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About the author:
I live on the banks of the Fox River outside Chicago, IL with my cranky cat and some kids who won’t stop calling me “Mom.” I love to paint, work on the house, garden for at least the first few weeks of spring, and watch Supernatural and MasterChef. In fact, Gordon Ramsay inspired an upcoming book. Please don’t tell him.
What inspired you to write your book?
Actually, it was the title. I wanted to have two alpha males from different walks of life, wooing the same woman. How do they balance? What does everybody bring to the relationship that’s unique? All the sexy things about a blue-coller fella and all the sexy things about a wealthy fella – how could I resist?
Here is a short sample from the book:
Auger snored softly on the couch with his thick, muscular arm thrown up to shield his eyes from the searing morning sun. His broad chest rose slowly with every breath and soft, growling noises filled the room.
Callie bit her lips together and tried to ignore him and just get her work done on the other side of the small living room/kitchen combo. But every time she commanded herself to simply concentrate, somehow the camera just seemed to shift on its own, drawing him back into the frame. Even from across the room, while she pretended she couldn’t, she could see every ripple of every muscle under his skin. The sunlight caught every golden hair on his chest and lit it on fire.
This is stupid. This is stupid, she scolded herself silently. Just get back to work. Ignore the snoring giant on the sofa. Ignore him. Or else.
The door opened behind her and she deliberately shifted her back to it as her brother, Bryce, shuffled through the entryway. Peering at the camera’s display, she pushed tiny buttons and dials to toggle the exposure higher and alter the shutter speed again.
Bryce came up behind her and rested his chin on her shoulder for just a second to annoy her. She pretended not to notice him as he surveyed the scene: Callie looking busy in the kitchen, Auger sleeping with his shirt off under the bay window.
It looks perfectly innocent, she told herself as she stabbed the camera’s buttons pointlessly with her thumbnail. Oh, well… That’s because it is perfectly innocent. I’m not doing anything wrong. Just taking a picture of this damn plate of food, with nothing on my mind at all. Nope. Not me.
So why do I feel so guilty?
Callie sighed through her nose and peered at the LED screen. The composition of the photo was was all wrong, she knew, but she didn’t have any idea how to fix it. And in about 30 seconds, the butter was going to turn opaque and waxen and look completely inedible anyway.
What a waste of a morning, she groaned to herself.
Bryce’s voice was sudden and grating at her shoulder. “What is that supposed to be? Some kind of scrambled eggs?” he smirked. His voice felt like nails on a chalkboard.
“Shut it. I’m trying to concentrate.”
He leaned closer, his chin just over her arm.
“What do those buttons do?”
She sighed irritably and said nothing, jerking her shoulder back to dislodge him. What do the buttons do? she thought. Hell if I know, honestly.
“What? I’m just looking,” he said innocently.
“Bryce, seriously… back off,” she hissed, waving her hand over her shoulder and hoping she could smack him in the face by mistake.
Click. She took a shot then squinted at the result. The image on screen was passably attractive. She could imagine it on Pinterest or a foodie site of some sort. But on closer inspection, somehow all the bits of red pepper seemed to have lined up. They looked like a treasure map to nowhere or the blank spots on a game of Hangman. She reached out and spun the plate a quarter turn and click, took another.
“How are people supposed to know if that’s good food if they can’t tell what it is?”
“It’s a fucking omelet, Bryce. How do you not know what it is?”
She stood up, frustrated and ready to lash out but when she turned, he had that goofy golden retriever look on his face like when they were kids. He bounced on his toes from side to side and smiled apologetically. Something was up, but she was too busy to ask.
“Naw, go on, sis,” he pleaded, shrugging toward the counter. “I was just playing with you.”
Callie glared at him, her mood stubbornly refusing to brighten even as he grinned and danced from foot to foot.
“Don’t stop,” he continued, whining. “Do your thing. It looks good, honest!”
