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Dirty Sexy Player Chapter One
 

"Nice rock," I said, admiring the diamond ring Donovan placed on the tabletop. I picked it up and examined the stone in the dimly lit lounge of the The Grand Havana Room, the member’s-only cigar lounge we often frequented when we were together. The diamond was a big one, in a platinum setting with at least four carats between the large center jewel and the scattering of smaller diamonds surrounding it. A serious engagement ring. I wouldn’t expect anything less from one of the world’s most successful young billionaires.

I just had no idea Donovan was even dating anyone.

Of course, we weren’t as close as we used to be. Physically, anyway. He’d been managing the Tokyo office with Cade since we’d expanded our advertising firm into that market. He rarely made it stateside, and it had been nearly a year since I’d last seen Donovan in person. When he’d shown up tonight unexpectedly asking Nate and I to meet him at the club, we’d guessed he had serious news but that it was about the business. 

An engagement ring was a whole new level of serious. No wonder he wanted to do this in person.

"Who's the lucky girl?" I asked, trying not to sound bothered that this was the first I was hearing about her. A glance at Nate said it was the first he was hearing about her too.

"You're asking the wrong question," Donovan said, and bit off the end of his cigar. "The question is who's the lucky guy?"

I raised a brow, confused. But not surprised. Donovan was known to speak in riddles. I’d figure out what he was trying to tell me when he was ready to spill. Might as well play along in the meantime.

"Okay.” I pinched the ring between two fingers and lifted it toward the nearest light source so I could see the full effect of its sparkle. "Who's the lucky guy?"

He lit the end of his cigar and puffed a couple of times before taking it out and answering. "You." 

"Oh, Donovan. You shouldn't have.” I clutched my hand to my chest for dramatic effect. “I don’t know that we’ve ever said it, but I love you too. Still, I don't think I'm ready for this." I handed the ring back to him with a shake of my head.

Nate hid his smirk by taking a large swig of his imported beer.

"Very funny." Donovan carefully placed the ring back in its box. "I'm not proposing to you, Weston. I’m proposing for you."

"You are, are you?" I chuckled at his attempt at a joke. Inside my jacket pocket my phone buzzed with a text. I pulled it out and quickly skimmed the message.

I need to see you.

Normally I’d be all up for a booty call, but my night belonged to the guys. I deleted the message without reading who it was from, silenced my phone and put it back in my pocket.

I gave my attention back to Donovan, continuing to play along with his hoax. "Just who exactly are you proposing to for me?"

He puffed heavily on his cigar before removing it from his mouth to speak. "Her name is Elizabeth Dyson. She’s the sole inheritor of the Dyson Empire. She's twenty-five, classy though spirited, well-bred—definitely a suitable bride. Your union is going to take our business to the next level. Once you marry her, Reach, Inc. will be the biggest advertising company in Europe."

All humor drained from my face. He was serious. Donovan never joked about business. But marriage? "You've got to be kidding me."

“Not even a little bit." 

I was beginning to regret not looking at the name before I deleted that text. I’d have loved to have a reason to bail right about then.

But it was Donovan's first night back in town, I really couldn't leave him now. Not to mention, I knew him. Once he got an idea in his head, it was nearly impossible to get it out. My best chance was to listen, find the weakness in his scheme, and then propose an alternate strategy.

If that failed, I’d tell him fuck, no, and that would be that.

Hopefully.

Saying fuck, no to Donovan Kincaid was often a bit harder in reality than it seemed in theory. 

If I was going to stay, I was at least going to need a stiffer drink. I signaled the waiter. "Can you bring me a shot of Fireball?" Nate nudged me. "Two shots of Fireball?"

Then I turned to Donovan. "You’d better explain this from the beginning.” 

He took a puff of his cigar. "It's a short explanation. Dell Dyson, founder, CEO, and majority shareholder of Dyson Media—basically France’s version of Time Warner—died about eight months ago, leaving his daughter the sole inheritor to the bulk of his fortune. However, the will states she can’t get her hands on any of it until she’s 29—with one exception.”

"Ah, I think I’m getting the picture," Nate said, taking a pull on his beer.

