One week to go!
Have you marked the 14th of July yet? That's when The Undercover Playboy is released. So excited to share Carter and Cassie's love story with you. I have a good feeling you'd love it 🙂
But for today, here's Chapter One. Enjoy!
The Undercover Playboy Chapter One
Cassie Stephens startled herself with the gushy breath she let out. Had she just swooned?
She hid her smile as she continued to watch the sexy Carter Garrett make his way towards a spotlighted section in the backyard of their newly engaged friends, Rick Donnelly and Lexie Mead. The dark-haired, blue-eyed hunk joined three other handsome men already standing there, snickering as they patted Carter on the back in a gesture of faux commiseration.
“I knew I wasn’t just imagining it before,” a teasing voice said beside Cassie.
She peeled her gaze off Carter to turn to Natasha Garrett, Carter’s younger sister and her flatmate of eight months.
“You are totally checking him out,” Natasha whispered as she slid onto the seat next to Cassie, which Carter had vacated.
Cassie shrugged nonchalantly even as she blushed. “What’s wrong with that? I’m not the only one.” She looked around to see if the other females at Lexie’s birthday party were indeed looking at Carter. She instantly spotted at least three single women openly gazing at him with admiring eyes. She frowned, not liking that her point had been proven.
But she couldn’t blame them. Apart from his crazy-good looks, Carter exuded authority and masculinity that made any red-blooded female stare. And right now, with Carter deciding to take off his leather jacket, it was easy to make out the muscular chest underneath the navy-blue shirt that hugged his torso. Who wouldn’t want to check him out?
Cassie was surprised, though, that Carter was feeling hot enough to strip off a layer of clothing. It was late autumn in Sydney, the temperature mild but slightly below average. Even though there were several patio heaters strategically scattered around the vast garden to make the place nice and comfortable for everyone, it was still a cool evening for just a shirt.
Was he nervous? She smiled, enjoying the thought that Mr. Confident could be rattled from standing in front of more than fifty people to parade himself with the other bachelors. She’d have to tease him about this later.
“You like him,” Natasha said, her tone betraying the fact that she was pleased with this development.
“I never said I didn’t.”
“But you keep on insisting you’re not interested in him.”
“Liking him and being interested in him are two different things, Tash. Your brother might be one hell of a looker but I have no intention whatsoever of going out with him.”
“Why not? The two of you get along so well. Whenever Carter joins us for dinner, he spends more time chatting with you than he does with me.”
She chuckled. “I’m sure it’s so I won’t mind that he freeloads dinner whenever he comes around.”
A snicker made Cassie turn to her other side, and she noticed that everyone else sitting with them at one of the elegantly decked-out dining tables was looking at her and Natasha. Her three best friends—Lexie, Jade Tully and Erin Baker—along with Rick and Lucas Renner-Bilton—Jade’s fiancé—were smiling widely, not hiding the fact that they were listening in on their conversation.
“Well, I’ve never seen you show interest in a man so obviously before, Cass,” said Jade.
“What?” she whispered in shock.
“Yes, I’ve noticed how flirtatious you’ve been lately,” Lexie said from across the table, winking at her.
Her jaw dropped. “I have never! And definitely not in public. If you noticed anything, it’s just me being friendly with Carter, that’s all.”
“Oh, Cass,” Erin said with a shake of her head. “I don’t know why you’re lying to yourself.”
She opened her mouth to utter another protest when the voice of the gorgeous Marilyn Grant came through the wireless speakers. Everyone hushed to listen intently to one of Rick’s long-time friends.
“Do we seriously have only four bachelors in the running for this round?” Marilyn asked, squinting her eyes at the guests, who were sitting and watching the proceedings, trying to spot an eligible man who hadn’t joined her on the makeshift stage.
“Remember that two of the guys are overseas and one’s in Melbourne,” Rick called out.
