Tue
Nov 14 2017 12:07pm

Tara Leigh Excerpt: Deal Breaker

Tara Leigh

Nixie Rowland is having a bad day. Rushing home to drown her sorrows in ice cream and reality television, she decides to take a shortcut to the subway where things take a turn for the worst. But Nixie’s bad luck doesn’t end there—the white knight who comes to her rescue is none other than the Dark Knight of Wall Street, a cocky Manhattan mogul whose ego barely fits inside his penthouse. To her horror, Nixie discovers the sizzling attraction between them is off the charts, and rising fast. Spending the night in his bed does nothing to lower the heat… And everything to set her heart on fire.

Nash Knight doesn’t have room in his life, or his heart, for anything beyond one-night stands or casual flings. And he certainly doesn’t make a habit of rescuing damsels in distress. Except that this particular damsel slips beneath his armor, the vulnerability she covers with a false show of bravado hitting him somewhere deep. Nixie is everything he never wanted… And exactly what he needs.

With Nixie on the run from a controlling ex, and Nash trying to salvage a business deal at risk because his conquests in the bedroom are overshadowing his wins in the boardroom, there’s one simple solution for them both: a marriage in name only. But when lust becomes love, will their untamed emotions be a deal breaker?

Get a sneak peek at Tara Leigh's Deal Breaker (available November 14, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Nash

It was the girl that caught my eye first. A tiny bit of a thing, her arms were clasped tightly across her chest as she ducked into the alley beside the boxing gym where I trained most nights, the red hair piled on top of her head shining like a halo beneath the gritty streetlights of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, her baggy jeans dragging along the pockmarked sidewalk.

This was my old neighborhood, although you would never know it now as I sat behind the tinted windows of my chauffeur-driven SUV. Most of my days are spent just two miles from here, but a world away, plotting corporate takeovers on Wall Street. I’m best known for stripping my targets of their assets, selling them for more individually than they are worth as a whole. In my spare time I do the same thing to my opponents in the ring. Using a combination of mixed martial arts and good old street fighting, I pounce on weakness, then pulverize it.

Which was why I’d noticed the petite redhead in the first place. I couldn’t tell if she was beautiful because I hadn’t seen her face. I didn’t know if she had a good body because her loose clothes disguised her figure. Face, tits, ass, legs—those were usually what drew my attention to the opposite sex, although not necessarily in that order. But this one . . . it was her stance, hunched over. And her pace, too quick. Like she was running from something.

She didn’t make a sound, and yet everything about her screamed victim.

This was not the kind of neighborhood where weakness thrived. I should know.

Sure enough, two thugs were hot on her tail. Were they chasing her? Was that why she had darted into the alley like a scared rabbit?

“Home, boss?” My driver put the car into gear, ready to pull away from the curb.

Muttering a curse beneath my breath, I tossed my gym bag onto the opposite seat and launched myself out of the SUV. “Gimme a minute.” Slamming the door, I trotted into the alley without waiting for a response. Not that I expected one; Jay had been with me for several years now and was accustomed to my brevity.

Slowing my pace, I hugged the shadows and kept my footsteps light, avoiding the beer bottles and soda cans that would have announced my presence like a fog horn. The alley itself was dark, but there was enough light to see the three people less than thirty feet away.

Two men.

One woman.

The gap between them closing fast. Three paces. Two paces. One. And then it was gone.

A haunting wolf whistle split the air. The woman’s head jerked up, her gorgeous hair coming loose and spilling down her back. Too late, I saw one of the men reach out and grab a chunk of it in his fist. Her high pitched yelp echoed inside my eardrums as I grabbed for one of the bottles at my feet and sprinted toward them, red hot rage coursing through my veins. “Get. The. Fuck. Off. Her.” I was moving fast, but my words came out slow.

The two thugs whipped around, but they were from the neighborhood, too. Hood rats, they were well versed in protecting what was theirs, including the girl they had clearly claimed as their own.

