Rachel’s lying, embezzling ex-fiancé Trick Masters has some nerve showing up now—full of accusations and looking so … so hot.
Rachel Grant worked her fingers to the bone after her fall from society’s grace, thanks to her sudden poverty and connection to ex-fiancé Trick Masters who was convicted of embezzlement. How dare he show up after being released and accuse her of framing him. How dare he look so good, so put-together, so infuriatingly handsome.
For the last three years Trick Master has been consumed with revenge—for whoever set him up, for losing his investment banking career, for almost losing his mind in prison. Now free, he’s getting his life back on track, first by finding Rachel and discovering the truth—which turns out neither of them has or ever did.
Read Chapter One (below) of this novella, Shakedown, which will debut the Shakedown series (debut 2019).
“Blend in more? Just how does a cocktail waitress do that?” For ten minutes Rachel had stood in her manager’s office, feet aching and her tables unmanned, listening to this crap. She crossed her arms, an unwise, defiant move, but really, this “chat” was ridiculous. “Are you accusing me of something specific, Mr. Jones?”
“The other waitresses have implied you banter with the customers a little too vehemently. There’s flirting, and then there’s . . . well, they’ve complained that you lure—”
“Lure?” She choked back a laugh. She made better tips than the other girls because she was personable. A little harmless flirting never killed anyone, and she was well aware of the game she played. “People like my service. I thought you’d be pleased. In fact, I’d like more shifts. As you said, I’m popular. You’d make more money with me.”
“And, lose my other help.” He stood signaling the meeting was over. “Thanks, Rachel. I know this is uncomfortable. The men at Talman’s are used to getting what they want, but let’s make sure they know you’re not on the menu, too.” He winked.
As she fought her way through business suits and raucous laughter to the waitress station at the bar, she attempted to shake off the insinuations her manager had lobbed at her. She needed this job, and she would not succumb to the suggestion she practically prostituted herself for tips. She wasn’t on anyone’s “menu.” So what if a few patrons had asked her out? Big effing deal. She’d turned them all down.
As she waited for Gabe to finish her cocktail order, she glanced down at her phone to see if Jay had returned her call. He hadn’t. Shocker. She wanted to float an idea by her stepbrother, launching a for-hire bartending business they could work together to get them both out of their rut. Jay would never get very far ahead by working on an oil rig, and she’d never finish her bachelor’s degree by waitressing. They both needed something new.
“Order up, Rachel,” Gabe said with a smile and nodded at the drinks he’d prepared. “You outdid yourself with this suggestion.”
“Thanks. They look great.” She adjusted a sprig of lavender on one of the martinis du jour she’d “invented” with Gabe’s help. The same four women, members of the Red Hat Club, came in every Friday with the same request: “Surprise us with the cocktail of the day.” So she did, and her imagination earned her a guaranteed thirty percent tip.
“Interesting, indeed.” A male voice sounded behind her.
Her heart rocketed up her throat, and her knees buckled. She set the tray down to the bar just in time. She knew that voice. It was rougher, deeper than she recalled, but there was no mistaking who that rumble belonged to. She slowly turned and couldn’t believe her eyes. Trick Masters. Jesus, he looked good, but then Trick always had.
“Rachel Grant. As I live and breathe.”
The heartless, deceitful thief peered down at her with those same blue-gray eyes she’d thought so kind—but weren’t. He leered at her with that same charming smile—but which hid a thousand lies.
The floor underneath her threatened to give way, and she stepped backward. He reached around and grasped the side of her tray to prevent the three lavender martinis from crashing to the floor. His suit coat brushed her arm, and just as if a lit match touched a puddle of gasoline, a ball of fire ignited in her belly and all the anger she thought she’d released years ago consumed her. Her therapist’s words flooded her brain. Visualize a stop sign whenever your mind starts to race. Stop the negative feelings, thoughts, and pictures.
“Rachel, you alright?” Gabe asked.