Marilyn nodded. “Well, we can’t include them if they’re not here. So, everyone, here are the contestants for this round’s Captured by Love betting game. At some point during the night,” she said, holding up a sheet of paper, “please write your name here, plus the name of the bachelor you think will come off the singles market next, and the amount you’re willing to bet. Whoever correctly chooses the next guy to fall in love and renounce his single status will be the winner, and the losers will have to hand over their money to the winner’s favourite charity. If we have more than one winner, the amount will be split equally among the selected charities.”
Whistles and applause came from the guests.
“Two of these guys are here for the third time,” Marilyn continued, grinning at the four men beside her.
Simon Alexander and Tristan Grant raised their arms in the air in a triumphant gesture.
Simon leaned towards Marilyn to speak through the mic. “Girls, I’m still happily single,” he said in a low, sexy voice. “And I’d love your phone numbers.”
Marilyn pushed him away playfully. “Ladies, don’t be fooled by this playboy talk from Simon,” she said. “He’s really looking for his soulmate.”
Simon laughed out loud, throwing his head back.
Marilyn sighed. “Admittedly, I’ve already lost twice because I picked Simon. Maybe I’ll bet on my cousin this time around.” She stood next to Tristan and swept her hand in front of him with flourish. “Ladies, may I say that Tristan is a great catch? Sure, he can be aggravating sometimes, but deep inside he’s fiercely loyal. You’ll be doing my auntie a favour if you ensnare him. She’s dying to have her son finally settle down.”
The audience laughed while Tristan rolled his eyes, shaking his head in bemusement.
“And we also have two new bachelors joining this round,” Marilyn said. “Most of you already know Brad.”
Lexie’s older brother bowed theatrically as the audience clapped.
“So, Brad, can you tell our friends why they should bet on you?”
Brad snorted. “Well, I can tell them they shouldn’t. Settling down isn’t on my to-do list yet.”
“Hey!” Vivian, Brad’s mother, called out. “Shouldn’t the older sibling get married first? Since Rick proposed to Lexie tonight…”
“Mum,” Brad said with a chuckle. “The four of us up here intend to stay single for a while. Where would the fun be in this game otherwise?”
Vivian frowned. “How can anyone give money to charity if none of you settle down?”
Brad shrugged. “Well, don’t look at me.”
Marilyn exhaled loudly through the mic. “Carter, maybe you’re our best hope. Do you want to say something to the punters?”
Carter good-naturedly took the mic Marilyn offered him. “Well, all I can say is that I’m honoured to have been invited to this party and meet you wonderful people. Oh, and that I was really enjoying myself until Cassie there practically forced me to walk up here and offer myself up as a pawn for this game,” he said with mock displeasure, narrowing his eyes at Cassie.
Cassie grinned at him and gave him two thumbs up.
“She said she’s not betting on me, though,” Carter said, his lips twisting. “And you guys should follow her lead and pick someone else.”
“Honestly,” Marilyn said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I don’t believe any of you with your I’m-happy-being-single posturing. Rick and Lucas said the same thing, and look at them now.”
Everyone turned their heads towards Cassie’s table, where the two men in question were sitting next to their fiancées. Rick and Lucas grinned at each other, then Rick turned to Lexie, grabbing her face and kissing her passionately on lips. Not to be outdone, Lucas did the same to Jade.
The crowd cheered.
A vision popped into Cassie’s head as she watched her engaged friends smooch in front of everybody. Her gaze involuntarily went back to Carter… then travelled to his crotch.
She blushed, quickly looking away. Damn it. What the hell was wrong with her?
If anyone had asked her last month if she had a thing for Carter, the answer would have been no. Sure, she found him attractive. Incredibly so. But she wasn’t looking for a relationship. She was too busy studying for her MBA, wanting to finish it with flying colours. To add to that, she was going for several job interviews so she could leave the dead-end role she hated. Her main priority was to get her career on the right track first. She’d already wasted four years with a company that zapped her energy and humour for a salary less than what she knew she deserved. A relationship would distract her from her goals.