I didn’t know her, didn’t really want to know her, either—what kind of woman walked around these streets without even a shred of self-awareness? I just needed to extricate her from the two pairs of hands she’d been too oblivious to avoid, and then I would be on my way.

The man holding the redhead spoke first, pulling her into his chest. I noticed his ears, small and crinkled, set close to his head. Fighter’s ears. “What’s it to you?” The voice could have been my own, years ago. We came from the same gutter.

“Yeah,” his friend echoed, wagging bushy eyebrows that overcompensated for a bald scalp. “Back off, slick.”

Slick? I had a passing urge to laugh. I’d showered after my workout, changing into track pants and a hoodie. Nothing like my usual custom-made suits that cost more than these fools would know what to do with. “Not gonna do that. Let the girl go.”

“Or what?”

I looked from Eyebrows to Cauliflower Ears, avoiding the girl’s frightened gaze as I forced out a harsh snicker. “You think I’m handing out fucking options? Let her go. Period.”

“Don’t think so,” said Eyebrows. There was a pinging noise, and a flash of steel caught my eye. His arm lifted, a knife aimed my way.

I reacted instantaneously, instinctively. The bottle flew from my right hand, crashing against his bald skull. I kept moving, though, jabbing an elbow into his ribs as I caught his wrist between my arms and twisted. The knife hit the ground a second after I broke his radius in two. He howled, and I could have sent a spinning backhand into his face, crushing his nose, but I decided against it. There was no honor in going for the jugular when a kick to the solar plexus would do. Restraint and discipline were at the core of every true fighter. And I was a fighter, in every sense of the word.

I stepped away and jerked my chin toward the far end of the alley. “Go.”

Eyebrows didn’t hesitate, holding his broken arm tightly to his side with his uninjured hand, frantic footsteps echoing off the brick walls.

Cauliflower Ears took a look at what I’d done to his friend eyes wide as he shoved his hostage toward me and took off in the same direction. Stifling the urge to chase after him and deliver a much more memorable lesson than I’d given his friend, I caught her by her narrow shoulders. “You okay?”

She tilted her head back to meet my eyes. For the briefest of seconds, it was as if I was staring into twin flames. I’d never seen a pair of eyes burn so brightly. Momentarily speechless, I was quickly jolted back to life when she drew her hands up and slapped at my wrists. “Get your hands off me!” she yelled.

I dropped my arms, unnerved by the hostility in her tone. What the hell? “Gladly.” I’d known a lot of crazy women in my life, but this one took the cake. I backed away, deciding not to spend another second on this terrifyingly naive porcelain doll who had no idea how close she’d come to being irrevocably shattered. My eyes didn’t want to leave her face, though. Which was probably a good thing, because I noticed the second she went from angry to shocked, pressing her hand against her side. My gaze tracked hers, noticing the blood for the first time.

Fuck. Cauliflower Ears must have had a knife, too. She lifted her hand, staring at the red already staining her fingers.

I caught her just before she hit the ground.

Jay’s face was expressionless as I came out of the alley, holding an unconscious woman in my arms. He opened the back door and I slipped inside, cushioning her head against my shoulder as I pressed a palm to her injured side. Hair the color of fine cognac spilled down my arm, pooling in my lap.

“Hospital?” Jay jumped into the driver’s seat, twisting around to look at me.

I shook my head. “Turn on the lights for a sec.”

Jay pushed a button, switching the interior lights of the Navigator on, and then reached for a flashlight from the glove compartment, aiming its beam at her as well. I pried my hand away and lifted her shirt. There was a deep slice at her waist, but it clearly wasn’t life-threatening as the blood flow had already slowed. If I brought her to a hospital, she wouldn’t be seen for hours.

“Get Doc on the line and take us home,” I said, relieved her injury wasn’t lethal.

Stealing a glance at her face, my breath caught in my throat. Gold eyelashes fanned out against high cheekbones dusted with tiny freckles. Her mouth was set in a perfect pout, lips like fresh strawberries. Stunning.

