Handsome hotshot handsom.., p.1

Handsome Hotshot (Handsome Devils Book 5), page 1

 

Handsome Hotshot (Handsome Devils Book 5)
 


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Handsome Hotshot (Handsome Devils Book 5)


  Handsome Hotshot

  Lori Wilde

  Liz Alvin

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Excerpt: Handsome Rancher

  About the Authors

  Also by Lori Wilde and Liz Alvin

  1

  “Michael, I’ve got an opportunity for you.”

  Michael Parker looked up from his computer as his boss, Nathan Barrett, walked into his office. At the word “opportunity,” he froze, wary about what would happen next.

  “Opportunity?” He didn’t like the sound of this. In business, the word opportunity was just another way of saying huge, horrible mess. It was sort of like telling folks on a sinking ship they would have the opportunity to practice swimming in the ocean.

  “Calm down.” Nathan chuckled and sat in the chair facing Michael’s desk. “It’s not a terrible thing.”

  Even if it was, Michael knew he would find a way around this problem. He always did. Wrangling problems was his specialty.

  “How can I help?” he asked.

  “That’s it exactly. Remember during your interview when we discussed community involvement? That’s why I’m here. So you can help.”

  “I’m lost.”

  Nathan smiled. “I want all senior managers to volunteer at least ten hours a week for the next couple of months. By the managers volunteering, I’m hoping the staff will as well.”

  “Volunteer?” Michael frowned, confused, which happened often these days. This company, especially his boss Nathan Barrett, was unlike any other place he’d worked before. The atmosphere in the office was very casual, even relaxed. Anything could happen, which meant this opportunity might really end up biting him.

  “Volunteer?” he repeated.

  “Yep. Now before you start worrying, you can go during your regular office hours. I’m not looking to cut into your life.”

  “I see,” he said, but truthfully, he didn’t at all. For starters, he had no life outside of work, and he was happiest that way.

  “See, here’s the thing,” Nathan said. “I love the town of Honey, Texas. It’s where I grew up and where I built my company. Our company is thriving, and I want Honey to thrive as well. You like Honey, don’t you?”

  Michael had to think about his answer. He’d been born and raised in a small Texas town, even smaller than Honey, and he’d forgotten how much he disliked it—until he’d moved here. Everyone meddled in everyone’s business. “Um, it’s interesting.”

  His comment made Nathan laugh. “Let me guess, you’re not used to having people stop and analyze the contents of your cart at the grocery store.”

  Analyze. Comment. Criticize. Yes, he didn’t appreciate any of it. “They do take an interest,” was all he said.

  “Yep. It’s great, right?” Nathan asked.

  “Sure.” Michael knew better than to criticize something, anything, that was important to his boss. He’d worked his way through college and through five years at an accounting firm by knowing how to make his boss’ priorities his priorities.

  “You grew up in a small town, right? So that interest probably wasn’t a surprise,” Nathan said.

  Michael hated talking about where he grew up, but he didn’t show it. “Yes, it is a very small town. Just one stoplight.”

  “Honey now has three! Bet it looks like a big city to you.” Nathan’s smile showed he absolutely did not understand how Michael had felt about his hometown. It was a dusty, dry piece of West Texas dirt.

  “So about this mandatory volunteering,” Michael said, wanting to avoid talking about his hometown with the same zeal that a cat avoided a bath.

  The grin on Nathan’s face made it clear that he understood what Michael was doing. But he let it slide. Instead, he said, “You’ve only been here a little over a month. Give it time. You’ll grow to love Honey once you put down roots.”

  Michael was more likely to believe that armadillos could square dance than to believe he’d come to love Honey, but he simply said, “I’m sure.”

  Nathan seemed to find this response funny because he laughed. “That’s one of the other great things about volunteering. You’ll get to learn more about Honey and the people who live here. I want you to volunteer at the Honey Senior Citizen Center. You’ll really get to know the local folks by helping out there.”

  Only years of practice enabled Michael to stop a horrified expression from crossing his face. A senior citizen center? Him? Around old, retired people?

  “Couldn’t I just give them a donation?” he tried, feeling like a drowning man hoping for a life preserver.

  Nathan shook his head. “No. I want you to be hands-on. You are not allowed to give them money. Just your time.”

  The focus should be on making money, not wasting time volunteering. “Shouldn’t we spend our time looking for ways to expand? The company’s doing great, but I think now is the best time to look for other opportunities. We’ve got the merger to focus on.”

  Nathan nodded. “I know, and we’ll do that too. We’ll find the time.”

  Michael struggled to keep himself from pointing out the obvious. Every day had a limited number of hours. He couldn’t waste his puttering around with old people.

  “Don’t worry. It’s all going to work out fine,” Nathan said, standing and heading toward the door. “Just swing by today for a little while on your way home. I think you’ll find you enjoy helping out and meeting more of the residents of Honey.”

  With that, Nathan walked out.

  Michael watched him leave, a feeling of doom settling over him. Oh, he was all for charity and gave often. He knew firsthand what it meant to rely on strangers for help. But giving money was different from giving time. Money he had, time he didn’t.

