Leveling The Field (Gamers #4)

BOOK: Leveling The Field (Gamers #4)
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She’s gaming for his life.

Reclusive magazine exec Ethan Talley is furious when his business partner hires a photographer—a
gorgeous
photographer who insists on speaking her mind, damn it—to take pictures for an upcoming article. No matter how badly he wants the woman…under him, over him, against the nearest wall…he has reasons for not wanting to be on camera anymore, and his scars are only one of them.

It takes approximately two seconds for Lissa Kingsman to recognize Ethan as the popular YouTube gamer who fell off the planet years ago. But this Ethan is different than the charming man she used to watch, and the crush she had on him then is
nothing
compared to the way she’s lusting after the brooding man he is today. If sex is all he can give her, fine. Why not use that bearskin rug in her studio for something other than a prop? But she’s determined to put a chink in his armor, no matter how much he resists.

Table of Contents

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Megan Erickson. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com
.

Brazen is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC. For more information on our titles, visit
www.brazenbooks.com
.

Edited by Heather Howland

Cover design by Heather Howland

Cover art from Taria Reed/The Reed Files

ISBN 978-1-63375-634-2

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition May 2016

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for accepting a series full of nerdy characters who often lack decent social cues. This series was fun, and I’m so happy you all came on the ride with me. I hope Ethan’s book is fitting, and that you fall in love with Lissa as much as I did.

Megan

To everyone who waited a year to see Ethan get his happily ever after…

Chapter One

The guy was late.

Lissa Kingsman glanced at the clock on the wall of the office and tried not to look as irritated as she felt.

It was hard, though, because this day was simply not her day. First, she’d woken up with a headache that pain meds had just barely taken the edge off of, then her favorite barista wasn’t at Queenie’s Coffee and the substitute had messed up a simple latte.

Now she was standing in the conference room of
Gamers
magazine with a real-life Ken doll and the most annoying journalist to ever journal.

The only reason she hadn’t left yet was, A) that would be unprofessional, and B) her friend Chad had promised her the guy who’d yet to show his face would be a perfect candidate for her project.

She tugged on a strand of her black curls and cracked her gum. Loudly.

Steven, the journalist writing the article about
Gamers
for the local newspaper, widened his eyes. Whoops, that might have been a little obnoxious.

Ken Doll, or Grant Osprey as he’d introduced himself, looked at her with amusement and a little bit of solidarity. Lissa decided she liked him.

“He said he’ll be here soon,” he said with a bright white smile.

Lissa cracked her gum again and raised her eyebrows.

He barked out a laugh and turned to look out the windows of his office.

She sighed and peered at the LCD screen on the back of her camera, flipping through pictures she’d taken yesterday. She wasn’t a journalist, but she freelanced often as a favor to her long-time friend Sal, who ran the art team at the
Willow Park Daily
.

Her passion was portrait photography, and her current project was everyday people who bore scars—whether from surgery or a car accident or something else—and listening to their stories. When she’d seen the
Gamers
shoot on the newspaper’s art department schedule, she hadn’t been interested in taking the job until she’d mentioned it to Chad, knowing his sister worked at the magazine. Chad had told her he thought Ethan Talley, part owner of
Gamers
, would be perfect for Lissa’s project.

Which was why she needed to be Charming Lissa today. Not Gum-Smacking Attitude Lissa.

She spit her gum into a napkin and threw it into the nearby trash can.

Letting her camera hang from her neck, she crossed her arms over her chest and gazed out the window.

A large black SUV pulled into the parking lot. The door opened, and a man stepped out, dark sunglasses protecting his eyes from the fall sun. He wore a black suit. Black shirt. Black tie. Black on black on black. His hair was black. The only thing that
wasn’t
black was his skin, which was actually quite pale.

As he closed the door to his vehicle and the car beeped as the locks engaged, Lissa straightened and took a step closer to the window. In the background, she heard Steven and Grant talking softly, but her gaze was on the man now walking toward the building.

He was tall, very tall, with broad shoulders, and his stride was smooth—all long-legged and confident.

Lissa’s knees went a little weak and her heart beat faster in her chest. Who was this guy? She had a thing for a man’s walk. It was weird, beyond weird, but she loved to watch men walk. A hesitant gait turned her off, but a masculine strut like this guy? It revved
all
her engines.

Her sister used to tell her she should just check a man’s teeth as if he was a horse if she was that into a guy’s walk. Lissa used to tell her to shut up. Of course, if she could talk to her sister one more time, she certainly wouldn’t be saying “shut up.”

