If You Dare

By: Jessica Lemmon


She needed to believe that Marcus, with his serial dating history and smarmy brand of charm, was no different than the other talented, good-looking jerks she’d dated in the past. She wasn’t willing to repeat the mistakes she’d made with a certain degenerate man-whore or two in the past. Never again.

She was being mean, she knew it, but Lily also needed the rage to get her inside the house. Even if it was misdirected. She made a wide arc around the downed shutter and opened her trunk.

Crowbar in hand, she approached the door, testing the tool’s weight. She’d never broken into a building before. Actually, the only lock-breaking experience she had was when she’d busted the little silver one on her older sister’s diary.

She took one last glance around the grounds to ensure she was alone, shoved the crowbar into the rusted U of the padlock, and gave it a sharp pull. The lock popped open and thudded onto the warped wooden porch.

“Ha!” An unexpected sense of accomplishment surged through her. “See?” She bent to retrieve the lock, tossed it into the air, and caught it in her palm. “I’m not uptight.”

Which was exactly what she’d been trying to prove Wednesday night when she went to the bar to celebrate the London contract. She’d managed to ignore Marcus’s jabs at her power suit, had gracefully accepted his challenge to a game of pool, and even proved she could hang out in a dive by shedding her fitted blazer and tossing it over a torn leather stool. But after two tequila shots, followed by two or three bottles of beer—she couldn’t remember—Lily had not only been baited into this lamebrain bet, she’d insisted on it.

Halfway back to her car, her phone buzzed from the pocket of her jeans. She knew who it was without looking. Sure enough, a text message from Mr. Wonderful read, there yet fraidy cat?

Ignore him, a mature, self-reliant voice asserted.

After debating for two seconds, she keyed in the word jerkwad and sent the text.

She’d never been good at listening to reason. Obviously, she thought, angling her head up to the second story, where filthy windows clouded with dust and decay seemed to transform into yawning faces with soulless eyes. Lily reminded herself that the human brain often put together random shapes into an order it could understand, and that there were no faces gaping back at her from the upstairs window.

She closed her eyes and reopened them. Nothing but dirty glass and yellowed lace curtains. A shudder snaked up her spine anyway.

Lily spun on the heel of one sneaker, went to her trunk again, and dragged out a giant tote filled with bedding, a shiny new Coleman lantern, and a few hundred dollars’ worth of supplies from the local sporting goods store. She hauled her booty up the short staircase to the door and kicked it open.

She’d bet Marcus would laugh his tight butt off if he saw her lugging all this crap in to stay one night. And hadn’t she argued that fact adamantly on Wednesday?

“I’m not as girlie as you think, you know,” she’d insisted, a hand propped on her hip.

Marcus, who had been racking the pool balls at the other end of the table, paused to grunt at her statement before moving the eight ball to the center position and rolling the triangle into place.

That smug sound never failed to raise her ire. Chapping her ass seemed to be a talent Marcus Black had mastered. She’d mentally searched for the memory of one thing she’d done in her life that might make her seem less of a fuddy-duddy. The moment she’d thought of one, she flashed him a smile. “When I was in the eighth grade, my friend Valerie and I hiked up to Willow Mansion.”

He’d spared her a dry glance, wholly unimpressed.

“On Halloween,” she’d lied. “Night,” she added with panache.

Removing the triangle from the carefully arranged balls, Marcus flipped it end over end in a smooth, annoyingly graceful motion. Like she had in the past, she’d admired his strong hands. Capable of precision and artistry, but manly and rough enough to make her wonder what they’d feel like on the soft skin at the back of her neck. She’d had to blink out of that little alcohol-induced fantasy. Not entirely her fault. The man really was too attractive for his own good. That natural bad-boy swagger, the defined sinew of his forearms, and his voice, low and gravelly with a hint of humor, as showcased when he spoke next.

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