If You Dare

By: Jessica Lemmon

Clive’s cell phone rang and both men ducked beneath the window’s ledge and out of sight. Clive shrugged an apology and answered with a hushed hello. Marcus gave him a pointed glare before risking peeking into the house again.

Lily must not have heard the sound, her attention focused on the screen in her lap. And she was drinking—good God—was that wine?

He should have made more rules. Limited her to only the most basic provisions like water and bread. And maybe some peanut butter. Protein was important.

Marcus felt his frown deepen. She’d be a lot harder to spook while pleasantly buzzed on red wine, her stomach full of gourmet food. “I’m screwed,” he grumbled.

“So am I,” Clive whispered. He waggled his phone. “Gotta go.”

“Why? Wife gonna ground you if you don’t?” He sent his friend a smug smile.

Clive shot him a self-assured grin of his own. “Joanie called to tell me she’s drawing a very hot bath, lighting candles, and—”

“Fine,” Marcus growled under his breath. “Wuss.”

Clive clapped Marcus’s shoulder. “Let’s go, man. You wouldn’t have won anyway. And hey, maybe she’ll take pity on you and invite you to Hawaii with her. There are two tickets.”

The image of Lily in a white bikini, tiny triangles covering her most sensitive parts while she splashed in clear blue water, invaded his brain. He’d lapsed into a daydream about applying sunscreen to every inch of her smooth, fair skin when he noticed Clive was heading down the hill. Clive raised his arms as if to ask, Are you coming?

Marcus waved him off, annoyed that Clive was leaving him. Irritated that Lily now crashed his waking dreams in addition to the ones he’d had while asleep. He returned to his perch by the window.

Trying for stealthy, Clive tracked back to Marcus, tripping over a branch and stumbling. He was more Mr. Bean than Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Stealthy, his friend was not. “Are you nuts?” Clive asked.

“It’s Hawaii.” And Marcus wasn’t planning on handing it over without a fight. Lily hadn’t exactly been competing fair. She’d forced his hand into building that shed to win by swooping in and signing the account he’d thought he’d secured for the win. It was Marcus who had sought out the senior living center on Merchant Boulevard. It was his sunroom design that Marjorie Beckham had chosen; his suggestion to add five hundred square feet to the already sprawling grounds of Sunny Acres Retirement Home. That’d been his account…in theory.

Then Lily swooped in and suggested the extras: a koi pond and a greenhouse. Marjorie had been wooed by the idea of fish and plants. Just like that, boom, Lily locked down the contract.

He’d been able to get her to agree she’d danced on the line of ethics by taking the account, but since their rivalry was ongoing, the move hadn’t been that much of a shocker. Still, Lily calling him out on “cheating” to win Hawaii was almost as funny as believing she’d survive the night in the mansion and succeed in taking it from him. Not happening.

“How are you getting home?” Clive asked with a frown.

“Gee, Dad, worried about me?” Marcus grinned.

“Jerk,” Clive said, but he was smiling. He backed away from Marcus. Halfway down the hill, he called in an exaggerated whisper, “Let me know how it goes!”

Marcus waved him off.

Clive lumbered down to where he’d parked the car at the base of the hill and reversed down the street, headlights extinguished. Marcus wasn’t worried about being stranded on the grounds. Once he bogeymanned Lily from the house, he was fairly certain he could coerce her into giving him a ride home. Since she understood the nature of their battle better than anyone, she probably expected him to do something juvenile to win.

Marcus smiled. Challenge accepted.

He’d have to try really hard not to rub in the fact that she’d be on his arm at the design dinner this year. She may do it with a look of contempt on her face, but she’d do it. Lily McIntire wasn’t the type of woman to squelch on a bet.

He figured it’d be good for him to be seen with someone as smart and design savvy as her. He was aware of his playboy reputation and that he relied heavily on his charm to make his way in this industry. But while he’d never had a problem landing a date, having just any woman warming his arm for the evening simply didn’t hold the appeal it once had.

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