Authors: Lauren Layne
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #New Adult
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A Redemption Novel
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Tentative On-Sale Date: April 14, 2015
Tentative Publication Month: April 2015
Tentative eBook Price: $2.99
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Flirt, an imprint of Penguin Random House
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
A Redemption Novel
This is an uncorrected eBook file.
Please do not quote for publication until you check your copy against the finished book.
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 Flirt eBook Original
Copyright © 2015 by Lauren Layne
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Flirt, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Flirt is a registered trademark and the Flirt colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 9780553390360
Cover design: TK
Cover illustration: TK
It’s been six months since I fled Manhattan for Cedar Grove, Texas.
Six months since I traded in Armani suits for Levi’s, Gucci loafers for cowboy boots, and a Fifth Avenue penthouse for a small-ass basement studio.
Six months since ditching Wall Street to be a country-club lackey and occasional bartender.
Six months since learning that my identity as Michael St. Claire is a lie. No St. Claire blood runs through my veins. The Michael is still mine. The St. Claire, it turns out, is a façade. Bestowed upon me by a woman’s careless affair and a man’s pride.
A man who is not my father.
It’s been six months since I betrayed my best friend.
Six months since I walked away from
. No. Since she walked away from
But more than that . . . more than any of that . . .
It’s been six months since I’ve bothered to care.
“Your shirt’s untucked in the back.”
I turn, giving a half smile of gratitude to the blonde who’s just followed me out of the unisex restroom at the Cambridge Country Club tennis courts.
She giggles as she runs a hand over her tennis skirt, smoothing it over tanned, toned thighs. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into doing that in a public restroom.”
I hadn’t talked Mindy McLaughlin into shit. Everything from the location to the position had been her idea.
But I don’t remind her of this.
If I’ve learned anything in my first month as tennis pro to the rich and richer, it’s that cougars don’t like being reminded that
the ones doing the pursuing.
I give her a wink as I finish tucking in my shirt, before scanning the courts to make sure we don’t have any witnesses to the fact that we just spent the first twenty minutes of Mindy’s sixty-minute tennis lesson fucking against the wall of a bathroom stall.
Luckily, it’s the middle of the day and hot as hell. Most people hit the courts in the early morning or not at all.
Mindy follows me to the benches, where we retrieve our rackets. “Should we finish up?” I ask.
She lets out a low laugh, running pink manicured nails down the front of my white polo. “I think we already did that.”
I ignore this, and hold up the tennis ball questioningly.
“It’s hot,” she whines.
It is. Way too fucking hot to play tennis. She still has forty minutes left, but I’m not all that surprised that she wants to bail. We both know she didn’t come down here for the tennis.
It’s just as well. I hate the damn sport. I only work the courts three days a week, and my lesson schedule is packed with women that are probably better at tennis than I am.
I’m passably decent at tennis because, once upon a time, I was one of the spoiled brats
lessons, not giving them. I don’t love the sport. I’m not like these other douche bags that work the courts and make a big show of how they could have gone pro if they wanted.
My tennis skills aren’t why I was hired, and I damn well know it. Growing up on the Upper East Side of New York taught me early that women of the idle rich class get bored easily. A boredom they often ease by taking up with men other than their husbands.
Fortunately for me, most of my life I was blissfully unaware that my own mother fell into that category of straying housewives.
Ignorance truly is bliss.
And when ignorance is over?
All hell breaks loose.
“Same time next week?” she asks, moving toward me and tilting her face up.
I know what she wants. A kiss that I have no intention of giving.
I sidestep, setting my racket and ball on the bench.
“Can I buy you a drink?” she asks. She does an unnecessary stretch that strains her white top across full—definitely fake—breasts.
For the briefest of moments, I feel chokingly bored by it all, but I force myself to embrace the boredom.
“No, thanks. I’ve got a lesson after this.”
“What about tomorrow? I was thinking I should maybe add a second lesson in the week. To keep me loose.” She winks.
“Can’t,” I say. “I’m working the gym tomorrow. I alternate giving tennis lessons and being a personal trainer.”
I like the latter a lot better. It involves air-conditioning.
