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I’m desperate and destitute when Lockwood Construction rolls into my small town with an offer too good to pass up: high wages to any able-bodied man willing to join their crew.
Say no more. I throw on baggy clothes, tuck my long hair under a baseball hat, and apply for a job. Unfortunately, my half-baked idea of disguising myself as a guy is flawed from the beginning. As Shakira says, these hips don’t lie.
Still, I like to think I might have pulled the whole thing off save for one thing:
I know my boss.
Last month, we met at a bar, and after a fiery first encounter, it seems we’re destined to be sworn enemies.
Ethan Stone is ruthless and arrogant, a man I never would have crossed had I known how much he likes to toy with his prey.
He should just fire me and be done with it. Instead, he decides to make me his personal slave. Oh right, I think they’re calling it personal “assistant” these days.
It’s torture, all of it—his bad attitude, his ruggedly chiseled face, his desire to grind me into dust.
Every one of our friction-filled battles burns hotter than the last.
A girl can only hold out for so long. Soon, I’m bound to go up in flames.
My objective? Survive the heat long enough to send home a paycheck.
My real objective? Stop having X-rated fantasies about my coldhearted boss.
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I hang up my phone with an angry groan and let my forehead smack against the bar. The wood doesn’t bite as much as I want it to. I was hoping I’d blackout for a couple minutes or—even better—experience a nice bout of amnesia. Nothing too crazy, just maybe I’d forget who I am and where I live and why my life is a bleak desolate nightmare.
Angrier than ever, I clutch my cheap prepaid phone in my lap and tighten my grip, wondering how close I am to pulverizing it. Surely it’s not that hard. Just…a little…tighter. The phone stares back at me in one piece, gloating. I let out a defeated sigh just as a glass hits the bar near my head.
“These are on the house.”
I crane my neck only high enough that I’m eye level with a shot glass full of maraschino cherries. They’re nudged farther in my direction by the surly-looking bartender.
“Aren’t those always on the house?” I remark with a healthy dose of snark. I’m taking my anger out on the wrong person.
“For paying customers,” he mutters, reaching to take them back.
Shaken by the idea that he’s going to revoke his offer and steal what will likely be my only dinner, I sit up quickly and swipe the shot glass away from him, aiming a grateful smile his way. It’s been so long since I’ve felt gratitude that I don’t think I achieve the desired effect. My teeth are clenched in more of a pseudo-snarl rather than an actual smile. He shoots me an odd look and then shakes his head, moving down to the other end of the bar to unpack some new bottles of liquor.
He’s new here, a bear of a man as old as my father—or as old as my father would be if he were around. I reach for a cherry and pop it into my mouth. The sweet syrup coats my tongue and I wish the usual bartender were here. David gets it. He grew up in Oak Dale too. He would have heard my groan and seen my forehead resting on the bar and known, without having to ask, that another piece of my life had crumbled at my feet. He wouldn’t have bothered with cherries, would have offered me a glass of the hard stuff, and tonight, I might have taken him up on it.
Then, he would have gone down the list.
“How’s your mom?” he would have asked.
“Two years sober next month.”
“Still getting straight As and better now that she’s on a new medication.”
“Ah, so it’s just life in general getting you down then?”
I’d have aimed a rueful smile his way. “Does a bear shit in the woods?”
He would have laughed at that and then gone on to serve another customer. There are never many in here. Most locals can’t afford marked-up alcohol, which means the bar mostly caters to the travelers staying in the motel next door.
I glance over my shoulder at the group of suits that were here when I first walked in. There are four of them, as fancy as they come, definitely from out of town. These men are used to smelling rarified air, not trailer trash.
Comparing our lives would be comical.
I’ve bounced from odd job to odd job since high school. Currently, I make $7 an hour working as a maid at the motel. That’s below minimum wage, but our manager doesn’t care. He says with tips, it should all break even. It doesn’t. I can’t complain, though, because there are already five of us splitting shifts, and if I don’t like it, there’s someone else ready to take my place.
These suits probably spend $7 on a cup of coffee every morning without a second thought. They toss the spare change into the tip jar, pick up their macchiato espresso chai teas, and glide through life like it’s a fairytale.
A girl like me has no use for fairytales. They won’t keep you warm or clothed or well fed.
The guy who’s sitting in the chair facing the bar catches me watching them. When our eyes lock, my stomach clenches tight enough to give me instant abs.
He’s the best-looking one among them, the one I noticed right away.
In their fairytale, he’s the prince. There is no one on Earth more princely than him. His sharp cheekbones and square, clean-shaven jaw are set off by thick, dark brown hair. He’s tan, as if he spends his days outdoors, but that can’t be right because his suit fits his tall, muscular frame like a glove and his hair is too perfect. Which is it? Are you stuck in a boardroom all day or splitting logs in the woods?
He doesn’t smile with interest like most guys would when he notices my unabashed perusal. Instead, he raises one dark brow as if to say, Almost done? and I realize I was wrong before. This one’s not the prince in the fairytale.