Title: Playing Dirty
Series: Monkey Business Trio #1
Author: C. L. Parker
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Cassidy Whalen is as determined as they come. An Irish girl from a small fishing village, she worked hard to pursue her love of American sports and land her dream job as a sports agent with a major agency in LA. Unlike her colleague, Shaw Matthews, who believes you should work smarter, not harder. Although it's assumed Shaw comes from money, he doesn't. What he did inherit was a genetic gift of charisma, and he used it to his advantage, establishing connections at an early age that helped him climb the corporate ladder. He's arrogant and used to getting his way with women, but he's met his match with Cassidy, who's out to prove that anything he can do, she can do better.
When a partnership position with Striker Sports Entertainment is up for grabs, Cassidy and Shaw are in a head-to-head competition to snag the most sought-after athlete in the country. Let the games begin! Playing their sexual strengths against the other's weaknesses leads to an affair that takes the competition . . . to their offices, the co-ed bathroom, the boardroom, the supply closet, the elevator, and anywhere else they're given the opportunity. But before long, they're left wanting much more than to one-up each other in just the boardroom; they want to out-do each other in love, too.
Playing Dirty by C.L. Parker – an excerpt
Ally was hot on my heels the second I stomped into my office, catching the door I attempted to slam shut and closing it softly behind herself instead. Even when I didn’t have the presence of mind to keep my cool, she did. My assistant had become an expert at detecting my moods, though it wouldn’t take the dynamic duo of Holmes and Watson to solve the mystery today. It was always the same after I’d been anywhere within the vicinity of Shaw Matthews. I did my best not to let it show, since I had a reputation to uphold, but it took a lot of work. And grinding of teeth. I’d even bitten into my tongue a time or two.
I growled in frustration, feeling the familiar Irish temper surge through my veins to warm my skin. No doubt, my face was red. “That arrogant—”
“—son of a bitch,” Ally finished, which, I admit, coaxed another growl from me. I didn’t know if I was irked more by her insubordination or by my predictability. “You hate him. . . . He’s just so . . . Arrrgh!”
Arrrgh? Am I a pirate now?
I spun around to face her, the messenger bag on my shoulder continuing with the momentum and nearly taking me with it. “No one likes a smart-ass, Coop.”
My assistant’s name was Ally Cooper, to be exact. Even though the surname hadn’t been her parents’, they’d been Alice Cooper roadies and fanatics, and thought giving the name to their daughter, legally, would be an appropriate homage. Ally suspected that her mother had been more than just a groupie—something her mother had never confirmed or denied. I was with Ally. She had the Father of Shock Rock’s lean physique and raven hair, and she was even rocking the nose, though Ally wore it better. If his tour dates matched up with the timing of her birth, no way would it have been a coincidence.
Ally exaggerated a pout. “Sorry.”
I didn’t think she was sincere. Mostly because I knew she wasn’t. Like I said, she was insubordinate. I’d fire her if she weren’t so good at keeping up with me. Apparently, there was something in the water. That or everyone was in on some scheme to drive me bat-shit crazy. Including Wade Price. Naturally, it made me growly.
At twenty-eight, I was the youngest woman to make a name for myself in the business, but Shaw was a minor league big shot who had only joined the agency less than a year before. And already he was a contender for partnership. Talk about it being a man’s world. His wealth and unconscionable flirting had gotten him far. So had all the influential people he had in his pocket, the name-dropper. It was his charisma that romanced his clients, though. I hated to admit it, but he was a mastermind, a real smooth talker who made big promises and always delivered. Even if he had to take the money out of his own pocket to do it. Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater.
“Can you believe I have to share a car with him?”
“Seriously? They expect two people to ride in the back of a limousine? What were they thinking?” She wasn’t even trying to cover her sarcasm. No Christmas bonus for her.
“Exactly my point. I really don’t think the both of us can fit in there, what with his big, stupid, egotistical head and all.” I sounded more like a child throwing a tantrum than a grown woman with a client list talented enough to form their own major league every sports team. Thank God no one else could hear me. Especially Shaw.