No, she wasn’t alright. At the sound of her name said with kindness, her anger backslid to grief. It started with a tickle inside her nose, then her breath burning hot in her throat, then the prick in her eyes, a cascade of emotion threatening to let loose.
Do not cry. Stop sign. Do not cry. Stop sign.
“Can I get you something else, sir?”
Gabe’s voice likely saved her from doing the unthinkable: shedding another useless, wasted tear over Trick Masters. She lifted her tray. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her come undone.
“Another club soda.” Trick leaned his elbow on the bar and stared at her. “Gabe, no offense to you, but Rachel’s got some interesting mixology ideas. You should put her behind the bar. She’s good at dishing out fantasies.”
His words snapped a lid on her simmering emotion and her anger returned.
“Rachel, I need to talk to you,” Trick said. A fire brewed behind those blue-gray eyes.
The haughty bastard’s mouth twitched up at her tone. She’d meant the simple word to land hard—like the punch she never got to deliver on his smug, model-perfect face.
She balanced the tray on her palm and turned away. Her feet finally escaped the invisible concrete that had kept her in place for far too long. Two men parted for her to scoot by, one of them skimming her with his gaze. She hoped Trick saw the man’s admiration.
Shit. Claire, another waitress, stood in front of her table of The Three Suits who had “big tippers” written all over them from their cufflinks to their Berluti handmade shoes.
Rachel quickly hustled over. “Gentleman, I’m so sorry I’ve neglected you. Let me deliver these and I’ll pop back over.”
“No need. I’ve got it, Rachel,” Claire said.
The three men were oblivious, of course, and had returned to their talks of mergers and return on investment.
“What are you doing?” she whispered to Claire.
“Nothing more than you do every night.”
“I told you, those guys last night asked for me, so they got seated in my section. Get over it.” Fury had returned in full force, which was precisely the emotion she should be feeling right now given she’d just encountered Trick Masters. Her therapist would disagree, but whatever.
After delivering her martinis and ensuring her tip from The Three Suits wasn’t in jeopardy, she hustled back to the bar praying Trick’s presence was an illusion or a mental delusion. He couldn’t have been here. The betrayer couldn’t be here in Baltimore.
Stop sign. Stop sign. Stop sign.
Gabe leaned toward her so she could hear him over the symphony of happy hour chatter and laughter. “You know that guy?” He cocked his head toward the exit. She caught Trick’s broad back as he slipped through the revolving doors. “He told Mr. Jones you should join me behind the bar,” Gabe said and then straightened.
“Rachel.” Mr. Jones’s voice behind her made her jump.
“I’d be no good behind the bar,” she said quickly, turning to face her manager. Bartending tips sucked.
“I have a better idea,” Mr. Jones said. “See those two guys over there? They asked for you. I’m putting you on hostess duties. As you said, you’re popular.”
“See me when your shift ends. We’ll talk details.”
She dropped her empty tray on the bar. Tears? No way. The wrath she’d suppressed for three years? Bring it on.
“I’m taking a break, Gabe,” she said. Breaks weren’t allowed during peak hours, yet fate presented a gift. She could finally confront the man who had derailed her life. From college student to waitress. What a cliché. She’d spent the last three years scraping dollars and change off dirty tablecloths because of that two-faced bastard.
She pushed her way through a gaggle of women holding martinis and then the revolving door. With any luck he’d still be in the parking lot. She found him leaning against a black sedan parked across the street, casually scrolling through the latest iPhone like he hadn’t care in the world. A hot ball of anger rolled over her so hard, her mental stop sign melted into a puddle. She jogged across the road to him, and immediately a woody scent of cologne wafted between them. The effing nerve of the man, the unbelievable gall to smell good, to look good, to . . .
“Rachel.” He straightened with that same smirk he’d delivered fifteen minutes ago.
He grasped her wrist in mid-air before she could land a satisfying crack on his cheek.
“What the hell?” he barked.
“How dare you be here!” she screamed. So much for her two years and eight months of therapy. Stop sign, meet Trick Masters, the man who ruined my life.