But distracted was exactly how she’d been since she had that dream. It had been so vivid that she could still remember every single moment in her head. More frustratingly, she instantly got hot and bothered every time those memories came, unbidden.
She shifted in her seat as certain scenes played in her mind. Of course, she had no idea if the bottom half of Carter’s body really was as magnificent in real life as it had been in her dream. Her breath caught as she recalled wrapping her hand around his hardness and—
Stop it, Cassandra!
She crossed her legs, feeling the tingling sensation she now constantly suffered whenever she remembered that dream—which was too damned often for her liking! These days she was always craving. For Carter. Which wasn’t good.
He wasn’t boyfriend material. Every time Natasha quizzed him about his dating life, he always mentioned a different woman.
But then again… Hadn’t Cassie herself said she wasn’t into anything serious at this point? So what would be the problem if she and Carter hooked up?
The problem is you’ve lost your mind!
She shook her head, annoyed at herself. She shouldn’t forget that she needed to focus on her MBA studies first. She’d already got her CPA designation two years ago, but she still wanted to enhance her qualifications. First and foremost, though, she wanted to find a better job so she could say goodbye to her hellish current boss once and for all. She was already twenty-six. She wanted to settle into a good role with a good company now, not later.
Wouldn’t having something casual with Carter help with getting him out of her system so she could concentrate on her studies?
Oh, for heaven’s sake, Cassie! Shut up already! Why would Carter want you?
That last thought hit her hard, and she took a sharp breath. Why indeed would someone like Carter be interested in her? She was the quiet type who hated stereotypical girly things like clothes shopping. If it weren’t for her best friends, who constantly helped her with her wardrobe, she’d always be wearing the same black dress at parties. And if it weren’t for contact lenses, she’d be wearing the thickest glasses among anyone she knew.
No, someone like Carter went for supermodel-looking women—those who were born to be the centre of attention at parties because of their bubbly personalities and fashion sense. Why wouldn’t he? He was a gorgeous, outgoing person himself.
Heck, she really should be grateful for that dream. At least she’d got to see Carter in all his naked glory—even if it was just in her head.
Carter smiled wryly as he watched the other guests cheer and laugh as Rick and Lucas kissed their fiancées. Here was a group of friends and family who enjoyed each other’s company, letting their hair down and revelling in the celebrations.
It had been a long time since he’d been to a real, fun party like this where he’d felt free to relax and be himself—well, up to a certain extent. With his job as an undercover detective, it wasn’t always possible to fully open up just because he wanted to.
Melancholy hit him. He missed times like this. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been to a gathering where people knew who he really was. In the last couple of years, most of the parties he’d attended had involved him rubbing shoulders with characters he’d only pretended to be friends with so he could get what he needed in order to catch criminals.
Fortunately, he had the time to attend Lexie’s birthday party tonight. He usually didn’t accept invitations like this when he was in the middle of a case, but he’d become good friends with Rick. The two of them had bonded after he’d saved Rick from a gun-wielding perp. Then their friendship grew from Rick providing information that eventually helped catch a whole gang of criminals.
And then there was Cassie, his sister’s flatmate.
He glanced at the brown-haired, brown-eyed woman who, incredibly, had no idea how beautiful she was. Tonight, she was shining. She had on a new red dress that she’d said Jade had helped her pick. And she had matching high heels on, which made her shapely legs look even sexier.
He knew, though, that she’d prefer to be wearing flats. And from the way she constantly blinked, she’d also be hoping she had on her comfortable black-rimmed eyeglasses rather than her contacts. She was pretty without her glasses, but frankly, he preferred her with them on. They made her look attractively studious. He had a thing for brainy women.
He chuckled mirthlessly. If he could, he’d ask Cassie out. Unfortunately, that was out of the question. All he could allow at this point in time was the light flirtation they exchanged regularly—the kind that wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.