My brows remained wrinkled, my picture still unclear. “Explain it to me then,” I said, turning to Nate. “Because I’m not following.”

He set his bottle on the table and tilted his head toward me. “Daddy Dell was a traditionalist. The daughter inherits when she puts a ring on it.”

“Oh.” Understanding settled in. I screwed my face up in disgust. “That’s gross.”

“Completely terrible and misogynistic,” Donovan agreed, not sounding terribly upset at all. “But there’s nothing we can do about the unfortunate set-up to her situation, and there is something we can do to get her out of it. Something that works out in our favor. So what we need to do is focus on getting Elizabeth married to our man Weston—”

I started to protest, but Donovan rose a hand to silence me. “Temporarily married—a couple of months is all we need for Elizabeth to claim her inheritance of Dyson Media. Once she does, she can push through the merger of Dyson’s advertising subsidiary with Reach, and we’ll take over as the biggest ad company in the European market.”

“Just like that,” I said, skeptically.

“Just like that.” There was no trace of doubt in Donovan’s voice.

"And what makes you think that she'd be interested in this?" I asked. "I mean why would she be interested in giving someone—giving us—part of the company? Not why would she be interested in me." I wasn’t worried about women being into me. But I certainly wasn’t into discussing it with Donovan.

Of course he had an answer for this as well. "I'm in preliminary talks with her already. And she seemed quite interested in the whole arrangement. I didn’t specify who her groom would be but told her I had an eligible bachelor. She's thinking about it further. Tomorrow afternoon in the office, all four of us will have a meeting to hammer out the details. I’ve already cleared your schedule."

It was a good thing the shots arrived then. "You mean I have to have this all thought through and decided by tomorrow afternoon?"

"Oh, you'll agree," Donovan said, confidently.

I threw back the shot. It didn't burn half as much as Donovan's proposal.

I rolled my neck, easing the muscles in my shoulders. "I need a minute to think about this."

"Take two.”

I wasn't really considering any of it, but it was an excuse to order another drink and make Donovan pay for it.

I gestured for the waiter to bring two more shots. Then I leaned back against the plush leather upholstery of the bench seat and rubbed my hand across my forehead, pretending to weigh Donovan's offer in my mind.

To be honest, I’d been restless recently. I enjoyed the benefits of my life—my rental apartment in Midtown, my sex life, the view from my office. But my twenty-ninth birthday was looming and that was so close to thirty. A milestone birthday, and what did I have to show for it? 

Okay. I was one of five shareholders of Reach,Inc., one of the most successful ad agencies in the world, but everyone knew that was Donovan's brainchild. 

What did I have that was purely my own?

A month ago, I'd been so caught up in the desire for clarity that, on a whim, I'd asked a girl to move to New York from LA. It wasn’t the first impulsive move I’d ever made, especially not for a girl—a girl I'd been naked with all weekend, no less—but it had been the craziest. 

Almost as crazy of an idea as getting married to a stranger in order to improve our business status. 

Sabrina, the naked woman, had been a peer that Donovan and I had gone to Harvard with. I’d been fortunate enough to spend a magical reunion weekend with her. There was something about her—a combination of her sexy laugh, serious demeanor, and intelligent brain that struck a chord deep inside me. Our conversation had made me feel warm and interesting and I wanted to capture that. Wanted to make it last.

So much so that right there on the spot, I demanded she take the position of Director of Marketing Strategy. Who cared that there was somebody else who held the position already?

She’d turned me down, wisely, but after she’d left, when the hormones calmed down, I looked into her resume anyway. Turned out she actually deserved the position, and I'd been halfheartedly working on making the transition happen legitimately ever since. 

I’d spent good time thinking about making a real go at a relationship with her, too, if I got her to take the job. 

I'd even told Donovan about my plans. Had he forgotten?

"But I don't want to get married,” I reminded him now. “I want to bring Sabrina Lund to New York City and find out whether or not we fit together."

“Sabrina Lind,” he corrected, his tone peppered with annoyance.

“Isn’t that what I said?” I was starting to feel the alcohol.

