Ruthless

By: Gillian Archer

Chapter 1


JUNE 6

RENO, NEVADA

The worst date of my life didn’t start out so bad.

When I spotted him across the room, I couldn’t believe it—my mom had actually set me up with a stellar guy. Which was something of a surprise. My mom’s idea of the perfect man was light-years from mine. But tonight’s guy, Charlie, was hot. It wasn’t so much his looks as the confident air he had about him—the way he wore a suit reminded me of James Bond. He owned the look in a totally understated, badass way. Although he wasn’t GQ handsome, the combination of his confidence and height made him more appealing to me than any model. Height was an important checklist item. Most men were shorter than me and seemed intimidated by my five-foot-ten frame.

But then not much daunted Charlie, as I later found out.

“Jessica?” He stood and offered a well-manicured hand.

“Yes, so that would make you Charlie?”

“Guilty.” He gently squeezed my hand as he gave me the once-over. His smug little grin made me think he didn’t mind the view. Holding on to the back of his chair, he gestured to the vacant one across the table. “Sit, please.”

Charmed, I took a seat and we exchanged smiles, although mine felt a little awkward. I looked around at the other diners and slyly scoped out their plates. I was starving. “So what’s good here?”

“No need to worry about ordering.” He leaned back in his chair, totally comfortable with his surroundings. “I’ve already taken the liberty of ordering for both of us.”

“But…” I trailed off as the waiter approached with our dinner salads. Okay, then. Granted it was a little high-handed, but I was determined to make the most of the situation. I gritted my teeth, picked up a fork, and dug in. “So tell me about yourself.”

Charlie smiled charmingly over his salad. “What would you like to know?”

“Um, how about what you like to do for fun?”

“Well, I’m what some would call an adrenaline junkie. I’ve scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. The sound of the wind and the taste of the air so high above the rest of humanity really makes you feel alive. Of course I climbed it without a guide. Only weak excuses for climbers use Sherpas. And just last month I surfed the Banzai Pipeline in Oahu. My third day there, I caught a thirty-foot wave and rode it over…”

He continued to drone on about his accomplishments, but I was too busy resisting the urge to stab my eye with my fork to pay close attention. And here was the drawback that always came with my mom’s setups. I should’ve known he was too good to be true.

Of course he didn’t seem to be interested in anything about me at all. At every turn he managed to slip in some outrageous claim about himself. I’m pretty sure over our entrées—which was a fish pairing and I hate fish, ugh!—he told me he’d testified in front of Congress on the same day he’d rescued a baby seal. Although given the amount of wine he downed, it was hard to believe he could walk in a straight line on a Saturday night, let alone climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Whatever snow job he gave my mom, it obviously hadn’t been the truth. Captain America wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him on the ass. How had he managed to hide his utter douchiness? I certainly hadn’t detected it from across the room. But once he opened his mouth…Whatever it was, I had to change my inner jackass radar and maybe buy my mom one, too. I didn’t want to ever do this again.

When the bill finally arrived, thankfully, I expected at least some modest tussle over who would pay. I mean he was so macho and all. Not that I was going to let him; I didn’t want even the hint of “owing him” at the end of the night. I just wanted to get the heck out of there and forget Captain Douche and his amazing conquests.

But there wasn’t a tussle.

Charlie made a big production of patting his shirt pockets. “Oh, dang it. I can’t find my wallet.”

So he was either the world’s biggest cheapskate—he did drink two fairly expensive bottles of wine after all—or his master plan was to owe me at the end of the night.

Not in this lifetime.

I put my pleasant—if slightly irritated—fake smile on and paid the bill. I could not wait for the evening to end. He, of course, insisted on walking me to my car. Which was where my historically awful evening got worse.

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