Marilyn turned to him and the other three guys and he pulled himself out of his musing.
“See? I bet that one of you would soon end up like those two,” Marilyn said, gesturing to Lucas and Rick.
“Can I ask one of the bachelors a question?” Katrina, one of the single ladies, called out.
“Sure,” Marilyn answered.
“Carter, I’m so glad that you’re here with us tonight,” Katrina said with a sultry smile. “I’m curious… how old are you, and what do you do for a living?”
“Ooh, Katrina’s taking a special interest in Carter,” Marilyn said in a teasing voice, then handed the mic to Carter.
He took it, hiding a sigh. “I’m thirty, Katrina, and I’m an electrician. Currently, I also do part-time work as a personal trainer for a friend’s fitness company,” he answered, flashing a smile. He hoped it covered up his unease with his answer.
Out of everyone in this party, only his sister and Rick knew that he was an undercover detective. And there were several people in this group that he hated lying to, including Cassie. They’d considered him a friend and welcomed him with open arms. Unfortunately, the cases he worked on called for discretion and secrecy. And lies.
He usually stayed undercover for a lengthy period of time. Twice already, his life and those of others had been jeopardised because he’d bumped into acquaintances who’d recognised him and inadvertently blown his cover. Similar situations had to be avoided as much as possible.
But expecting each and every single person who knew him to immediately pick up that he was undercover and play along with it was near impossible. The best way was to tell people that what he did for a living was his undercover role. Only family and close friends knew the truth.
His “part-time” work changed whenever he worked on a different case. But being an electrician was the constant answer he gave. Fortunately, he really was qualified as one. His parents owned one of the most successful electrical services company in Australia.
“So do you see clients in a gym? And do you work with them one-on-one?” Katrina pressed.
“Yes. And sometimes I see clients at their homes,” he answered. “The personal trainer gig is only temporary until the guy I’m filling in for comes back from an overseas holiday.”
Katrina smiled cutely at him, but didn’t have any more questions to ask.
He breathed a sigh of relief as Marilyn gave the okay for the four of them to return to their tables. He saw Natasha return to her original seat next to Erin, giving him back the place beside Cassie.
He hid a snicker, knowing what his sister was up to. His mum and Natasha had been conspiring for a while now to find him a date. They believed that a steady girlfriend was one more person of influence who could convince him to take extra care while working on his cases. From Natasha’s recent actions, it was obvious that Cassie was her selected candidate.
“Mum would be happy to know that you’re one of four men racing to be the first to fall into a relationship,” Natasha said as he sat back down.
“Sure,” he said sarcastically.
“Watch out for Katrina,” Rick said, leaning across the table. “She’ll be beating a path to your door in no time.”
“Yeah. She can be pretty intense,” Lucas said conspiratorially. “And I think Vicky’s also eyeing you.”
Carter sighed as he turned to Cassie. “Your fault for telling me to go up there.”
“Why is it my fault? You’re the hot one,” Cassie replied, before her eyes widened. “I mean… you know… ’cause you’re the… uh… personal trainer,” she said weakly, blushing furiously.
He smothered his grin. It hadn’t escaped his attention that even though Cassie flirted with him in private, she was shy about it in public. She wasn’t the type to openly go after a man.
It was a shame that Cassie seemed intent on not dating while she focused on her career and studies. Not that it mattered to him, because he couldn’t date her anyway. In fact, he couldn’t date anyone. He was supposed to be a loser playboy so he could catch that heartless bitch who’d shot his best friend Gavin Redford, and had Gavin fighting for his life.
***End of Chapter One***
Chapter Two's coming tomorrow!
You can pre-order The Undercover Playboy right now from the following stores:
Amazon US | Other Amazon Stores | Apple iBooks| Barnes & Noble | Kobo
Links to Google Play, All Romance Ebooks and Smashwords will be available on July 14th.
And to celebrate the upcoming release of The Undercover Playboy, The Unwilling Executive is on sale for a limited time!