Her eyes light up both with interest and a competitive gleam. “Do I know any of your personal-trainer clients?”
Probably half of your book club, Bible club, and Junior League.
I’d screwed a good portion of them, too, and it’s obvious that Mindy McLaughlin is eager to know her competition.
“Well,” she says, leaning forward when I don’t respond, “if you ever decide to take a little break, you know just who to call.”
“Sure do,” I say, giving her a sleepy look that’s always seemed to have a way with women.
Well, all women but one. The one who mattered.
Normally, I’d be more than happy to be late to my next lesson in order to scratch Mindy’s second itch of the day and help her forget that she’s married to a high-powered judge with a potbelly.
But Mrs. McLaughlin has one unavoidable disadvantage working against her.
Today is Wednesday.
And on Wednesdays, I have a client I want more than Mindy McLaughlin.
After a few more failed come-ons, Mrs. McLaughlin finally gives up, although I know she’ll be coming with her A-game next week. Her skirt shorter, her lips glossier, her invitations more blatant.
I check out her ass on principle as she walks away, running the towel over my face before finishing a bottle of water in three gulps.
One more lesson before I can escape to Pig and Scout, the dive bar where I sometimes work nights. Generally, I count the hours until P&S; it’s a welcome break from all the pretension.
Although . . .
Today is Wednesday. And on Wednesdays, I’m not in such a hurry.
Despite what the other guys think about their athletic skills, I know we “tennis pros” are merely the pool boys of the country club. We’re supposed to be ripped, a little bit dangerous, and not clinging too closely to our morals.
I have no problem with any of those, especially the last one, even if it does get old after a while.
But my hour a week with Kristin Bellamy makes it all worth it.
I see Kristin approaching out of the corner of my eye, but deliberately don’t turn to check her out, even subtly.
See, forty-two-year-old women like Mindy McLaughlin are forever afraid they’re “losing it.” They need the confirmation that they’re still worth looking at.
But twenty-two-year-old girls like Kristin Bellamy
they’ve got it.
The trick to reeling
in is making them wonder if you’ve noticed.
I turn to face her, keeping my expression indifferent. “Kristin.”
Yeah, I definitely notice her.
She’s wearing only a white sports bra and a tiny white tennis skirt. I’m pretty sure the club has some sort of policy requiring members to wear a little more clothing, but considering the place is run by a bunch of doddering old dudes, I doubt they’re going to order Kristin to cover up her tanned, toned stomach and perky tits.
My eyes don’t linger, returning quickly to her face, and she appears not to mind that I don’t check her out.
It’s a game we’ve been playing for weeks now.
For the life of me I can’t figure out who’s winning.
I only know the endgame. Her. Me. In bed. Or wherever.
Kristin is the first girl to interest me—
interest me—since Olivia Middleton. The only girl I’ve ever really wanted. And definitely the only one I’ve ever loved.
Not that I have any intention of loving Kristin. I’m not going that route again, ever.
But I do want her. And not just because she has a smoking body. Kristin has a key connection to my very reason for being in Texas.
“Saw Mindy on my way down here,” Kristin says, giving a little twirl of her racket as she moves closer. “Everything go okay with your lesson? She looked kind of irritated.”
I toss my towel aside with an indifferent shrug. “It’s hot. Makes everyone edgy.”
“It really is hot, isn’t it?” she agrees, setting her racket on the bench to pull her long dark hair into a high ponytail. “I could hardly bear to get dressed this morning.”
Looks like you didn’t bare it at all,
I almost say. But I don’t. I just pretend like I don’t notice the way her current posture shows off the lean curve of her waist.
Kristin looks nothing like Olivia. Olivia was blond with warm green eyes, whereas Kristin is dark-haired with scheming brown eyes. But they have that same combination of sweet and haughty, the same rich-girl fit body, same shy yet confident smile.
Kristin absently runs her fingertips over her bare abdomen and I nearly grin at the obviousness of her gesture.
Even as I want to haul her to me and give her the kiss she’s so blatantly asking for, I want to knock her down a peg. To tell her she’s nothing to me but a chance at redemption from my past, and the key to getting my foot in the door of my future.