“Sure thing, Boss.” Jay turned back in his seat and put the car into gear, switching off the lights. It didn’t matter, though. The image of her heart-shaped face was seared into my corneas.

A moment later, Doc’s voice came through the car’s speakers. Doc was Dr. Carmichael, a concierge doctor I paid a small fortune to have at my beck and call. When you work and play at my level, convenience can be bought with the swipe of an Amex Black Card. “Nash, how can I help you?”

“Meet me at my place. Now.”

My apartment consisted of the entire top floor of the highest, most expensive skyscraper in Battery Park City. On one side I looked out at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, on the other was the Freedom Tower. As far as I was concerned, Central Park and the stuffy uptown crowd packed into the buildings at its perimeter could go to the pigeons. Judging from the amount of bird droppings covering the sidewalks, maybe it already had.

Without thinking, I carried the girl into my bedroom, although there were several others I could have chosen. By the time I laid her out on my crisp white duvet and took off her shoes, threadbare red Converses that had seen better days, Dr. Carmichael was at my side.

“Taking in strays, I see,” he commented, dropping his black bag on the floor and reaching inside to grab for a stethoscope.

“Very funny. She was on the wrong end of a knife fight.” I lifted her bloodstained shirt just high enough to expose the three-inch gash cut into the curve of her waist. “She didn’t faint until she saw the blood on her hand, though.”

Doc nodded, but his attention was on the girl, not me. Tearing my own eyes away, I left him with his new patient and walked out of the room, shaking off my body’s almost visceral reaction to the unconscious girl splayed across my mattress. If we’d met in a bar, we might already be in bed. Together.

And neither of us would be wearing clothes.

With a start, I pulled myself together. Women didn’t do this to me, no matter how beautiful they were.

Once I’d washed the blood off my hands, I poured a double shot of whiskey into a crystal old fashioned glass and headed for my office. Six televisions hung on one wall, each set to a different news network, their sound muted. I scanned them quickly, but the biggest news of the day was the remembrance ceremony for the sixteenth anniversary of September 11.

I didn’t need to remember that day.

I’d never forgotten it.

Sixteen fucking years. Sixteen years since I’d been a sixteen-year-old kid about to join a street gang. My brother was eighteen, and on September 12 he walked into to the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Midtown. Before he left for boot camp, Wyatt made me promise I would stay off the streets. I was proud that he’d chosen to selflessly serve his country, but I was also angry. Angry that he’d left me behind, angry that every breath I took was laced with fear that he wouldn’t return. I was like a desiccated tree, just waiting for a careless flick of a cigarette butt to start a forest fire.

Cutting school and starting fights with anyone willing to hit me back, I was well on my way to breaking my promise. Until a barrel-chested man with a buzz cut and a nose that had been broken so many times it was just a misshapen lump in the center of his face spotted me and a neighborhood kid getting into it right outside his boxing gym and shoved us in a ring together.

I earned my first win that day, but what I really gained was an outlet for the unwieldy emotions clouding my judgment.

Reggie’s gym smelled of sweat and mildew, and was filled with the sounds of men hitting bags and hitting each other. It was a sharp contrast to the apartment I shared with my parents. Without my brother, the cramped rooms were too quiet, our combined worry too oppressive.

Reggie took pity on me, letting me train in return for sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms, and washing wraps. I trained with amateurs, then with the pros. There was one other rule, though. Fighting was a disciplined sport, and he believed that a dull mind could never produce a strong fighter. To be welcome in his gym, I had to do well in school. Not necessarily perfect grades, just “my best.” For a kid who had never put much effort into school work, barely cracking a book and being content with simply passing from year to year, no one was more surprised than me when a little bit of effort resulted in straight A’s.

Confining my fighting to the boxing ring, I stayed out of trouble and off the streets. Not only did I keep my promise to my brother, my efforts paid off in other ways, too. A college scholarship. Internships. Job offers. My own company. Millions of dollars. Nearly a billion, according to the latest valuations at the close of the market today.

And yet, over the years, I’d seen first hand how easily the trappings of success, even life itself, could be snatched away in an instant.

