Ruthless: Chapter 1

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ADDISON

“Don’t waste your time on that one,” Janey yells into my ear so I can hear her over the deafening music in the club. “Roman’s not interested in hooking up with you.”

The steady pounding of bass must be distorting my best friend’s words, because it almost sounds like she said the man who is executing gloriously indecent dance moves probably illegal in at least seven countries isn’t interested in me. He might as well have “For a good time, call…” tattooed on his forehead, and I have my finger poised over the send button.

Keeping my gaze firmly glued to him, I ask, “Did you say Roman wants to hook up with me?”

In my peripheral vision I see her chestnut waves move around her shoulders as she shakes her head. “No, I said he does not want to.”

“Then why is he eye-fucking the shit out of me right now?”

“He’s not even looking in our direction.”

I glance over at her. “Not physically, but he’s undressing me in his mind. I’m sure of it.”

Janey rolls her eyes and takes another sip of her cosmopolitan. My gaze swings back to the uninterested sex machine in question like it’s drawn by a magnet located somewhere in the vicinity of his crotch, and I inwardly sigh with exasperation.

I have this thing about getting my ego bruised: I don’t like it.

But in the event it happens, I don’t retreat into a hidey-hole to lick my wounds. Hell, no. I retaliate. I’m like a fucking honey badger. Everyone knows honey badgers don’t give a shit, and neither do I. Because if you tell me I can’t have something I want, I’ll only fight that much harder to get it.

It’s what makes me a great attorney—or what will make me a great attorney once I get the chance to prove myself. And making a name for myself—becoming successful while helping others unable to help themselves in our judicial system—is all I’ve ever wanted. Then maybe my parents will finally notice me. The real me.

Not the me who wasn’t able to follow in my father’s footsteps as an All-American Division I quarterback, or the me who preferred being captain of the debate team and job-shadowing our county DA instead of competing in the “scholarship programs” (aka beauty pageants) like my mother had me doing from the time I was two. I can’t tell you how many times my mother has lamented the absence of reality TV back when I was growing up. “If Toddlers & Tiaras had been around twenty years ago, we would have been stars.” Hell to the no. Doing our dancing monkey and momzilla act for millions of viewers does not a star make. At least, not one I care to be.

I worked my ass off in high school, graduated with a four-point-oh, and finished second in my class. My parents were disappointed. If I’d been first, I would have been valedictorian and been in the spotlight at graduation. My mom and dad could have turned to the people in the stands around them and proudly claimed, “That’s our little girl.” But second place is really just the first place loser. So my number one mission is to be number one in my field. To prove to them that success isn’t measured in Heisman trophies and pageant tiaras alone.

The first step toward that goal is to quit my current job. One more month of being treated like a coffee-bitch without a brain by the misogynistic asshole—sorry, I mean senior attorney—who “mentors” me, and then I’m out of there. If it wasn’t for the contract I signed committing me to at least one year of employment with the firm that gave me my internship, I would’ve junk-kicked the prick and peaced-out ages ago. Instead, I silently chant the number of days I have left, while sticking pins into my mental voodoo doll.

But that has nothing to do with the price of tea in China, or why I’m now formulating a plan to use my feminine wiles on the sexiest man I’ve ever seen for the sole purpose of making him want me before I “change my mind” and walk away.

Most days I’m a responsible adult, I swear, but I have just enough impetuous child left in me to be dangerous. Granted, this could totally blow up in my face, but right now, the honey badger in me just doesn’t give a shit. When faced with a challenge, I’m willing to risk a little venom if it means I end up with a nice cobra dinner. In this case, said “cobra”—and the man I’m about to seduce just for funsies—is my best friend’s boyfriend’s best friend.

I know, it’s kind of a tongue twister and takes a second to follow, but I’ll explain.

Several months ago, I played a little trick on my BFF, Jane Wendall. She needed her bathroom sink fixed, so I told her I called a handyman, but actually ordered a “Handyman Special” from a place called Playboys 4 Hire. I’ll give you one guess what their niche is. Anyway, Tall, Thor, and Handsome (yes, the man could be Chris Hemsworth’s superhero double) made the house call and, once they got past the awkward (or hilarious, in my opinion) misunderstanding, she finally let him do a striptease for her and they ended up screwing like porn star bunnies. That led to a scorching sex-only fling, and before I knew it, she and Chance Danvers—aka Super Stud—are in a forever-love kind of thing and living in co-habitational bliss.

All thanks to yours truly. I’d given her the gift that keeps on giving. Obviously, I’m an awesome friend. So I don’t think it’s asking too much for Jane to hook me up with one of Chance’s stripper buddies. But now she’s telling me that the one I want has already decided he doesn’t want to hook up with me? Oh, hell no.

Chance is off getting us more drinks, and his three bros—Roman, Austin, and Liam—are simulating sex on the dance floor with every female who rubs up against them like a cat in heat. Tonight is the official “friends meeting friends” thing for Chance and Jane, so I took extra care with my appearance. Okay, that has nothing to do with it; I always try to look my best, whether I’m at work, a club, or the gym. But I will admit to going a little more risqué than usual.