“Whatever,” she grumbled and flipped through the last three shots on the camera. They would have to do, she knew, at least until she could figure out what she was doing wrong. She gave the plate an irritable poke with her finger.
“It looks good,” he mumbled again behind her.
“Fine,” she sighed, giving up. “You eat it.”
“Sweet!” he exclaimed and went to the far side of the kitchen counter, dragging the plate with him as he pulled out a bar stool.
“Jesus… Use a fork, Bryce!” she complained, getting a utensil close to his hand just in time.
He ate with gusto, shoveling palm-sized portions into his mouth with barely a breath in between. Callie stared at him with an expression of mild disgust. He still ate like a barn animal, which is exactly what their mom had said when they were little. You eat like a barn animal!
I guess some things never change, Callie thought wryly.
“This is good, whatever it is,” he slurred between swallows.
“It’s an om— Oh forget it. Thanks.”
She sullenly kicked the tripod legs back together and leaned the camera back in the cramped corner that acted as her staging area/studio/office. Ever since Auger had claimed the sofa for his own, her personal real estate had dwindled dramatically.
“You know, you’re wasting your time with food,” Bryce mumbled thoughtfully, his cheeks bulging. He gestured toward the sofa with the butt end of his fork. “You should be taking pictures of that.”
Callie automatically looked where he was pointing, even as she commanded herself not to. Auger was still somehow asleep, a forearm over his eyes, the old gingham quilt diagonal across his broad chest. Like this, he seemed absolutely harmless.
“No way,” she muttered, shaking her head.
“You wouldn’t even have to wake him,” Bryce insisted. “Ladies go crazy for this he-man shit. Just a few pictures, some candid snaps…”
Bryce left the barstool and sneak-walked across the room to the sofa like a cartoon character. Callie’s eyes widened in horror. He hovered a hand just over the hem of the quilt. Both his elbows were cocked and he half bent at the waist, all nervous energy.
Is he high? she wondered, aghast.
“Like this stuff here?” he stage whispered, his hand gesturing in quick circles over Auger’s ribcage and the thick ripples of his abs, visible even while asleep. “All this fur is like crazy sexy, Cal. This is the money shot right here.”
“Bryce, leave him alone!” she hissed, her eyes wide.
Could he seriously be high? This early in the morning?
“And then there’s alla this, down here,” he said, gesturing lower down. He glanced at the quilt and paused, his eyebrows knitting together. He drew his hands back from the suspicious mound beneath the blanket and frowned. “Hey is that his… No way. Callie, come check this out…”
“You’re disgusting, Bryce.”
“No, seriously, look at this,” he hissed, now pointing directly at the obvious protrusion under the blanket, his face contorted into over-acted shock. “It’s like a baby’s arm! Bring your camera!”
“Leave him alone!”
“Whaaaat?” he whispered loudly, arms out in a gesture of innocence. “I can’t help it! When I try to think of it… My own sister… Did you really used to… With all of that??”
Callie turned away and reached weakly for the desk, blushing fiercely. She half-though Bryce was going to rip the quilt off him to get a look at it up close. That’s the sort of thing he would do when he was like this: all nerves and elbows and a juvenile pitch for attention of any kind. He’d strip a friend, or wake a sleeping person, or do just about anything for a laugh. Or even for a shocked grimace, if a laugh wasn’t available.
“You wanna see my dick, Bryce?” Auger’s voice suddenly cut through the room like a hatchet.
Callie shot bolt upright, grateful she had turned away and he couldn’t see the look on her face, or the bright red burn in her cheeks. She stifled a gasp and resisted the urge to turn around, staring instead at the framed print of a red velvet cupcake she had shot months ago. It looked awesome. Probably the best photo she had ever taken. Possibly the last decent one, ever, she figured. Probably a fluke.
Aw, who am I kidding, she thought for the thousandth time. A photographer? Me? Yeah, right.
