If You Dare

By: Jessica Lemmon

“She’s a prima donna,” Marcus said. “The moment she breaks a nail, she’s out of there.”

Harmless insults had become the norm between him and Lily over the last two and a half years they’d worked together. Marcus used to do it to get her to sling one back at him, because face it, even negative attention from her was better than none. She’d answered the call, mouthing off to him with fervor. But over the last handful of months, he’d had a harder time relegating her to role of man-eater, prima donna, or diva.

First of all, it wasn’t true. Lily worked as hard if not harder than any of them. She cared about her work, and she was a perfectionist who often achieved her goals. Secondly, Marcus had gone from simply thinking she was sexy to respecting the hell out of her. His admiration for her work trumped the admiration he had for her sweet backside. And that was bad.

“She’s hardier than she looks,” Clive said in her defense. “You remember the breakup with Andrew.”

Marcus ground his molars together at the mention of Andrew Lipnicky, King of the Douchebags. He didn’t deserve someone as smart and funny and attractive as Lily McIntire. Marcus didn’t think he deserved her, either, but he wished she’d at least given him a chance to prove himself. Too bad he’d burned that bridge by asking her out too soon…and had followed it up by severely bending the rules of the contest and taking the win for himself. Not his brightest move.

“She’s a princess,” he grumbled for Clive’s benefit, but even Marcus could hear the lack of conviction in his words.

Wednesday night, Marcus had been shocked to learn that Lily was coming out to celebrate with them. It was the first time he’d ever been around her outside of work or an offsite meeting. He knew she had a social life, but he hadn’t been able to wait to see how she’d react to The Shot Spot. And he sincerely doubted she frequented rundown pubs with a bartender named Curly, a fleet of mismatched chairs, and the smell of stale beer permeating the air.

He’d blown his chance to find out early on. When Lily came onboard at Cameron’s Design, Marcus had foolishly cranked up the charm to ask her out for a drink. In his defense, he’d waited until she’d worked there a few weeks, until he’d noticed how well they’d gotten along. She’d shot him down with a sharp, “I don’t date people I work with,” before tromping that heart-shaped backside down the hallway and leaving him feeling like Merv the Perv…who may or may not have been guilty of stalking his hot coworker for two weeks solid.

So. He thought he knew what to expect when Lily strode in behind Joanie and Clive Wednesday night, looking out of place in her fitted blazer, her heels sticking to the tacky linoleum. When she’d spotted him, she flipped her strawberry-blond hair over one shoulder and sent him a derisive look down that pert little nose of hers. Marcus had given her a pained smile and made it his evening’s mission to get her hammered.

He’d seen Lily in control, competitive, and icy. He’d never seen her sloppy and unkempt. The plan was to fill his tab with as many frou-frou girlie drinks like purple hooters or buttery nipples as she could drink. Imagine his surprise when he ordered a tequila shot and Lily held up two fingers.

“You drink tequila?” he’d asked, unable to hide his shock.

“No, but we are celebrating, right?” she’d asked, arching a prim brow. Ah, Lily the competitor, alive and well.

He’d eased her into the shot using old-school salt-and-lime training wheels rather than just chucking it back like he normally did. She’d followed his lead when he licked the salt and sucked the lime. While he’d taken a bit too much pleasure in watching her pink tongue lap the granules from her hand. And when her perfectly glossed lips wrapped around the lime wedge, he’d had a stern talking-to with the parts of him residing south of his belt buckle.

Pain in the ass, he’d reminded himself, tossing back his second shot. But that thought brought with it reminders of the way her skirt rounded snugly over her perfect butt each time she bent over to take her turn at the pool table.

Marcus sparred with her all evening, figuring arguing would keep the hound in his pants at bay. But each time he jabbed, she’d had a sassy comeback. He couldn’t help but admire her for it. Like he admired her at work. He’d always known she had talent—no one gave a confident presentation like Lily—but he hadn’t known until that night she could be so much damn fun.

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