Authors: Holley Trent
Tags: #workplace romance, #enemies to lovers, #male submissive, #athlete, #sports hero, #baseball
“Uh.” He put the phone back in his pocket, shifted his clipboard to his other hand, and then cut his gaze to Quinn.
Marina somehow managed to suppress the compulsion to roll her eyes. “I fund his paychecks, too,” she said. “So, do you want to take a look around and see if you can meet my scheduling requirements, or should I thank you now for driving out and send you on your way?”
The carpenter flipped some pages on his clipboard, hemming and hawing, and muttering something about subcontractors and permits.
She knew damn well he didn’t need any permits for cosmetic interior work, but she wasn’t going to call him out on it yet. She liked to give people enough rope to hang themselves.
“You said ten percent if we get it done in under a week?” he asked.
“Mm-hmm. Ten percent of
. Don’t add materials into that, because that’s a lot of money. And as I said, reasonable labor. I’m not paying ten guys to do the work of three.”
“Do I need to be on-site?”
Yeah, he’s warming up now.
Pride meant more to some men than money, but obviously, that guy was on the side of team green.
She cocked up a brow. “Do you trust your guys?”
“For a few hours at a time. I usually check in on each of my project sites twice a day. They’re good at following explicit instructions, but don’t take a whole lot of initiative.”
“Well, that’s good. There’s no room for creativity here. I just need them to follow instructions and get this house move-in ready.”
“In that case, I’ve got three or four who could show up tomorrow. They’re a little more expensive than some of the guys I use, but they’re local and have their own transportation. They’ll work hard and get out of here in time to pick their family members up from school or work.”
“How much more expensive?”
“Couple of dollars per hour more.”
“So, assuming four guys at perhaps fifty-four hours each, times x plus two…” She let her lips sputter and shrugged. “We’re talking around five hundred bucks. I’m not gonna quibble about that.”
One of his eyes twitched. Contractors always seemed to develop facial tics when she was negotiating with them. It was almost as if they expected her to spew gibberish at them. Of the many languages she spoke, gibberish wasn’t one of them.
She gestured toward the kitchen. “Shall we?”
“Uh. Okie dokie. Let’s take a look.” The carpenter strode toward it.
When he was out of earshot, she whispered to Quinn, “Thank you for keeping your mouth shut.”
“Come on, Marina. I’m not stupid. I wasn’t gonna get in the way of you establishing who the alpha is.”
The alpha. Right.
She sighed inwardly. “I’m just the lady with the checkbook, and I want things done right without me having to be here screeching. That’s all.”
He nodded and rocked back on his heels. “So…”
The doorbell rang.
She ground her teeth, gave her dense hair bun a tug, and took a deep breath. “Carpet guy is early.”
Quinn crooked his thumb toward the kitchen. “You want me to go follow the carpenter around and act like I know anything at all?”
Marina didn’t see where she had a choice. She could multitask and deal with both at once, but she desperately wished to avoid that feeling of being in over her head even when she wasn’t. It always took her so long wind down from the anxiety.
She dragged her tongue across her dry lips and nodded. “For
. We’ll…hash out the rest later.”
“A’ight, then.” He strutted away, the drape of his slightly drooping sweatpants pulling her gaze down to the tight pop of his ass.
She breathed. In and out, and then again. Anxiety receded, and reluctant attraction bubbled up in its place.
Baseball players had the best asses. All that squatting and lunging…
She groaned. She bet if she were to squeeze it, it’d have just the right amount of give, and Quinn would look over his shoulder and treat her to one of those grins. She’d walk away muttering nonsensical shit just like the carpenter had been, ashamed that she couldn’t keep her hands to herself.
She laughed maniacally and quietly to herself and opened the door for the carpet guy.
This is going to be a disaster. I already know it.
“Get out. You gotta go.”
Quinn dug in his heels and braced his hands against the doorway Marina was trying to push him out of. “What’s the hurry? You’re paying to have me for the rest of the day, so you might as well keep me.”
She rolled up her top lip.
“I can’t think of a single person who’d want to keep you,” she said. “For longer than a night, anyway. You have a certain reputation.”
He raised his shoulders and let them fall. “Well, I do have my charms.”
“And from what I hear, they’re mostly in your pants.”
, you’re mean.”
But, he’d known that about Marina. She liked baseball, but hated baseball
. Her father had bought out the team for a steal three years ago, and in that time, there’d been a lot of upheaval in the ranks. The Reedsville Roosters had been one of the lowest ranked teams in the minor league, and hadn’t even been able to find sponsors willing to advertise in their game programs. Things were on the upswing thanks to more aggressive coaching and a few risk-taking, high-profile sponsors, but Quinn wouldn’t be reaping the benefits of any of that shit. He didn’t just get cut—he got unceremoniously
Maybe some other team would take him on, but he wasn’t going to hold his breath. He was too practical to sit around wishing, and he needed cash to pay bill collectors. If everything worked out, he could keep his damn truck from getting repossessed.