At that memory, Lissa squeezed her eyes shut, her arousal effectively doused as a wave of grief passed over her like it always did when she thought of her sister.

She took a couple of calming breaths and then opened her eyes to see the man opening up the front door of
Gamers
. It would be just her luck if he was the less-than-punctual Ethan Talley. She turned from the window and clutched her camera, the grip familiar and comforting, as loud footsteps came closer to the conference room.

Grant’s head went up at the sound and he smiled. “Ah, Ethan’s here.”

Lissa sucked in a breath as a shadow crossed the threshold, because yes, he certainly was.

He stood in the doorway of the conference room, his hands hanging loose at his sides, his feet braced apart in their polished black shoes. His sunglasses were in his right hand, his ice-blue eyes surveying the room in a sweep until they finally landed on…her.

Did she imagine the slight stiffening in his body at the sight of her?

She blinked, willing herself to maintain a passive expression while she took in the scars that crept up his neck and along his jaw like flames.

Oh yes, she very much wanted to photograph him and learn his story. Except this guy didn’t look forthcoming at all. His jaw was tight, his hands clenched so hard she feared he’d break his sunglasses, and his eyes were shards of ice. His gaze darted to Grant. “What’s she doing here?”

Lissa jolted, every instinct screaming at her to tell this prick to go to hell, talking about her like she wasn’t in the room. He was either a misogynist, a dick, or a racist at the sight of her black skin. Why hadn’t Chad warned her?

Grant held up a hand. “Now, Ethan. This is good publicity for us. They want to take our picture for—”

“No picture,” Ethan growled. There was really no other way to describe it. He growled.

Lissa was no stranger to people who were opposed to having their picture taken. It happened a lot when she took photos for the newspaper, but she hadn’t expected this here. At all. Grant had reached out to the newspaper for an article, so she’d assumed everyone would be okay with her presence.

Not so much.

She needed to take control of the situation, so she stepped forward with her hand out. “Hi, I’m Lissa Kingsman.”

He stared at her hand like it would poison him. Finally he reached out and clasped it, shaking it firmly, never taking his eyes off her camera, as if at any minute, it would begin to snap away. He said with hesitation, “Ethan Talley.”

There was something familiar about his voice, and Lissa wracked her brain trying to place it.

He dropped her hand and moved to sit down beside Grant. “I’m not comfortable with this.”

“Ethan,” Grant said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Let’s just talk to the reporter first and then we’ll deal with the picture thing, okay?”

Ethan nodded with a jerk of his chin.

Lissa stepped back, wishing she could blend into the walls behind her, because Ethan was still watching her, like she was going to steal something from him. Like his picture.

O-kay
. Forget considering him for her project—this was like dealing with a startled deer. She shoved her hands into her pockets so they weren’t anywhere near the shutter button. He relaxed a fraction but still kept her in his line of sight.

Apparently, Steven had done some of the interview over the phone and was now asking some follow-up questions.

Lissa concentrated on Ethan’s deep voice, which lost some tension as he talked about
Gamers
and something about finding a personality to be the face of the company on social media sites like YouTube.

Wait a second…

Just like that, Ethan’s identity hit her like a brick to the chest. He was E-Rad, the video game commentator her younger brother had listened to non-stop as a teenager. E-Rad had made millions recording himself playing video games and putting the videos up on YouTube. His good looks and charming personality won him a huge following—both male and female—and even Lissa had a crush on him all those years ago. She hadn’t recognized him when he’d walked in, maybe because of his scars or because he was a decade older than he’d been when he stopped making videos and disappeared from the gaming community.

It took all her strength and willpower not to point at him and yell, “Oh my God, you’re E-Rad!” The guy hated her already because of the camera she wore around her neck.

And what if she was wrong?

But the more he talked, the more sure she was that he was E-Rad. If he would only let her take his picture… He probably had an amazing story to tell. Did those scars have anything to do with his vanishing act all those years ago?

Determination fired on all cylinders in her gut, and she swallowed. She
would
find a way to get this guy to agree. A high-profile person like him would garner attention for her project. And the more attention she got, the more money she would raise for the scholarship in honor of her sister.

So she straightened away from the wall and smiled her most charming Lissa Kingsman smile. Ethan’s eyes narrowed on her, and she geared up for battle.


She was like Aphrodite with a hissing cobra wrap
ped around her neck.