Doc stopped at the threshold of my office and gave a short rap on the open door with his knuckles. I looked up. “How is she?”

“Fine, now. She woke up as I was examining her wound, then passed right out again. Her dirty clothes are in the bathroom sink and I left a note with instructions on your nightstand, along with anti-bacterial meds and enough pain pills to carry her through the next couple of days.”

I nodded, letting out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. “Thanks, Doc. Appreciate it.”

“Anytime.” He started to walk out and then turned back. “If she’s still here in the morning, I can stop back in. Check on her again.”

Still here in the morning? That would mean spending the night. No woman had ever spent the night in my apartment.

Because I didn’t bring women back to my apartment. Ever.

“Good. Do that.” I rolled suddenly tense shoulders, tossing back the remains of my glass in one swallow. First time for everything.

Nixie

Jerking awake, I sucked in a pained breath, drawing it through my teeth as I felt for the brand that must have been seared into my right side. Instead of a raised scar, my palm slid over a rectangular bandage. What the—

“It’s only a superficial cut, but you got a few stitches.” A voice only slightly more familiar to me than the room pierced the darkness, smooth and throaty, making me forget all about the burning slash across my waist. I’d heard that voice before.

Clutching the cool sheet to my chest, I realized something else. Not only was I in a strange bed, I was shirtless. Pantless, too. “That’s all that happened?” I gritted out.

“You mean besides me saving your ass?” His velvet chuckle was as sensual as a Botticelli painting. “Yeah, that’s all. Unconscious women aren’t really my thing.”

If I’d been wearing more than just a bra and panties, I would have jumped out of bed and fled with the tattered shreds of my dignity trailing behind me. Kind of like the walk of shame but without the excuse of beer goggles. “Thank you. That was very kind of you. Can I have my clothes now?” My throat was so tight, each word emerged strangled.

“No.”

No? I’d swallowed my pride to sound appreciative, practically begging for my clothes back, and he had the gall to say no? Who the hell did this guy think he was?

Beneath the covers, an indignant shiver trembled through me. I couldn’t see much in the dark room, but I assumed he was the same man who’d come running into the alley last night. The memory of him was permanently ingrained in my brain. Tall, at least a foot taller than me, with close cropped dark hair and olive skin. Pale green eyes that sat above high cheekbones, fringed by long eyelashes that didn’t soften his hard edges one bit. “Listen, if you’re expecting some kind of open-armed, grateful—”

“From you?” He made a noise that sounded like a snort. “I’m getting the feeling you don’t do grateful.”

I winced, taken aback by the blunt honesty of his observation. “I never asked you to come running into the alley after me.”

“So you’re not glad I did?”

With my track record, of course I wouldn’t wind up with a run-of-the-mill good samaritan. No, instead I fell into the hands of a cocky jerk with extra time on his hands, looking for an appreciative female to stroke his ego. “How do you know I wouldn’t have been just fine on my own?”

“You’re right. I don’t.” His swift capitulation surprised me, and I sagged back against the pillow. “Next time you have your head in the clouds and don’t notice two thugs hot on your tail, looking to rob or rape you, probably both, I’ll let you take your chances.”

“Fine. All hail the conquering hero. Happy now?”

“Are you admitting that you needed my help?”

So damned smug. “Listen, we can debate my self-defense capabilities all day—”

“Night. It’s the middle of the night.”

“Whatever. All night, all day. There’s no difference. What I’m trying to say—”

The arrogant man with a white knight complex interrupted me again. “Actually, there is a difference. The difference is—it’s nighttime, and you’re in my bed getting all hot and bothered about nonsense. Either go to sleep, or we might as well channel your energy into something more productive.”

I snapped my sagging jaw shut, feeling a rush of heat between my thighs that rivaled my burning knife wound. Jeez, Nixie. Get a grip. This guy is clearly an asshole and you are not an asshole magnet.

Not anymore.