  Despite what Nathan said, you couldn’t make time. It was limited, and a long time ago, he’d promised himself that he would use all his time to make sure he got ahead in life.

  He was in the process of examining several companies for a potential major merger, and if he pulled it off, Barrett Software would be set for years.

  And if he failed...

  Ah, but he wouldn’t. Failure was not an option. So he wouldn’t fail. He wouldn’t allow himself to fail. And once he pulled off this look-Ma-no-hands major miracle, it would be pretty much guaranteed that he could move to an even bigger corporation and an even bigger paycheck.

  He was going to find a way to turn this opportunity into a true opportunity.

  Nothing—and no one—was going to stop his climb to the top. He’d build a snowman with the devil before he allowed himself to fail. It just flat out would not happen.

  “So, what are you going to do with him?”

  Casey Richards hunkered under her ancient metal desk, trying to shove a piece of cardboard beneath the short leg. At the words, she rose to her knees and looked over the desktop.

  Elmira Ross, a dedicated regular at the Honey Senior Citizen Center, stood in her doorway. Elmira was what the gentlemen called a looker. Even at seventy, she still turned heads with an irresistible combination of a devilish personality and the most unusual azure eyes.

  “Do with whom?” Casey asked, refolding the square of cardboard.

  “The new guy. Rumor has it we’re getting a new man today. I bet he’s a handsome devil.”

  Rumor would b
e Tommy Gilbert. Or Albert Terford. Or any of the other gentlemen who were infatuated with Elmira.

  “The new guy, as you call him, is a volunteer,” Casey said.

  Elmira grinned, showing dimples that had probably broken more than a few hearts in her lifetime. “Oh, honey, you don’t fool me. I know he’s a young one. Why do you think I’m so interested? He could be perfect for you.”

  Casey didn’t want to encourage Elmira, but she couldn’t prevent herself from smiling. This was what she loved about being the director of the center—the regulars were a great group of people.

  But she needed to be clear on this point, so Casey said, “Don’t try to matchmake. This man is here to help the center.”

  The older woman shrugged. “You’re part of the center.”

  “Not a part that needs fixing,” Casey stressed.

  “Oh, Casey, men are like hats. No woman really needs one, and on certain days, they’re more trouble than they’re worth. But if you’re lucky enough to find the perfect one, then your life will be truly blessed.”

  Despite herself, Casey laughed. “I don’t want or need a hat. Moreover, Michael Parker is not a hat. He’s a hotshot exec from Barrett Software. I don’t need a hotshot creating problems. I need a volunteer helping with solutions.”

  Just thinking about having a corporate exec here made Casey cringe. Sure, the center could use all the volunteers it could get. Heck, she encouraged companies to have their employees volunteer, and no company had helped out as much as Barrett Software. But having one of their executives here was the last thing she needed.

  Especially since she knew he’d been forced to volunteer. The man wouldn’t want to be here. Men like him never wanted to be anywhere but at work. He’d probably end up being about as much help as using a thimble to bail out a sinking ship.

  “I refuse to believe this man won’t liven things up around here,” Elmira said. “If he’s an executive, then maybe he’ll give us some help with financial planning.”

  As much as Casey would love Mr. Corporate Hatchetman to give the seniors financial advice, he probably would only know how to work with a budget in the billions.

  Plus, his own finances would be so convoluted with stock options and bonuses and incentives that he wouldn’t have a clue as to what life on social security and meager savings was like.

  But she didn’t say this to Elmira. Instead, she shrugged. “We can always hope for the best.”

  With a final smile at the older woman, she ducked back under her desk and shoved the cardboard beneath the leg. It still wasn’t enough. Groaning, she scooted around until she found a more comfortable position, then set about refolding the cardboard.

  When she heard someone lift the phone receiver and punch in numbers, she hollered, “That better not be a long-distance number you’re dialing. This phone isn’t like your cell phone. These calls cost.”

  “It’s not a long-distance call,” a man’s voice said.

  Casey frowned. Although male, the voice definitely belonged to a younger man. He wasn’t one of the seniors. She squirmed out from underneath her desk, bumping her head at the last second.

  “Shoot.” Half scooting, half crawling, she managed an undignified exit from under the desk, rocked back on her heels, and looked up.

  There was no doubt about the identity of the man standing on the other side of her desk. The expensive navy suit gave him away.

  He stood talking on her phone as if this were his office, not hers. She slowly rose to her feet and tried to brush off the dark smear across the front of her T-shirt, then gave up.

  The man watched her with open amusement. He had great eyes. An interesting, almost warm, cerulean blue. Those eyes gave him a sincerity that had undoubtedly helped him in corporate takeovers and ruthless downsizings.

  He’d look across at his prey, and they wouldn’t realize their days were numbered. They’d get suckered in by the twinkle in those baby blues, and before they knew what happened, kapow, they’d be history!

