategically positioned heaters, it was cold enough that they were alone. Ava shivered and without missing a beat, Sam slipped off his suit jacket and draped it across her shoulders, pulling her toward a remote corner.

Suddenly Ava was wondering if she'd made a serious mistake.

“Sam, okay, you know I want to lose this guy. But whatever you're planning out here is making me nervous. You can't threaten him or try to scare him away. The whole point was to be passive. If I need to be direct, I'll do it myself.”

She felt bad even saying it, because that was so not who Sam was. Not anymore. But—

“Whatever you're thinking, you're wrong. I'm not even going to talk to the guy.”

Ava breathed a sigh of relief.

“Good.” Only there was still a tension in the air. In Sam, who hadn't taken his eyes off the doorway since they'd gotten out there. “So what are you going to do?”

Sam squinted down at her with a look she recognized as typically preempting some fool move sure to torque her off. Only instead of the usual, “Don't be mad,” this time he said, “Don't freak out.”

Steven stepped through the door and Sam kissed her.

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