His low chuckle sent the hair at the back of my neck standing on end. “So that’s what it takes, huh? You know, most women would consider sex with me to be more of a bonus than a threat.”

Jesus, this guy had quite a set of balls on him. “Don’t flatter yourself, big shot. You could have called nine-one-one. Or dropped me off at the nearest hospital. I’m in your bed because you brought me here. And now I want to leave.”

“You can’t. Doc’s coming back to check on you in the morning. Until then, get some sleep.”

Sleep, even in this pushy stranger’s bed, sounded tempting. I closed my eyes, trying to will myself back to unconsciousness. One minute passed, then two. It was no use. Not only was my side on fire, my bladder wasn’t cooperating either. I huffed an irritated sigh.

It didn’t go unnoticed. “You’re still awake.”

“Apparently, so are you.”

“Why aren’t you sleeping?”

I bristled. “Why do you care? And why are you in here, anyway?”

He ignored my questions. “You mean, in my bedroom?”

“I can’t imagine anyone with sheets this soft and a doctor who makes house calls lives in a studio apartment. Isn’t there another room you can go to? You know, since you won’t let me leave this one?”

“You’re a liability. Since I brought you here, I might as well make sure you’re okay.”

A liability? That was something I’d never been called before. I scraped my teeth over each other, counting backward from ten. “Fine. If you really want to know, my cut is killing me and I have to pee. There, now you know what’s keeping me up.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” A lamp flicked on and I winced at the unexpected light, covering my eyes with my hand. “The bathroom is just down there, and Doc left some pain pills on the nightstand.”

Sensing him coming near me, my heartbeat took off at a gallop. Needing all of my faculties operating on point with this one, I removed my hand and blinked frantically, willing my pupils to retract faster.

“Here.”

I squinted at the outstretched pill and glass of water, forcing myself to raise my head and look directly at my unlikely host, too. “Where are my clothes?”

“They had blood all over them, so I tossed them in the laundry.”

“For the record, I would have preferred to remain dressed,” I sputtered indignantly, taking the glass and pill while keeping my arms pressed firmly to my sides, head just a few inches above the pillow. Did this gorgeous man really see me in a barely there bra and panty set that I only wore when I was overdue for an afternoon at the laundromat?

As if he heard my unspoken question, he gave a sideways smirk that had my stomach plummeting. “You’ll have to take that up with Doc. But don’t worry, I didn’t see a thing. As far as I’m concerned, your virtue is fully intact.”

My virtue. The old-fashioned word sounded ridiculous coming from this man’s lips. His too-full, too-sensual lips. “Well, can I borrow something to wear?”

“Sure.” Pale green eyes flicked over my exposed shoulders, catching briefly on the thin straps of my white lace bra that only highlighted my state of undress. “Do you need help sitting up?”

“No, I’m f—” I put weight only on my elbows, intending to shift backward and work my way into a seated position, but a fresh wave of pain caught me off guard.

“Yeah. You’re fine, all right,” he grumbled, one hand curving around my shoulder and down my naked back, the other scooping beneath my knees. Settling me against the headboard, he took the glass of water from my shaking hands and held it to my mouth. “Sip,” he commanded, the imprint of his palm on my back still smoldering.

Tears stinging my eyes, both at the pain in my side and from embarrassment, I did as instructed.

Before I realized what he was doing, he pried the pill out of my fingers and held it in front of my mouth. “Open.”

I did, and with the gentlest touch, he set the white capsule on my tongue before lifting the cup of water again. I raised my gaze to his, swallowing my pride along with the pill.

His eyes crinkled at the corners as he set the glass back down on the nightstand, just before turning away. I sagged back against the leather, feeling like I’d just run a marathon. A minute later, he reappeared, holding a white button-down. “Will this work?”

“Hmmm?”

“For you to wear.” At my hesitation, his voice took a sarcastic tone. “You know, because I’ve never seen a naked woman before.”