Fuck luck. I’ve got charm.
And he was going to use it on the sharp-tongued Miss Cassavetes. It’d be the hardest-earned paycheck he’d ever get, and he was
to hustling. She was going to put him through his paces for sure, but at least folks would stop asking him for money for a little while.
Manservants made pretty good money when they could get the work. He’d been begging for extra referrals, but so many overlapped with his bartending gigs. He was always afraid to give up the tips he could be making, especially on busy nights. Manservants clients didn’t tend to tip worth a shit. Granted, by the end of most appointments, he was probably a little too surly for them to want to. They always wanted to touch him. He hated that.
Marina let out a sharp exhalation and narrowed her gaze at him. “Quinn,
. I’ve got places to be tonight.”
He spread on his most endearing grin—or at least, his aunt Sue had once claimed that it was. For all he knew, he looked like a predator. “But you haven’t even told me what time you want me to show up tomorrow.”
“Maybe I don’t want you to show up tomorrow.”
He pressed a hand over his heart. “Aw, that hurts. That
“Can the act, Quinn. I know exactly what you want, and I’m not inclined to give it to you.”
“You think you know everything about me. You
.” Nobody knew shit about him. He generally liked it that way. The fewer folks he had in his business, the better. Less judging, less criticizing, less nagging. Fewer fights to get into.
“I know you don’t care about your reputation,” she said, “and that’s telling enough. If the rumors aren’t true, you’ve got a hell of a row to hoe to clean it up.”
“I don’t see that I should have to. People are gonna think what they want.”
“Okay. Sure.” She nodded sardonically. “And that’s exactly what I’m doing. Right now, I’m thinking you’re a major pain in the ass and that if my father won’t sign your paychecks anymore, then I shouldn’t step up to be the one who replaces them.”
“Maybe you should be.”
He shrugged. “Or someone named Cassavetes, anyway. You know, I’ve been doing this manservant gig a lot in off-seasons for the past few years. I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit, and you know, even if I wasn’t bound by contract to not say anything I wouldn’t. I know how to keep my mouth shut when I have to.”
“But not with your teammates, apparently.”
The assholes had got what they deserved. Sometimes they deserved to be cussed out. And sometimes they deserved a punch to the chin. He was happy to give them the medicine they needed. There’d been a time or two when he’d needed a little himself. He’d sucked it up and took it.
, I had a very, very interesting client last winter,” he said. “I can’t say names, you know—confidentiality—but I
say that when a certain minor league baseball team owner got his credit card statement that month, he didn’t like seeing that charge to the agency.”
Quinn studied his ragged cuticles and grunted. “No, ma’am, he didn’t like that one bit.”
“Are you talking about my father? There’s only one other person who has access to his credit cards.”
Quinn pushed up an eyebrow. “Oh, is that so?”
Marina ground her teeth some more.
“Well, I gotta tell you. I generally shy away from the clients who obviously are looking for a special sort of attention. I’m pretty picky about who gets to touch me. I sure did peg that one wrong. Whew.” He shook his head. “Mmm, mmm,
. Never judge a book by its cover, they say. I hightailed it out of there as soon as I could. There ain’t enough money in the world to put up with some of the shit folks ask me to do.”
“Are you really telling me my stepmother came on to you?”
“Hey, now, Marina. I already told you that I can’t tell you stuff. Confidentiality clause.”
She narrowed her dark-as-night eyes at him again. Maybe her expression would have intimidated other men, but Quinn was around women like her all the time. He’d gotten so he preferred ladies who were a little bossy—who’d tell him what to do and then make him do it.
Yeah, he’d enjoy
. Missed it. It’d been too long since he’d given up control to someone. Not since Emilie Beaudelaire, and he couldn’t have her anymore. She was off the market, and cohabitating with a couple of ex-Roosters who’d likely stomp him into the earth if he ever happened to cross their paths. It wasn’t his fault that Quinn and Ren always went after the same chicks. Quinn sure as shit wouldn’t have done it on purpose. He didn’t want anyone’s sloppy seconds.
“I can tell you this, though.” He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants. Marina’s gaze tracked down his chest to the bulge of one pocket, then the other, and then fixed on the bulge in the middle.
He jiggled it.
She looked up.
He grinned. “Caught you looking. Go on and look. It’s an occupational hazard for me, I assure you.”
“Thank you for the kind offer, but I’ll pass. I believe you were going to tell me something.”
He would have rather showed her something. Something that was getting hard and long, and he wasn’t going to try to hide it. He wanted her to see it—to pay attention to him, especially since it seemed to be such a chore for her. Her ignoring him seemed to make him even needier for praise. “I could tell you so many things,” he said low.
“I bet you could, you slick-tongued bozo. But we were talking about your client. What were you going to say about her?”
.” He sighed dramatically and leaned against the doorway again. “Only that a certain baseball team owner was looking for a good reason to cut me since that happened. You know, he would have never found out my name from the agency. He didn’t get it from them.”