“Just ignore him.” As if that were even a possibility.
Shaw Matthews was one of those people. That person others naturally gravitated toward in order to bask in his presence and maybe siphon off even the tiniest bit of his energy. You’d think he was the sun or something. And because the universe had some sort of vendetta against me, he just had to be good-looking on top of all that: six foot two with the body of a cover model, a strong jawline set with confidence, and eyes so blue, so hypnotic, you dared not gaze directly into them. And that bedhead of October brown hair always made him look like he’d just stolen a minute or two in the supply closet with a random woman. If the rumors around the office were true, he probably had. Money, looks, savoir faire; he had it all. And now he wanted my job, too.
“Ignoring Shaw Matthews is a little easier said than done.” I went to my desk and grabbed my purse from the bottom drawer, stuffing it into my bag. “He and I have a meeting scheduled with Denver Rockford tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll have to endure the suffering. I know you’ve already been putting that talented little search engine of yours to work to find out any and everything you can about him.” I stopped short. “Oh, yeah. That’s how you manage to keep your job.” Ally was the best of the best, my most accomplished protégée. Okay, so she was my only protégée.
I shook my head to get back on track. “Nothing.”
A knock sounded on my door, and I sighed in frustration. I just wanted this day to be over with already. But when the door opened without invitation and my boss walked in like he owned the place—in fact, he did—I put on my best smile.
“I know you’re probably ready to leave, but I’d like a moment of your time,” he said.
“Of course, Wade,” I answered, nodding to Ally to excuse herself, which she did on cue. “Have a seat.”
He waved my offer off. “It’s not really necessary.” His hands slipped into his pocket, and he rocked back on his heels as if trying to come up with his next words. “Cassidy, it’s no secret that you’ve always been my favorite, preferential treatment be damned.”
It was true, though he’d never handed me anything I hadn’t earned.
“Just as it’s no secret that Shaw was Monty’s,” he continued. “What no one else knows is that Monty had been grooming Matthews to take his place when he retired.”
Oh. That was certainly news to me. It suddenly felt like the world had tilted on its axis, forcing me to inconspicuously grab the corner of my desk to balance myself. Talk about a punch to the gut.
“In fact, Monty had been ready to name him partner, until I convinced him otherwise.”
“What do you mean, sir?” I was surprised that the tremble I felt in my bones hadn’t made its way into my voice.
“Monty and I founded Striker together, and I insisted that we make the decision jointly. I wanted you, and he wanted Matthews. We were at an impasse. We also knew we only had one shot at getting Rockford. Normally we wouldn’t pit agent against agent, but we realized that by doing so, we’d broaden our chances from one shot to two. So, together, we came up with the idea of the competition.
“The way I saw it, at least then you’d have a chance at the partnership. Every single staff member knows you deserve it. Monty knows as well, so don’t be upset with him, kiddo. But,” he said with a finger in the air. “I want you to make sure you win.”
“That’s not going to be a problem, sir,” I assured him, though I was confused as to why he needed assurance after all the major deals I’d secured for SSE.
Wade nodded and eased his hand back into his pocket. “It’s not that I don’t have faith in you, Whalen. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. I know what you’re capable of, so I’ve put my best against Monty’s best. And I don’t think I need to tell you that I hate to lose.”
“No, sir, you do not.”
“Good. That’s why I’m going to stress this.” He leveled a look at me that commanded attention. “Bring home that win. By any means necessary. Do you understand?”
I nodded, but that didn’t seem to be good enough for my boss.
“I will bring home the win by any means necessary.”
“Any means,” he reiterated.
I wasn’t dim. He meant even if I had to fight dirty.
Setting a determined chin, I nodded again. “Failure is never an option for me, sir.”
He smiled, the tension in his frame easing. “I’m glad we had this talk, but I wouldn’t want anyone else to know about it.”