"Still bring her here," Nate suggested, always the reasonable one. "She can take the job, and settle in. By the time she gets the hang of things around here, you'll be through your annulment and then you're free to date her."

"That could work, I suppose." Still wasn’t considering it.

"If she’s interested, that is," Donovan scowled.

"Why would she not be interested?" I asked.  

"She’ll be interested," Nate assured me. "But it is hard to move into a new city and get into a new relationship all at once. Better to take it in steps. And meanwhile, you can do this thing for the company."

I could hear the subtext in his words. Subtext that said he thought maybe I owed the company a little more doing

Possibly I was reading too much into it. 

I slammed back my next shot and considered what other reason there might be for Nate Sinclair to take Donovan’s side. He was usually Switzerland.

"You’re just saying all that because you don’t want to be the one to get married, aren’t you?" I eyed Nate accusingly.

He averted his eyes. "I'm old enough to be her father. It's not really appropriate."

I turned my stare to Donovan. There wasn’t a band on his finger.

“It wouldn’t work,” he said flatly, guessing my thoughts. “No one would ever believe I’d get married.”

“I can’t dispute that.” It was hard for me to believe the guy had friends. And I was his best friend.

"You are the ideal candidate," Donovan insisted.

“Damn right I’m the ideal candidate.” I grinned, giving him my full dimpled smile, because hands-down, I was the best looking of all of us. My panty collection proved it. Cade could give me a run for my money with his constant brooding—women seemed to go for that—but he was in Japan. And Dylan Locke’s charming British accent only worked on girls outside the UK, and he was never leaving the London office.

So, I wasn’t just the ideal candidate—I was the only candidate.

But I wasn’t doing it. It was crazy. Stupid crazy.

I ran my hand over my face, wondering how much longer I should allow Donovan to think I could be convinced. There was a fine line between hearing him out and becoming roped in.

"Is this Elizabeth person hot?" I asked, my lips numb from the shots.

"Why?" Donovan asked suspiciously.

"If I'm stuck with her I might as well…you know."

"You just said that you couldn’t marry her because you’ve found the love of your life with Sabrina…"  I could practically see steam coming from Donovan's ears. 

"I didn't say Sabrina was the love of my life. I said she might be the love of my life. It’s too early to tell."

"Either way," Donovan said, snarling, "it's probably a good idea if you don't sleep with your fiancée.”

I exchanged glances with Nate.

Donovan followed my gaze as he tapped the ash of his cigar into a tray. “That didn’t sound right, but I stand behind my recommendation.”

Again, Nate and I looked to each other. We maybe had less conventional sexual standards than our business partner. 

Correction—we definitely had less conventional sexual standards. Especially Nate. Which made him a god in my book. But that was beside the point.

The point was that good ideas were for the office. In the bedroom, I preferred my ideas to be bad.

I was just messing with Donovan, anyway. I didn’t need this set-up to get laid, and I most certainly didn’t need this set-up to feel like I’d contributed to the company. I’d strung him along far enough.

"Well, Donovan, this is maybe the most strategic and outrageous plan you’ve ever come up with, also possibly the most brilliant.” I patted him on the back. He did deserve credit where credit was due. "But I'm going to have to pass, brother. It's a little too crazy for me."

Donovan sat back and slung out an arm, his elbow resting on the back of the bench. He looked relaxed, far too at ease with my decision, which made me uneasy. He was a guy who was used to things happening his way. He didn't like it when his plans were altered. If he wasn’t upset now, it meant he had something else up his sleeve. 

Which meant I needed to keep my guard up.

Unfortunately, Donovan also had patience. So despite my suspicions, I’d have to wait until he was prepared to move into the next phase of his plan to find out what he was hiding. 

I glanced over at Nate who shrugged again before catching the eye of a gentleman at the bar.

"Excuse me," he said, "I know that guy. I need to say hello."

I gave him a wink because there was no telling how Nate knew him—whether it was from his past crazy illegal dealings or from his current wild sexual dealings. Either way, it probably made a good story, and one I’d like to hear.

A good story that I wasn't going to get to hear because I was stuck at the table with Donovan and whatever bullshit scenario he had worked up for me now.