“Naw, dude, I don’t want to see your dick,” Bryce continued, the discomfort plain in his voice. “I was just giving Callie some career advice. Uh… Did I wake you?”
The couch springs creaked as Auger’s weight shifted. Callie moved the PC mouse around on the desk and the monitor sprung startlingly to life.
“Yeah, you woke me,” he grumbled, his voice muffled as he rubbed the heels of his hands hard over his face. Still keeping her back carefully turned, Callie opened and closed an Internet browser, trying to act casual.
“Well great! Now that you’re up—”
“You woke me,” Auger growled again.
“Yeah,” Bryce stumbled momentarily, almost managing to shut up. The floorboards squeaked quietly as he started to fidget again. “OK, yeah, you’re right. Sorry about that, but now that you’re up, I have got a great deal for you…”
“No,” Auger replied instantly, his voice low and definitive.
Callie walked into the kitchen, only seeing them out of the corner of her eye. Bryce bounced from foot to foot, bent slightly at the waist like he might dive at Auger any second. Auger sat with his forearms on his knees, his fingers plunged into his shoulder-length dark blonde hair. The quilt was arranged modestly over his hips, and for just a second Callie felt a twinge of disappointment as she glanced at it.
“No, no… Listen, this is great—”
“No,” Auger said again.
“Come on, just this once,” Bryce said charmingly. He kicked off his shoes toward the window and left them there. Callie stifled a strong urge to tell him to put them on the mat by the door.
“No way,” Auger shook his head. He leaned forward and sorted through the stack of envelopes on the coffee table, wincing visibly at each of the return addresses: lawyer, lawyer, school loan, collection agency, cellphone company…
“Dude, I would do it for you. In a heartbeat,” Bryce pointed out sullenly.
Auger blew his breath out through puffed cheeks and dropped the stack on the little table. “Bryce,” he said wearily in that not this same old crap again tone, “you already do it, man, for everybody.”
“Not true,” Bryce retorted with an arrogant quirk of his eyebrow. “I only do it when I am getting paid.”
Auger sighed disgustedly. He flopped back on the sofa, dousing himself in sunlight. Callie heard her breath puff over her tongue as the golden light swept over every knot and swell.
Stop that! she yelled at herself. Is there nothing else in this apartment to stare at??
“I don’t fight,” Auger growled through his teeth. “I’m not just holding out on you, Bryce. I don’t fight. Ever.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Callie called out suddenly from the kitchen. Neither man acknowledged her.
Bryce sighed dramatically and pulled his tank top over his head, sniffing it briskly before throwing it toward the other corner. He peered down at his pecs and abs, checking the spray tan for streaks or blotches. Then he shrugged, apparently satisfied, and picked up a set of 50 pound dumbbells from the rack. “Right… right… you’re living the life of the reformed sinner… redemption and all that…”
“Bryce, leave him alone,” Callie warned, walking back toward the chair by the window. She flopped down on the worn upholstery, holding her breath by habit. They had gotten it off Craigslist and every time someone sat down it gave off a whoosh of stale grandma air.
Auger pivoted back on the sofa and laid out flat, crossing his feet toward Callie over the curved metal arm. She glanced at his bare soles and then looked down at her hands.
“Come on, Auger…” Bryce huffed as he curled each dumbbell to his shoulder. “I told Orion I would have somebody else, and Tony… Kirk… they’re in Green Bay at some Indian casino. It’s just one night.”
“I don’t fight,” Auger said again, his voice muffled behind his hands.
“Bryce, let it go,” Callie warned him. She saw his eyes bounce off her and back to Auger. He wasn’t going to listen to a word she said, but she knew Auger wasn’t going to give in, either. He could be bad cop. She could be silent cop.
“It’s on a boat, man. It’s a party for some rich people who want a little entertainment. No blood, just a couple of body shots and then you tap the mat. You’re done.”