“Now get out of here, kid. I want you well rested for your meeting tomorrow.” His wink was conspiratorial, every bit as
inappropriate as if it had been flirtatious, but I didn’t take offense.
Wade exited then, leaving the door open for me to follow, which I did after gathering my things again. Ally was still at her desk, and I felt bad about keeping her later than usual, but I knew she’d never go home before I did. Maybe she was a little sassy-mouth, but no other assistant could fill her shoes.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Perfect.” Even if she didn’t believe me, she’d never press. “Email me everything you’ve got on Rockford, and I’ll go over it during the car ride tomorrow afternoon. Maybe if I look busy, Matthews won’t try to talk to me.”
Ally snorted. Actually snorted. “Who are you kidding, Cass? The second the news broke that the marriage between Denver and his agent was on shaky ground, you knew everything there was to know about him. And you’ll be poring over every single detail of it tonight, probably not getting a wink of sleep.” She knew me well. “You work too hard.”
“There’s no such thing. Da and Ma worked their fingers to the bone to give me this opportunity. I’ll not be squandering it.”
The picture that sat on the corner of the desk caught my eye, and a familiar longing punched at my chest. My parents weren’t the only ones who had been left behind. I hadn’t had a lot of friends while growing up, but Casey was my absolute best. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about him or wish he were there to tell me one of his lame jokes. No one understood me like he did, though I had some pretty terrific friends who came pretty close, and they were waiting for me at our spot.
“I need a drink. Have a good night, and I’ll see you in the morning.” With any luck, I’d survive the rest of the evening without having to look at Shaw’s stupid face.
Lady Luck was a fickle bitch, and Irony was her sadistic sidekick.
Monkey Business was a neighborhood pub that had an old-world Irish feel, with the traditional emerald-green and gold trim, dark wood everything, and a menu that boasted a selection of ale even the most snooty of beer snobs could appreciate. It could’ve been on any street corner, but as it happened, it was halfway between the place where I made a living and the place where I laid my head at night. And it was more like a second home to me than my own apartment. Which was exactly the reason it irked me when I cracked the door only to hear his voice. Of all the taverns, pubs, and bars in San Diego, Shaw Matthews had to hang out in mine. I was convinced he did it on purpose, but I refused to let him run me off. After all, I had been there first.
“Hey, Cass! The usual?” Chaz, my bartender friend, asked as I made my way through the happy hour crowd to get to our table. A nod was all the answer he needed. And the follow-up eye roll when I spotted his buddy Shaw occupying the bar stool in front of him reaffirmed the fact that I still didn’t approve of his choice of besties, to which he only smiled and shook his head.
Chaz was a chiseled mountain of a man with a perfectly rounded bald head, soft baby blues, and a pristine smile. For someone who didn’t know him, the body ink and piercings might have been intimidating, but Chaz was an all-around good guy. Like a lot of bartenders, he had a worldly sort of wisdom about him, so I couldn’t quite figure out why he kept the company of someone as superficial as Shaw. I could only assume that Shaw had said something similar yet different about me, because every now and then Chaz liked to remind me that he was Switzerland in this war that wasn’t really a war.
On the far side of the room and near the left corner of the bar was a table of rich, dark wood with a glossy top. Four unmatched chairs sat in an arch so that none of their backs were to the crowd but, instead, each seat had a perfect view of the entire room. My friends and I liked to people-watch. We also liked to keep an eye on anyone who might be eavesdropping on our own conversations. The proximity to Chaz and the bar was another perk. At the beginning of his shift, our bartender friend always did us a solid by placing the Reserved sign on the table in the alcove to ensure that we would never have to kick anyone out of it. Well, Demi would probably be the one doing the physical work.
Demi Renée was as sweet as sweet could be, as long as she called you friend. Not that she was a royal bitch to strangers, but if someone rubbed her the wrong way, they’d soon wish they hadn’t. Demi led self-defense classes for women, and she could take on just about any man who dared challenge her. You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, though. She was a tall, leggy broad with platinum-blond hair that was cut short and spiked on top, Barbie’s perfect figure, and lashes you’d swear were fake, but weren’t. And she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Unlike her best friend and ex–college roommate, Sasha.