Before he could start in on another one of these brilliant schemes, I started a conversation of my own. "How long are you staying in town, Donovan?"

"Haven’t decided yet. A few months. Longer, maybe. Cade's handling Japan for now. Meanwhile, you’ve been complaining about needing some help up here. So here I am."

"Well." This was awesome. Donovan and I hadn't lived in the same city for years. Our parents owned King-Kincaid Financial, and we'd spent so much time together growing up, we were practically siblings. My only sister was a decade younger, so Donovan had been the one I’d bonded with most. Only four years older than me, he was the one who had mentored me through all my significant firsts. First time drinking, first time smoking, first time sneaking out to meet a girl, first time starting a company. 

"Glad to hear it. You should've told me sooner. Are you moving back into—"

"I’ll wipe the loan," he said, cutting me off.

And there it was. The bit that would make my jaw drop. The offer that would make me sit up and listen.

"The entire loan?" My heart was thumping in my chest now, and I could hear blood gushing in my ears.

"The whole thing. Gone."

Gone. All of it. Whoosh. Just like that.

What a fucking relief that would be.

Donovan was the only one who knew that I hadn't put all my own money into the company when we first started up. After nearly draining my inheritance from my grandmother, I’d borrowed the rest of the seed money from him, a sizable amount that I'd slowly been paying him back with the profits earned over our five years in business. 

I still owed him a million. 

It was quite an amount to just write off, even for him. 

The irony of it was that I had more than twenty times that in my trust fund. I could've wiped the loan out myself years ago. If I'd wanted to. 

Again, Donovan was the only one who knew why I chose not to borrow from that sizable fund.  

And so, since Reach had begun with Donovan and I—and since we had pledged the most start-up money—when he covered my portion, he also got the advantage.

It was one of the reasons why the company always felt like it was more Donovan's than mine.

And it was a reason I often bent to his will, even when I’d rather not.

"Why is this merger so important to you?" I asked, unsure what to make of this offer. It wasn't like Donovan held the loan over me all the time. It wasn’t like he wasn't generous. He would give me the shirt off his back if it was the last thing he owned.

But he also knew about integrity, and he understood that I wanted to be a self-made man. And he respected that.

I respected him for getting me.

So if this was that important to him, then I really needed to be listening. Because I would give Donovan the shirt off my back too.

"Number one in Europe, Weston," he said with a gleam in his eye. "We've only been open five years, and it would take a long time to get that title any other way. It’s been far more difficult than I’d hoped to crack that market the way we have here."

I always knew the guy was competitive, but this really took the cake.

"And it's just a fake marriage then? Just a sham?" 

Dammit. I couldn't believe I was actually considering this.

"A complete farce. You’d start right away, fake a whirlwind romance and engagement. Have the whole thing done in four, five months tops. But the benefits to Reach would last a lifetime. Think of it as your legacy, Weston.”

I drummed my fingers on the table top. "This is fucking insane."

"You like insane,” he said, leaning in close, knowing exactly which words would push my buttons.

How did he do this every time? He really was a mastermind. Able to wield the strings of all the puppets, controlling everyone, getting them to do his bidding. Not that I resented him for it. I admired him, truthfully.

And there was that something in my life that was missing. 

Not that a fake wedding was going to fix it, but maybe the chance to contribute could make a difference. The chance to leave a legacy. 

And to be able to give something back to Donovan after all the things he'd given me—well, that was something I couldn’t take lightly.

Plus the end of that loan. To be my own man. Finally.

"Ah, fuck it. I got nothing better to do with my life. Let's be number one in Europe." Actually, that did have a pretty decent ring to it.

The corner of his lip lifted. "You know how to talk dirty to me.” He reached into his pocket, where he’d deposited the ring back into its velvet box earlier, and handed it over before taking a long, satisfied sip of his drink.

I dropped it inside my jacket. The small square shape felt like a lead weight against my chest.

I wondered how heavy its contents were going to feel when it was on Elizabeth Dyson’s hand.

Read the rest of Dirty Sexy Player on July 23, when the book releases on ebook and paperback! Already available on audio.