I snatched the shirt from him, this time ignoring the flash of pain that stole my breath as I battled a flare of something that couldn’t possibly be jealousy. At what—the thought of this stranger looking at another woman? Ridiculous. “It’s fine.” I gave myself a mental shake. What the hell was wrong with me? In a few hours, I would never see the guy again. Keeping the sheet against my chest, I gingerly pushed my arms through the too-long sleeves, trying not to show how much it hurt.

“Do you need help?”

“No,” I grumbled, struggling to free my hands so I could button the damn thing. But it was no use. After a minute of trying, I gave up, defeated by the swath of starched cotton engulfing my fingertips. So much for pushing through the pain. I sighed. “Yes.”

“What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”

I looked up, getting lost in mischievous eyes that had to be evidence of a snarky leprechaun residing somewhere inside his brawny exterior. “Yes.” I swallowed. “Please.”

He gave a satisfied nod and folded the cuffs back, several times, until I could see my wrists. Pulling the two sides together, he blew out a sigh and began fastening the buttons. “This isn’t as much fun as the other way around.” I held my breath as his hands hovered over my breasts, the sight of his long, nimble fingers throwing my stomach into somersaults. Once he’d finished, he stepped away and jerked his head to the right. “The bathroom is just down there.”

“’Kay.” If I could have given my bladder to him, I would have. With the painkiller slipping through my bloodstream, I pushed my legs out from under the covers and slowly scooted myself toward the edge of the mattress.

He stood back a respectful distance as I hoisted myself upright, but was at my side the instant I swayed on my feet. “I gotcha.”

One muscled arm wrapped around me, hugging me into his side. I barely reached his shoulder. “I should probably know your name.”

“You’re right, you should.”

I blinked. “And?”

“Oh, was that you actually asking my name? I couldn’t tell.”

A flush started at my chest and rose above the stiff white collar of his shirt. Was I getting etiquette lessons now? “Well then, Sam it is.”

He sighed. “Nash. My name’s Nash.”

“Nice to meet you, Nash.”

“Good to meet you too, Nixie.” I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of our conversation. I was wearing his shirt, leaning on his arm as he walked me to the bathroom. On paper, we sounded like a geriatric couple. Until I realized what he’d said and stopped moving forward, my feet suddenly rooted to the ground. “How do you know my name?”

He didn’t have the grace to look chagrined in the slightest. “Because that’s what it said on your student ID.”

“You rifled through my clothes?”

“No, I did not rifle. I emptied your pockets before throwing your jeans in the wash. It’s been a while since I’ve done my own laundry, but I remember that much.”

My mind caught on the sliver of information Nash had let slip. Who did his laundry? A girlfriend? Wife? None of your business, Nixie. “So what, did you do a Google search on me, too?”

This time, a tiny flicker of guilt crossed his too - damn - handsome - for - words face. “Oh my god—you did!” I turned slightly, so that I was facing him.

Nash’s jaw clenched as he stared down at me, sending a shiver down my spine. “I did.” I swayed within his embrace at the gritty tone of his voice. The tips of my breasts brushed against his shirt, and they puckered immediately. Of course he noticed, the corner of his mouth pulling upward. Damn the man. “Want to know what I found?”

The breath punched from my lungs. What did he find? I’d worked so hard to cover my tracks. My mind raced. If all it took was one Google search to—

“Nothing. I found nothing.”

I sagged in relief. Thank god. “Exactly. It was a waste of your time.”

His eyes narrowed. “No, I don’t think so.”

Swallowing down the lump of unease that had risen in my throat, I faced forward and began walking toward the bathroom with determined steps, wishing it was his front door. I might have been better off with the two thugs in the alley.

Copyright © 2017 by Tara Leigh.
***
Learn more about or order a copy of Deal Breaker by Tara Leigh, available November 14, 2017:

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Tara Leigh attended Washington University in St. Louis and Columbia Business School in New York, and worked on Wall Street and Main Street before “retiring” to become a wife and mother. When the people in her head became just as real as the people in her life, she decided to put their stories on paper. Tara currently lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut with her husband, children and fur-baby, Pixie. She is the author of Penthouse Player and Deal Breaker.

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