Sasha Hale was spoiled rotten, a real girly girl. She had a heart of gold and would give strangers the shirt off her back, which of course meant she was left with far more heartache than any one person should have to endure. She was Demi’s exact opposite, so they balanced each other. Not that Sasha was ugly, by any means. Her mixed ethnicity gave her all the best traits from her mother and her father. She was short and curvy, with a tiny waist framed by a bodacious chest and a voluptuous ass. Her caramel-colored skin was softer than any I’d ever felt. It was unnatural, but she swore she didn’t have any sort of special skin-care regiment. I was convinced she was lying and had told her she would burn in hell for doing so. Her figure and angelic skin weren’t the only parts of my friend I coveted. She also had these round doe eyes the color of dark honey, with thick lashes and perfectly arched eyebrows, and the natural pink tint on her lips was sickening. I hated her.
No, I didn’t. I loved her. Okay, so I loved to hate her.
Pushing through the last of the crowd, I finally plopped down into my chair. The ice-cold tall draft Chaz had poured and slid to the corner of the bar was just out of reach, so I waved my hand for whoever was closest to pass it over.
“Uh-uh! Girl, who do you think you are? Coming in here all late and then waving for somebody to do your bidding. They might call you the ice queen where you just came from, but you are not royalty here. You better get off your ass and fetch it yourself.”
That would be Quinn, my nearest and dearest, though I couldn’t feel the love at the moment. So I did the only thing I could do: I pouted.
Quinn’s skin looked porcelain in contrast to his jet hair. He was well kempt, perfectly groomed, and dressed to impress no matter what the occasion. With his toned physique, he could’ve been a professional model for any twentysomething boutique, but he was just our Quinn. Though he had no problem calling us out when we weren’t at our best. “Stop that. You do not look attractive,” he said, grabbing my beer and sliding it over to me. The pout worked every time. “You need it for this toast, anyway.”
I sighed, more mentally exhausted than physically. I was also breaking in a new pair of heels, so there was that. “What are we toasting?”
He sat tall and straight in his chair, with a smile so bright it could’ve been seen from Mars. Sasha and Demi were exhibiting the same smile and looked like they were about to burst into a cheerleading routine, complete with pom-poms and herkie jumps.
“Look what Daddy bought me!” He held his wrist out, and I was nearly blinded by the bling that adorned it. A Breitling Bentley watch in yellow gold, leather, and—if I had to guess—fifteen or so carats of diamonds. It had to have cost a fortune.
Clearly he expected me to be every bit as excited as he was. And I was. Mostly. Sasha and Demi leaned back and out of his eyesight and started throwing out hand gestures that I was sure were meant to get me to not say what I really thought, because that was how we played the whole “Daddy” situation. Quinn could become quite defensive otherwise, and that was never a pretty thing.
Daddy was Quinn’s sugar daddy. Quinn’s gay yet not out of the closet sugar daddy. We were Quinn’s best friends, and even we didn’t know what the man’s real name was. All we knew was that Daddy was an account holder at the bank where Quinn worked. A married account holder with lots and lots of money and influence who didn’t believe it was in his best interest to let his wife, his constituents, or the general public become aware of his sexual preference. I thought it was stupid. Especially considering the leaps and bounds the world had been making in that regard. But it was his life, and Quinn accepted the hidden role he played in it. I loved my best friend, I really did, but I was quite sure the posh lifestyle Daddy was providing helped in keeping Quinn’s mouth shut about their secret affair.
“What did you have to do for that, and did he at least let you wear kneepads?” I asked, deciding to keep it light and maybe even a little funny.
“Oh, hush. Jealous,” he said, waving me off. I wasn’t so sure it was a wave-off as much as an attempt to blind someone with the reflection of the lights off the diamonds.
