Reissued, updated edition
Friends make the best lovers…
Caroline Rossi needs a reset. Always a rule follower, she did what everyone expected of her, working hard and focusing on her career. While she’s very good at her job, she’s never really had the opportunity to let her hair down and have fun. But when a chance encounter with her older sister’s brother-in-law—millionaire Josh Campbell—leads to an unexpected night of passion, Caroline sees what she’s been missing.
And she doesn’t want to give it up.
So, she comes up with an idea that could give them both what they want…a no-strings attached relationship. At first Josh balks because they have too many connections. But there’s something irresistible about Caroline, something very different from the bombshells he usually dates, and he can’t get enough of her.
Can a friends-with-benefits arrangement really work? Or are Caroline and Josh playing a dangerous game that will end in heartbreak?
Caroline Rossi needed a new life.
Sure, the one she had was fine, but as she looked around the crowded and very trendy Midtown Manhattan bar, she wanted to do better than fine. She deserved better than ‘fine.’ Once again, she’d been passed over for a project at work, and once again she was spending a Friday night dateless because she couldn’t seem to attract a decent guy. Things had to change.
But the universe wasn’t cooperating and her heart just wasn’t into this whole scene.
“Don’t you think you should give Mark a chance?”
Caroline’s attention snapped back to the people buzzing around her, and specifically to the woman standing next to her.
“Excuse me?” Caroline asked.
“Mark? Strickland? Remember him? He’s not a bad guy.” Her friend Melanie was championing a man in her office who was completely off limits. He was her boss. This wasn’t the kind of change she was talking about.
The damn universe could be a real bitch sometimes.
“No. It’s not a good idea, Mel.”
“Caroline, really? You haven’t been on a date in over a year. You’ve been in a serious drought and it’s time to make some rain.” That analogy was just bizarre, especially considering what she was proposing.
And, honestly, how would Mel know if she’d dated? They were work “friends” in the loosest sense of the word. They stuck together because they were two of three women engineers in a firm with over sixty men and a toxic bro culture. Mel wasn’t a bad person, but she was single-minded. Looking across the bar, Caroline saw Mark lift his glass and smile. She cringed. This had disaster written all over it.
She shook her head. This wasn’t about her being picky or cold. He was the worst kind of person, the kind who was all about power. Bottom line—Mark couldn’t be trusted. In the past he’d wielded the information he gleaned about people like a weapon, taking out anyone who got in his way without a second thought.
And he was her boss. Yep. That.
So, successful and handsome, or power-hungry jerk…neither one mattered. The boss thing was the deal breaker.
“Caroline? Mark’s waiting for an answer.”
Her friend was tapping her finger against the stem of her martini glass, and Caroline processed what she’d just said. He’s waiting. Waiting?
“Did you give him a reason to think I’d say yes?”
Mel squirmed a little on her stool and tilted her head toward the end of the bar. When Caroline glanced in Mark’s direction she saw he’d been joined by one of the new associate architects. What was his name? Cole? Chase?
Both of the men raised their glasses in salute. Again. Turning on Mel, Caroline was now beyond pissed. “This thing you’re trying to arrange, has nothing to do with me. You need me so you can go on your date. A date where you get to ogle the new architect.”
“And you get the guy with the corner office and the big, fat bank account! Come on, Caroline, take a chance for once.”
“There are so many things wrong with this scenario, Mel, I don’t have time to list them. But let’s start with the obvious: he’s my boss. That he’s using you to get to me is beyond inappropriate.”
Caroline shook her head and Mel looked away, annoyed that her plan was falling apart. She wasn’t even a little bit sorry, which told Caroline exactly where she stood.
“You won’t come? Mark is really hot for you and making this kind of connection with him could help your position at the firm. Do you want to be in a cubicle your whole career?”
Of course she didn’t, but Caroline stupidly thought she could advance without putting out. Imagine that? Of all the engineering firms in Manhattan, she had to land at the place where the boys club mentality ruled the day. It was construction’s version of Mad Men.
“You just need to give him some attention, and he’d do anything you asked.”
Caroline’s temper was edging toward eruption. Rolling the cool glass that held her wine between her palms bought her a little time to figure out how she might respond. Not that she didn’t think Mel deserved a full takedown it, but Caroline still had to work with her. Unfortunately, she still had to work with all of them.
Ready to feign a headache and leave, Caroline heard a deep, rich voice break through the noise and snap her back to reality.
“Who’s Mark and what’s he going to do to you?”
“Mark’s not doing anything to me!” Caroline said, aggravated and not wanting to know who from her department had been eavesdropping. When she turned, however, she got her answer. Instead of a colleague, she was face-to-face with the man of her dreams, the subject of every bad love poem she’d written in her adolescence. Josh Campbell.
Now the universe was being a big tease.
When her sister and Josh’s brother married, Caroline had been thrown back into teenage hell. She and Josh were sort of like family now. They saw each other from time to time, but he still barely acknowledged her existence. He’d come to family functions, but he never seemed comfortable. That hadn’t stopped Caroline from wishing for a few words, a little recognition that she was no longer the young daughter of his parents’ employees. A nod of the head would have been nice.