  Yep, she’d give him this—he was a good-looking corporate shark. Elmira had been right. He was a handsome devil. Easily over six feet, with midnight-black hair that was brushed back from his tanned face. A striking face with a square jaw and a tiny cleft in his chin.

  Bet he pays more for a haircut than I pay for a week’s groceries, Casey thought, studying him while he rattled off numbers like a calculator.

  When he simply nodded at her and continued with his conversation, Casey decided enough was enough. She leaned across her small desk and tapped on the phone.

  “We only have one line. You need to end this call. I’m waiting for an important call from a potential donor, and I don’t want it to roll to voicemail.”

  He raised his hand in an obvious signal asking for a few more minutes.

  “I need those revised figures on my desk by five tonight, Glenda. I can’t wait until morning.” He looked at his slim, gold watch. “I’ll be through here by four-thirty.”

  Annoyed, Casey tapped the phone again. “I’m not trying to be rude, but you can’t tie up this line,” she repeated, her voice louder this time.

  Okay, cute was one thing, but this big-business jock was about to turn into her worst nightmare. He’d only been here twelve seconds, and he’d already yanked her chain by trying to take over.

  Sheesh.

  Sure, she’d admit that a man like Michael Parker could swing a lot of clout with other companies. And sure, he probably could help her rustle up donations. But there was also a really good chance he wouldn’t help her at all. He might just spend all his time on her phone doing his work if she didn’t stop him. And she would stop him.

  She needed to take a stand and take it now.

  Without asking again, she calmly reached across the desk and depressed the button on her battered black phone. Then she waited for the fireworks.

  “What the hell do you—”

  She held up one hand, halting his words. “First off, we do not curse in this building. That will cost you a dollar. In the future, I expect you to find a more appropriate way to express yourself.”

  “Who in the hell—”

  “I mean it. You now owe me two dollars.” She met his steely gaze with one of her own. Granted, her own five-foot-seven height put her at a disadvantage. But she’d been raised by a corporate shark, so she knew how to stare down the best of them.

  “Two dollars?”

  “I assume you’re Michael Parker.” She quirked one eyebrow and waited for his answer.

  “Yes.” From his expression, he was grappling with a lot of emotions, not the least of which she guessed was anger. This man needed to be hung up on. In her opinion, it was long overdue.

  He motioned toward her phone. “Look, I realize you’ve just got the one line, but that’s a vital phone call. I’ll only be a few minutes.”

  A reasonable person would say yes, sure, he could use the phone. But Casey really needed to be able to answer the call from Honey Dry Cleaners to see if they were going to donate.

  Plus, she knew if she said yes now, he’d live on the phone, and she’d never get a bit of work done. And she needed to work. Someone had to do something about raising money for the new Senior Citizen Center. The Victorian house on Lake Hoffler was perfect for a new center.

  But so far, the city was only willing to allocate three hundred thousand dollars, which would pay for the house, but not the renovations. She had to come up with the rest of the money before the lease ran out on this building in two months.

  If she couldn’t come up with the money for renovations, then the whole project would go down the drain.

  So even though refusing Michael Parker today might seem petty, she needed every spare second she could find to hunt up donors.

  “Why don’t you just use your cell phone to make your call?” she asked.

  He sighed. “Something’s wrong with it. It’s charged and it still rings, but I can’t make calls or receive them.” His hand snaked toward her phon
e. “So, if you’ll just give me a couple of minutes.”

  The man was like a junkie needing a phone fix. She watched his fingers wrap around the receiver. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. I need the phone. It’s very important I round up donations.”

  He didn’t relax his grip. “Well, my call won’t hold you up for long.” He lifted the phone a couple of inches. “I’ll be off in plenty of time for you to make your own calls.”

  Casey’s temper flared, but she tapped it down. No way would she lose this fight. If she did, it would set a terrible precedent. “You’re here to help, not to use the phone.”

  He smiled, a smooth, no doubt well-used smile. Oh, it was a good one. Just enough sincerity and little-boy mischief in it to make Casey’s pulse kick up a notch. Tiny lines fanned out from his eyes, making him even more attractive.

  “I’m not trying to be difficult,” he said.

  Yeah. Right. And she had some swampland that would look great on a vacation postcard. “But you’re succeeding, all the same.”

  That got him. His smile dimmed just a fraction. She could almost see him reevaluating her. He hadn’t expected her to stand up to him.

  “How about if I promise that the next time I come, I’ll bring my own phone?”

  Casey drummed her fingernails on the desk, the staccato pings unusually loud in her tiny office. Frankly, she was torn between wanting to be reasonable and wanting to stand her ground. She had enough goddess-warrior in her to want to win this battle, to be triumphant, to rule the day. A glance around her office brought her back to reality.

  “Tell you what...you can use my phone today for exactly ten minutes if you make a donation to help renovate our new building.”

  Like a light being switched off, Michael’s smile faded. “You’re charging me to use the phone?”

  “Not charging, exactly. Let’s just say that during those ten minutes, I might have been lucky enough to find someone who would be happy to make a sizable donation to the center.”

 
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