Demi rolled her eyes. “You’re going to get robbed the second you walk out of here if you keep flashing that thing around.”
“Damn, Q,” Chaz said from the bar. “You might want to get your bodyguard to walk you home. Huh, Demi?”
Demi giggled, the flirt. The chemistry between those two was off-the-charts hot, but Chaz had never made a move on her. The chemistry between me and Chaz’s bestie, on the other hand . . . left a lot to be desired.
“Very nice,” Shaw said, getting up to examine the piece for himself. He probably thought it was fake, that no one in our circle could afford such a thing. A circle in which he was forcibly included, which put quite the strain on the elasticity of the band that held it together.
Sasha elbowed me and cut a sharp glance toward my still frosty glass. I hadn’t realized I’d been white-knuckling it. Not only that, but I’d also been biting the inside of my cheek. A barely perceptible chuckle from Shaw let me know he’d noticed. Damn it! I didn’t want him to know how much he got to me. Though that ship had sailed the day we’d met, I was sure.
“Still slumming it, Matthews? All your posh friends have plans for the night?” I never could figure out why someone like Shaw Matthews, a.k.a. Richie Rich, chose to hang out in a pub rather than a La Petite Frou-Frou something or another.
“You really think you have me pegged, don’t you?” When I smirked up at him, he shook his head and turned to slither back under the rock from which he’d come. Okay, so the rock was a bar stool.
Fighting to maintain what little bit of composure I had left, I decided I really needed that drink. So I lifted the glass to my lips and completely forgot I was a lady in a public place. It never failed; when that first taste of hops hit my tongue, I closed my eyes and was instantly transported back to the only hole-in-the-wall tavern in Stonington, Maine. My da and his crew would always stop by for a few nice cold ones after a long fishing trip to exchange their sea legs for a pair of drunken ones, which really wasn’t much of a transformation. When he wasn’t looking, I’d sneak a sip or two, mostly because I wanted to emulate everything that was my da.
I hadn’t realized I’d chugged the entire glass until I openedmy eyes and found my friends gaping at me. “What?”
“Jeez, Cass. Would you like a trough next time?” Sasha looked around, clearly embarrassed. Thankfully, Shaw was nowhere to be found.
“I swear to God, if you burp, I’m going to reach across this table and smack you.” Quinn wouldn’t really hit me, but I also wouldn’t be that rude, and he knew it.
Demi beamed with pride and offered me a high five, which I accepted with a playful wink. I was a lady most of the time, but every now and then, it felt good to live wild and free. If Casey were there, he’d insist on it.
“Where did the superjerk go?” I asked, hoping he hadn’t seen me.
Sasha gave me the look. That one people give the runner-up to some grand prize. “I take it the announcement was made today?”
Quinn threw his hands into the air. “I knew it. He got the partnership, didn’t he? They didn’t even give you a chance, the chauvinistic bastards.”
“What? No!” My friends could be a little dramatic at times. I still didn’t understand how they could possibly underestimate me so much. “We have to compete for it. Whoever gets Denver to sign will also get the partnership.” I reached across the table and grabbed Demi’s bottle of beer for a quick swig
“Well, that should be easy,” she said.
I started to laugh, but then I saw that her brows were lifted like she expected me to understand words that hadn’t and didn’t need to be said out loud. She was serious about whatever point she was trying to make, but I obviously wasn’t on the same page. Having all gone to college together, Demi, Sasha, and Quinn had been friends for far longer than I’d been in the picture. They could practically read each other’s minds, and did a lot of the time. I was nearly there, but not quite. Whole conversations sometimes took place around me that left me oblivious, and this was shaping up to be one of those times.
I sat her beer bottle down. “What are you talking about?”
Sasha sighed. “Seduce him, dummy.”
“What? I am not going to seduce the most sought after player in the National Football League. Not that it could be done even if I tried.” Even if I wanted to sink so low, the man could, and did, have any woman he wanted.
Sasha merely pointed at my roommate. “Gaydar says?”