“So, you’re saying my stepmother told him?” She narrowed her eyes and muttered, “That cheating strumpet. I told him—”
“Now, now.” Quinn wagged a finger at Marina and suppressed the urge to follow up on that surprising aspersion. Apparently, Marina wasn’t as fond as her dear-old stepmother as Quinn had assumed. “I’m not telling you that.”
“Right, right.” She rolled her eyes. “Confidentiality.”
“Yep. You’re gettin’ the gist.”
“The gist I’m getting is that you’re passing the buck to me, and yet I had absolutely nothing to do with your circumstances.”
“Maybe you didn’t, but if you had any goodness in your heart, you’d want to do a little bit to fix them.”
“I’ve got plenty of goodness in my heart. I write a check to the local women’s shelter in my city every month and I let kids whose mothers’ need emergency babysitting so they can go to work hang out at my house when I’m there. Don’t assume that just because I’m not falling for your flimflam means that I’m a cruel, cold-hearted bitch.” She gave his shoulder a poke. “It just means I’m smart.”
Quinn bobbed his eyebrows and let out an indignant huff. “Hooray for you. You oughta get a trophy for winning at life.”
“That sounds like something someone who’s used to finishing in last place would say.”
She barely heard the snarl before she felt his gentle grip on her upper arms, and herself being pulled close to him. He held her tight and glowered down at her with his brow furrowed and mouth a stern slash. “I am
a loser,” he ground out.
Body tight and tongue arrested, Marina couldn’t move. Couldn’t
. She was rendered paralyzed by her own words. She wasn’t the sort of woman who enjoyed wounding people on purpose, emotionally or otherwise, but he kept setting himself up for it. He kept instigating her bad behavior as if it were the only way he knew how to get her to respond.
And, oh, she was going to respond. She couldn’t help but to.
“Why are you so mean to me?” His tone was desperate and a bit pleading, like some little boy who didn’t understand that sometimes people were shitty. But Marina wasn’t one of those shitty people. She
to be kind as much as she could be, but she had her walls up for a reason. Her trust was a hard thing to earn.
Her lungs relaxed enough for her to draw in a deep breath, and she let it out slowly, keeping her gaze fixed on his intense glare. “Unhand me, Quinn.”
“I’m sorry.” He let go of her and took a step back—out onto the doormat.
“You behave as if I’ve prejudged you, but I haven’t. I’m treating you this way because it’s what you’ve fed into. Do you understand me?”
Brow furrowed, he ground his jaw.
“You want to flip the script now and say you’re an okay guy? That’s not what your body of evidence supports.”
“No one ever gives me a chance.”
“And so, what? You lash out at them for treating you the way you’ve trained them to? Well, let me tell you something.” She fisted the front of his shirt and yanked him back over the threshold. She didn’t want the whole damn neighborhood craning its collective ears toward the house.
Closing the door, she said, “If I’ve learned one thing as a woman, it’s that sometimes, we’ve got to put up with a lot of bullshit. Lots of unfair treatment that’s usually based on spurious reasoning. We get prejudged for what’s between our legs and what people think is missing from between our ears. I get treated like garbage, actively and passively, all the damn time. And you know what? I suck it up because I
She shrugged. “And that’s the difference between you and me, I guess. I can put my pride aside to accomplish things, even when I’d rather not submit myself. Is it fair?” She scoffed. “Hell no. But that’s life. You surf it the best you can, and if it takes you under with a big wave, you just hope you can find your way up to the surface before you drown.”
Quinn raked a hand through his short, dark hair, and stared at her some more. There was no more malice in his expression, but the anguish that had replaced it didn’t relax her any.
In fact, it made her sad for him.
What happened to him?
She was stunned that she truly wanted to know. Maybe he was right about her not knowing anything about him besides his name, age, height, weight, his batting average, and approximately how many fights he’d been in with fellow Roosters.
He probably had triggers, just like her, and no one paid attention.
Reflexively, she swished her thumb across his pouting bottom lip and let out a breath.
She was always so careful when it came to unpredictable risks. More often than not, she’d opt out of engaging in them, but giving Quinn a shot wouldn’t cost her any more than she was already prepared to spend.
” She let her hand fall from his beguiling face to the doorknob. “Go home, Quinn. Or to wherever you’re staying while you’re down here. Make sure tomorrow you’re properly dressed. Be here by seven. The painters start early.”
He seemed to need a moment to process what she’d said. He stared agape for several long seconds, then closed his mouth and nodded.
She closed the door behind him and gave her hair bun a frustrated tug.
She walked through the house, moving obstacles out of the way for the paint crew and turning off lights. Then she grabbed her keys, phone, and purse and returned to the door.
Maybe she’d get lucky and he’d actually do the job she’d hired him to. If not, at least she’d be able to say she’d given him a chance.
He had to know he was running out of them.