But this? This was not what she’d had in mind. Tonight, he was holding what looked like a neat scotch, inserting himself into a truly embarrassing situation.
She opened her mouth, but couldn’t speak. The only thing that came out was a tiny squeak. Great. Of course, Josh smiled, and once he did that, Caroline felt her knees jiggle and that’s when she realized, on the inside, she was still thirteen.
Josh had been the object of her affection from the first moment she realized there was a difference between boys and girls. He’d never paid much attention to her, mostly because he was six years older, so she wasn’t even on his radar when her family still lived on the Campbells’ estate.
Hell, she wasn’t on his radar now, either.
But as Josh stood there, grinning at her, waiting for her to verbalize a coherent thought, she drank him in. Big and broad, at six-four he towered over pretty much everyone in the bar. His hair was toffee brown, and his eyes were a crystal-blue color that lit up when he smiled. He didn’t have a thick, full beard, but he was one of those men who pulled off the casual scruff with perfection. He wasn’t just spectacular; Josh was her personal Kryptonite.
Finally, she smiled back, cleared her throat, and just as she was about to speak, Mel jumped in. “Hi, I’m Mel.”
“Josh Campbell.” Josh folded his arms and leveled his most intimidating look in Caroline’s direction. “So, you still haven’t answered my question, Rossi. Mark who?”
Caroline didn’t know what to say. She knew her smile had vanished because she definitely didn’t love Josh’s tone. She wasn’t a kid anymore, and gorgeous or not, he was treating her like she’d been caught breaking curfew. Mark was nothing to her, and she wasn’t going to date her boss to get ahead. Fortunately or not, Mel jumped in once again. “I can answer,” she said. “I work with Caroline, and Mark is a man from our firm who wants to have dinner with her. He’s very nice. Quite successful.”
This was officially a nightmare.
“Is Mark here?” Josh turned his attention away from Mel and was addressing Caroline. At least that was a plus. She nodded and tipped her head at Mark, who was flipping a swizzle stick around his fingers.
Josh’s eyebrows shot up and his eyes narrowed. “The one who’s trying to stare me down or the manscaped one?”
“The one staring.” Caroline hated the feeling that she was being watched, and lately she caught Mark watching her a lot.
“Huh. He looks like the guy who lives next door to you, who has the perfect house with the manicured lawn, and turns out to be a serial killer.”
Caroline choked on her wine. Wow.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Caroline said. Mark could be overbearing, and a little creepy, but a serial killer? No. Probably not. Maybe…
“Do you want to go out with him?”
Caroline shook her head. “No.” Glaring at Mel, she continued. “I never said I was interested.”
“Caroline . . .” Mel was about to jump in, but Josh held up his hand in a halting motion. He’d obviously heard enough. But again, who the hell was he to be questioning her? Caroline didn’t know who she was angrier at now, Mel or Josh. He might be trying to help, but his attitude needed some work.
“Caroline can’t go to dinner with Mark because she’s going to have dinner with me.”
“I am?” Whoa.
“She is?” Mel folded her arms.
Josh smiled and looped his arm around Caroline’s shoulder, and his power and warmth seeped right to her core. “Caroline,” he said with a grin. “Did you forget? I’m hurt.”
“Uh, I guess I did. I didn’t realize the plans were firm” She didn’t know how she felt about him taking control of the situation, but his behavior wasn’t completely surprising. Josh was a take-control guy, and Caroline’s girly side responded happily to the attention of the big, strong man.
She was weak. So weak. He was rescuing her and she hated it, but at the same time, this gorgeous, brilliant man was holding her close and he wasn’t treating her like a piece of furniture. So, even though he was being bossy and overprotective, she wasn’t going to complain.
She let the feeling swim around in her imagination, the one that was always getting her in trouble, and allowed it to take hold. She could use this. Most definitely.
Josh’s touch felt almost as good as watching Mel’s jaw drop and Mark grow pale.
Yup. Between the lust and the gloating, there was no doubt. Her inner thirteen-year-old was alive and well. It was obvious to Caroline that she hadn’t come as far as she thought. She was a well-educated professional living in New York City, but she still didn’t know how to handle the attention of an attractive man.
“I’ve been looking forward to seeing you all week,” he lied. “Are you ready?” She looked up into Josh’s eyes and let herself believe he actually wanted to spend time with her.
She knew he didn’t. He was known as a ruthless businessman, and he’d been cold and dismissive of her family before he stepped up and made amends last year. Yep, he was doing this out of some misplaced sense of family duty, but what the hell. It would get her out of this God forsaken bar and she could forget this night ever happened.
“Yes, I’m ready.” Turning to Mel, she grinned. God, she loved the look on her face. It was perfect—somewhere between stunned disbelief and jealousy. “See you Monday.”
With that, Josh turned toward Mark and, putting two fingers near his brow, saluted. Caroline thought Mark’s head was going to blow off, but she’d never know because Josh guided her out of the bar.