Quinn made a buzzer sound. “Not gay, but I’d sure like to try to change his mind about that.”
“See? Not gay means it can be done, if done right. Totally seductable.”
Demi snorted. “I don’t think ‘seductable’ is a word.”
“I said it, therefore it is.” Sasha crossed her arms with a pretentious yet playful set of her chin.
Quinn was still in plotting mode; otherwise, he would’ve been all over her spoiled behavior. “You know, she could always skip the jock and go straight for the ball cutter. That way, if neither one of them lands the tight end—”
“Quarterback,” Demi corrected.
“Hold on. Ball cutter?” Things were getting out of hand.
Sasha patted my arm. “Wait a minute, honey. The grown-ups are talking.”
“Right. Quarterback. Whatever. They’re all tight ends as far as I’m concerned. But like I was saying, rudeness . . . If neither of them lands the pigskin lover, she’ll still have his balls in her purse.”
I was being ignored. I didn’t like being ignored. “Whose balls? What are you talking about?”
“Oh, yeah. Good idea! Why didn’t we think of that before?” Sasha sat back, pleased with the result.
Demi followed suit. “Brilliant idea! Two birds. One stone.”
Sasha nodded in agreement. “Yeah, she definitely needs to get laid.”
“Of course it’s brilliant. Hello? Queen of the balls, here.” Quinn preened, proud of himself.
“Can I be part of this conversation, please? What just happened?”
Demi reached for her beer. “We just solved your problem.”
I snatched the bottle away before it made it to her lips. “You did? Care to let me in on the secret?” It was still cold, so I decided on a sip for myself.
“Oh, sure thing. You’re going to seduce Shaw.”
I choked on the gulp I’d just taken, my eyes watering and the liquid going down what I was sure was the passageway to my lungs rather than to my stomach. Sasha started pounding on my back—as if that was going to help—while Demi lunged for the bottle, because clearly that was the culprit of my near-death experience.
Though I was still coughing incessantly, I couldn’t let them go one more second thinking that was even a remote possibility. “Oh, no, I’m not!”
Sasha huffed. “Why not? He’s good-looking.”
Quinn guffawed as if insulted by her statement. I was glad someone was on my side until he clarified himself with words:
“Honey, that man is a piece of scrumptious wrapped up in good gawd!”
Demi laughed. “Right? So freakin’ beautiful.”
“And he knows it,” I reminded them. “Besides, they say the Antichrist will be beautiful, too.” Demi started to object but I cut her off before she could get a word out. “And I’m not going to screw Denver, either. I’m talented enough to get the partnership without having to stoop so low, but thank you for having so much faith in me.”
I was disappointed in my friends. They knew I wasn’t made up of the stuff that would allow me to do something like that. Maybe it was all in jest, but after the “by any means necessary” talk with Wade only minutes before, I wasn’t feeling all that confident in my own words. I needed some distance. Picking up my bag, I stood up and made my way toward the door without saying goodbye.
My friends and I would meet in the same bar, at the same table, tomorrow. They knew it. I knew it. And Shaw Matthews would most likely be there, too. As if he could read my thoughts, he turned to look at me, the intensity in his gaze catching me off guard and nearly causing me to plow into a table full of frat brothers. I recovered well enough, but I could still feel him staring at me all the way to the door, the scorching heat of it dissipating only after I’d put brick and mortar between us. I was sure he wore a cocky grin at my expense, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. If all went well at the meeting with Denver, I’d wipe it off his face tomorrow.
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C. L. Parker is a romance author who writes stories that sizzle. She’s a small-town girl with big-city dreams and enough tenacity to see them come to fruition. Having been the outgoing sort all her life—which translates to “she just wouldn’t shut the hell up”—it’s no wonder Parker eventually turned to writing as a way to let her voice, and those of the people living inside her head, be heard. She loves hard, laughs until it hurts, and lives like there’s no tomorrow. In her world, everything truly does happen for a reason.