Ethan wasn’t sure what he wanted to do more—kiss her or throw her camera through a window.

His glare, his do-not-touch posture, had been honed for over a decade. It was incredibly effective to everyone but the gorgeous woman who stood in the room with her smooth dark skin, crimson lips, and short curly hair that framed a beautiful face.

It had been…too long to even mention since a woman had stirred his libido like this, and of course she had to want something from him. Something he hadn’t been willing to give for a very long time.

Ethan shifted in his seat and scowled. It was bad enough he had to see his scars in the mirror every day. The last thing he wanted was photographic evidence of them, a tangible portrait of what he looked like to everyone else. Hell no. He also worried someone would recognize him from the days he made his fortune in front of a video camera. No one but his close friends and business partners knew about his past, and he preferred to keep it that way.

The reporter was wrapping up his questions, and Ethan smoothed down his black tie, ready to bolt, when a firm hand gripped his wrist. He turned to Grant, ready to snarl.

“We’ll have her take some pictures of just me first, then us together, okay?” his friend asked.

Okay. That gave him more time to stall and come up with an excuse to leave, so he nodded and followed along as they all trouped to Grant’s office.

Lissa stepped forward, her movements graceful, like a dancer’s. Her red-painted toes peeked out from under a long purple skirt. As she fiddled with the knobs on top of her camera, a large collection of bangles clicked together on her forearm.

Large hoop earrings swayed as she held up the camera to her eye and directed Grant. The man smiled as he stood casually behind his desk, one hand braced on the back of his burgundy leather chair.

Despite the objects in the room—chairs, bookcases, a plant—Lissa moved around the room nearly silently, without bumping into anything.

Ethan couldn’t take his eyes off her, especially when she bent over to get a different angled shot, which put her very round ass right in his line of vision.

He needed to take his jacket off, or loosen his tie, because his heart was pumping hot, hot blood faster and faster and it was all heading right down to…his cock.

Oh, so
now
his libido decided to wake up. Fuck it all.

He stood behind a chair in a corner, hoping it hid the evidence of his arousal. The reporter had left and, as it was a Sunday, the office was deserted. It was just Grant, Ethan, and this woman who was making him harder and harder with every glance out of her kohl-lined eyes.

And then she turned to him fully, the camera held out at her side. She licked her lips, a swipe of that pink tongue on her full red lips. “Are you ready?”

He was going to pass out, and then he’d wake up and kill Grant. His friend should have warned him about the picture thing. Hell, this was why he’d avoided just about any sort of gathering lately, including their friends’ engagement party. He’d have to attend Marley and Austin’s wedding in a couple of weeks, but he wasn’t thinking about that right now.

He gripped the back of the chair in front of him until he felt the fabric begin to give away under his blunt nails. His heart pounded from anxiety, and his cock pressed against the zipper in his suit pants…and he was all about conflicting emotions today, apparently.

He was unsettled.

He didn’t like feeling unsettled. And the source of that was in front of him right now, a hand on her hip, one perfect dark eyebrow raised at him.

With a finger pointed at Grant’s chest, he said, “I told you no pictures. And I meant it.” Then he turned to Lissa and tipped his head. “I’m sorry. Good luck with the article.”

And then, before anyone could call him back, he strode from the room. He was almost to the front door when fast footfalls sounded behind him. He looked over his shoulder to see a camera-less Lissa jogging after him. “Hey!” she called.

He whirled around, twisting his face into the glare that had always served him well. Except around her apparently, because as she came to a halt in front of him, her skirt swirling around her legs, she didn’t look scared at all. In fact, she looked pissed. “You know,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest, which only succeeding in drawing his gaze to her cleavage. “It’s kinda rude to bail on your business partner.”

She pursed those pretty lips, and even with the horrible fluorescent lights in the ceiling of the office, she was gorgeous. Her long lashes fanned out over dark eyes.

“I said no pictures.” His voice sounded deeper than usual.

She cocked an eyebrow. “Uh, yeah, you said that. About three times. What’s your hang-up?”

“Why do you care?”

“Because my job is to get the shot—”

He scoffed. “You got a shot. Of Grant. He’s the pretty one, anyway. So can I leave now without being accosted again?”

She jerked her head back. “I’m
accosting
you?”

“You’re preventing me from leaving.”

“Why are you so angry?”

The words were said quick and on a shout. And they both recoiled, she as if surprised by her own words, and Ethan at the vehemence of her tone.

BOOK: Leveling The Field (Gamers #4)
2.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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