Because…strippers.

I push my long, blond hair behind my shoulders, step back from the high-top table we’re standing at, and reevaluate my choice in wardrobe. I’m wearing black, thigh-high, fuck-me boots, something deep purple that barely qualifies as a dress, and the tiniest scrap of underwear I own.

Because strippers!

So yeah, I was definitely hoping to do the walk of shame tomorrow morning, but if Janey’s to be believed, I’ll be doing a different kind tonight unless I choose a different guy. Problem is, from the moment we were officially introduced tonight, I had my heart (read: vagina) set on Roman.

I polish off my chocolate martini then return my attention to Jane. “Did I go too slutty, you think? Is he one of those wild boys who has a thing for women who look like schoolmarms because he likes the idea of defiling them in their ankle-length skirts and buttoned-up blouses?” Jane’s eyes widen and her mouth drops open. I shrug. “I saw a porn like that once.”

My friend’s cheeks pinken. A few weeks ago, after three too many cosmos on Girls’ Night, she confessed her affinity for online porn. I was shocked to hear that my goodie-goodie friend has a bigger deviant streak than me, but my pride overshadowed everything else. We high-fived and cheered and drank some more. Then she sobered up the next day and felt properly mortified, like the Janey I know. I just laughed and told her she should raise her freak flag high, but she still gets a little embarrassed about it. And what kind of best friend would I be if I didn’t exploit that on occasion?

Janey places a hand on my arm. “No, you look great, it isn’t that. It’s just…”

I narrow my eyes at her. “Spill it, Janey.”

And because my sweet friend is nothing if not obedient (and more than a little buzzed right now), she does.

Apparently, Jane and her man had asked Roman to do a private strip show for me, like I’d arranged for her, and if we ended up having a “bonus dance,” too—that’s what the guys at P4H call it when they hook up with clients after a gig—more power to us. But their brilliant plan to give me a break from all the long hours I’ve been working lately for Dickhead was shot down before it ever got off the ground.

“He won’t mess around with friends,” Jane continues, “and that goes for friends of friends, too. He said that if something goes wrong, he’d be risking his friendship with me, which would get him an ass-kicking from Chance.” A dopey grin spread over her pretty face. “Isn’t that sweeeeeeeeet?”

A guy who puts his friends above his dick? (Metaphorically speaking. Not geographically or whatever, because that would be weird.) Yeah, it’s surprisingly sweet, and that’s not a word I’d typically associate with a man who lines his eyes with kohl, covers his arms in lickable tats and—as drunken rumor has it—has piercings in places that would make even the toughest man tuck front-tail and run. Add in the black hair that’s styled to look like a woman ran her fingers through it, the five-o-clock shadow covering his square jaw, and the visible piercings—diamond studs in his ears and a silver ball in his tongue (have mercy!)—and Roman isn’t exactly what I’d call a warm-n-fuzzy type.

Not only is his appearance contradictory to the whole thing, but the guy’s nickname and stripper persona is “Ruthless.” A word that literally means the opposite of anything sweet. I was instantly attracted to his alpha, bad boy looks, and this added intrigue factor of sweetness just upped his hotness quotient by a lot. My va-jay-jay was on board from Minute One, but now my brain is hopping on the Roman Express right along with it. Well, hello, you sexy, complex stud, you.

“Anyway, I’m sorry, but that’s a no-go on Ruthless.” She raises her eyebrows and gives me a pointed look, like she thinks I’m not taking her warning seriously. Which, in all fairness, I’m not. “Addison, have you heard a word I said? You’re still staring at him like a starved lion at a steak. Give it a rest, girl. He has you on his no-can-do list. As in, he no-can-do you.”

Janey laughs at her own joke, the alcohol making her adorably punchy. I’ve only had the one chocolate martini, enough to take the edge off reality and remove what little filter I have, but not nearly enough to impair my judgment. A conscious decision because, while I may be down with the occasional hook-up, I always maintain the ability to think for myself and remain aware of the situation. See? I can adult sometimes.

I watch Roman leave the dance floor and head toward the hall that leads to the bathrooms, and I feel a wicked grin slide onto my face. Perfect.

“Shit,” Jane mutters loud enough for me to hear. “I know that look.”

Using a fabulous Southern accent, courtesy of my middle school drama club days, I blink my innocent doe eyes at her and say, “Well, I’m sure I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re goin’ on about, Miss Janey Lynn.” Lynn isn’t her real middle name, but that’s not important.

“Said the woman who calls herself a,” Jane says wryly. “It won’t work, Addie. Chance says Roman has an iron will and never wavers once he’s made a decision.”

As soon as she says it, Jane winces. She knows she just waved a red cape in front of the bull. I wanted Roman when I was only interested in his body (and what he can do for mine). I wanted him even more when I found out he’s not just a pretty face but has fun things like a moral code and sense of loyalty. And now that I’m being told I can’t have him… Well, see above honey badger reference.

“Challenge accepted.” I cup my boobs to make sure the girls are looking their best, ignore my friend’s protests, and head in the direction of where my cobra slithered off.

* * *

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