Bryce paused, a dumbbell hovering next to his shoulder when he shrugged innocently. Auger squinted at him incredulously and coughed at the back of his throat. He started to say something then stopped, cutting his eyes toward Callie and adjusting his tone to something more reasonable.
“Listen, Bryce, I know what that means,” he said, his voice gravelly with restraint. “Everything is tame until somebody loses a bet. Then they want to see you get… hurt. I don’t want to be on either side of that, and I don’t know why you do either.”
Bryce tipped his head sideways, brushing off the criticism. “Whatever. It’s a living. You think anybody loves their job all the time? You think Callie loves her job?”
“All she has to do is hold her arms over her head and walk in a circle, Bryce,” Auger growled.
Callie’s jaw fell open. Auger pulled his head off the sofa and looked at her. “No offense.”
She cough-laughed, trying to think of a snappy response. “Yeah. uh… whatever.”
“Hey, ring-girl is a noble profession,” Bryce retorted.
Groaning, Callie let her head drop back and stared at the ceiling. “Please don’t try to help me, Bryce,” she pleaded.
“No, but it is!” he insisted. “How else are people gonna know what round it is, am I right? Just count? All the way to three? On their own?”
“Oh, geez, just stop…”
“I mean, they’d probably love it a little more if it paid two or three grand a night…” Bryce sighed meaningfully.
Auger pulled his arm down from his eyes and turned his head. Bryce dutifully curled the barbells over and over, purposely flexing his pecs.
“Three grand? Jesus,” he repeated in disbelief.
“Well, you’re new. Three grand would be a stretch,” Bryce shrugged. “But you’re guaranteed 2K.”
“That’s what Orion said?” Auger asked, sitting up. “For sure?”
Callie picked her head back up. She stared at each of them, not quite believing what she was hearing. “Hey, wait, no,” she interrupted. “Bryce is probably mistaken…”
“Guaranteed, man,” he said directly to Auger, ignoring her completely. His eyes were bright. “And you don’t even have to win. Two minutes in the ring. Tops.”
Her stomach started to knot. Something was wrong here. Some carefully choreographed cart was going right off the rails.
“Auger, no way,” she said, shaking her head and trying to catch his eye.
We have a deal, man! she called out silently.
Bryce stood up tall, stretching his hamstrings one at a time. “Listen, you know I love you, man,” he began.
“Bryce, don’t…” Auger growled.
“—but you’ve been here six months—”
“Not by choice…”
“And it was supposed to be a couple weeks. Hell… your mail comes here now. And by the look of it…”
“No, that’s fine!” Callie interrupted again, sitting forward and looking at each of them. Neither would meet her eye and she held her hands out to each side. She could feel she was being boxed out, excluded like the unmated girl at a middle school make-out party.
Auger sighed. She tried to connect with him psychically.
Come on, man! You promised!
“Yeah,” he grunted, staring at the ceiling.
“I know you’re all good-ol-boy proud,” Bryce needled, excited by the upper hand he seemed to be getting. “A fresh start and all that… But you gotta start somewhere.”
“I have started,” Auger growled, his light brown eyes flashing dangerously. Bryce instinctively lowered his gaze.
“I know, I know…” Bryce admitted. He put his hands up like he was being arrested.
“It’s been easier for you,” Auger continued, one finger aimed at Bryce’s sternum, his tone a distinct warning.
“Yeah,” Bryce chuckled with a shrug. “Well, I’ve never been burdened with dignity. You know that.”
“I’ve got resumes all over the neighborhood,” Auger said almost to no one. Bryce didn’t answer.
“I know you do!” Callie pitched in helpfully. “You’ve been persistent. Something will come through! It’s just a matter of time now.”
“There’s that new coffee shop…” he continued like she hadn’t said anything. “Those roasters, what are they called?”
“Amped,” Bryce said mechanically and dropped to the floor. He stuffed his feet under the lazyboy chair and started doing crunches.
“That sounds perfect,” Callie said, her head bobbing back and forth between them like an animatronic doll. Neither seemed to notice.
Am I invisible or what? she wondered.
“Amped,” Auger repeated dully. She nodded her enthusiasm.
“I’m not waxing my chest,” he said suddenly.
“No!” she blurted out, standing to face him. Her chest twisted like it could fold in half.
We had a deal!
“What?” Bryce said, breathing heavily through his reps despite his efforts to remain cool. It had always bothered him that Auger was naturally buff even though he never seemed to lift anything heavier than a beer can.
Auger twisted his square jaw as though he was pushing the ideas around in his mouth, and they tasted terrible. “I’m not waxing, like, anything. Or tanning, or whatever it is you do to get that… color.”
“You’re pretty hairy, man…” Bryce said uncertainly, scowling.
Auger sat up and folded his arms over his massive chest. Callie stood there, shaking and helpless. He wasn’t budging, she could tell. How had he changed his mind so fast?
“Hey, come on, Auger,” she started again, frantically trying to dive into his eye-line, “if it’s the money, don’t worry about it. There’s time. You’ll catch up.”
He glanced at her, nostrils flaring… that drive-by sneer he used to give out when they were kids, like she was dust. She crumpled a little where she stood.
Fucking jerk. Fucking lying asshole… JERK!
“You’re gonna be sorry…” Bryce crowed. “If one of those guys gets a hold of all of that…” he paused mid-crunch and gestured at the pelt of light brown hair that covered Auger’s torso. “It’s gonna be dire. I kid you not — it will rip right off.”
“You said it wouldn’t come to that,” Auger reminded him.
Fucking backstabbing, lying JERK!
“Yeah… uh, yeah. I did say that. OK. You just dance around for a couple minutes and then take a knee,” Bryce muttered uncertainly.
“That’s the plan?”
“Yes! That’s the plan,” Bryce repeated, offering a convincing smile. “This is just entertainment, not a serious match or anything. Hey, Callie? You hear that? It’s an exhibition match. Nothing serious. Nothing to get worked up about!”
“So basically you’re just strippers?” she sneered, hoping a little shame might yet talk him out of it. Her hands shook at her sides.
Bryce rolled his eyes then hopped to a crouch and stood up, bouncing and grinning. She tried to glare at him but with all that puppyish energy, she was having a hard time getting her eye-beam-lasers to kick in.
He boxed at the air and wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Call it what you want, Cal. Technically we’re outlaw barefisted fighters who people just happen to find irresistibly sexy.”
She scoffed, choke-barking at the air like “sexy” was the most ridiculous description he could have used. “Yeah… fine whatever.”
“So, you’ll do it?” Bryce said, turning his attention back to Auger. He wanted to get Auger’s country-boy word on the matter so he could be sure there would be no backing out. Auger chewed the inside of his cheek for a few seconds, his square jaw working back and forth. Callie watched his stubbled jaw intently, hoping there was still a chance he would change his mind. Then he nodded.
It was a done deal.
Bryce raised his arms in the air and whooped. “OK! Excellent! We could call you… Odin?”
Auger snorted derisively. “My real name will be just fine.”
“Oh you won’t think so when these guys start following you and trying to track you down every day. You need a stage name. You look like a Viking…. I think Odin’s a cool name.”
“So we are definitely strippers,” Auger sighed sarcastically, quirking an eyebrow at Callie.
She looked away, defeated. “Don’t ask me. All I do is walk in a circle with my arms over my head.”
Auger snorted and she cringed, suddenly remembering that agreeing with him was never the right plan. “Fine. Then how about Thor?”
Bryce rolled his eyes and dropped to the floor, holding himself up on arms like stout tree branches. He pounded out ten fast push-ups with seemingly no effort. “Wow, ego much?” he grunted as he dashed off another dozen.
Ego much? she repeated wryly to herself, finally just accepting defeat and leaving the room. Brother, you have no idea.