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Playing Dirty

Playing Dirty, July 2011
by Susan Andersen

HQN Books
Featuring: Ava Spencer; Cade Gallari
384 pages
ISBN: 037377589X
EAN: 9780373775897
Paperback
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"I loved rooting for them to get their happily ever after and I'm sure you will too!"

Fresh Fiction Review

Playing Dirty
Susan Andersen

Reviewed by Maria Munoz
Posted August 19, 2011

Romance Contemporary

Once I started reading this follow up to Bending the Rules and Cutting Loose I couldn't put it down. I loved the romance in this conclusion to the stories of three friends who inherited the Wolcott Mansion after the death of their friend and mentor, Miss Agnes.

Ava Spencer has come a long way from that high school girl who gave her virginity to Cade Gallari only to discover that he slept with the "fat girl" to win a bet. Now, Ava is comfortable in her own skin and runs a successful concierge business. Her biggest concern at the moment is figuring out what she, and her friends Poppy and Jane, are going to do with an expensive mansion in a down economy. One immediate solution is to rent it out to a film company making a documentary about Miss Agnes, the Wolcott Mansion, and some missing diamonds. The only catch... the filmmaker in question is none other then Cade Gallari.

Now a successful documentary filmmaker, Cade has regretted how he treated Ava. He has tried to apologize over the years, but knows he hasn't been forgiven. Hiring Ava as a concierge for the film seems like a good idea. She knows everyone in town and can keep things organized. He also hopes they can finally put the past behind them. Since he's still hot for her, Cade is also hoping to get her back in bed. Can Ava see beyond the past hurt to what might be a bright future?

There is much to like about this story. I enjoyed getting to re-visit familiar characters. Ava is comfortable with herself but still faces the occasional bouts of insecurity that we all encounter (Does this make me look fat?). She felt like someone I would want as a friend. I had no doubt Cade genuinely lusted after Ava, and her inability to see that was an excellent source of romantic tension. I loved rooting for them to get their happily ever after and I'm sure you will too!

Learn more about Playing Dirty

SUMMARY

When old enemies are thrown together, all bets are off…

Way back in high school, golden boy Cade Gallari publicly revealed he'd slept with "fat girl" Ava Spencer to win a bet. Now a decade older and a head turner with her own concierge business, Ava isn't the gullible dreamer she once was— and she plans to prove it when Cade, hotter than ever, breezes back into town with an offer she can't refuse.

A documentary film producer, Cade is shooting a movie about the mysterious mansion Ava inherited. And he wants her as his personal concierge. She's certainly professional enough to be at his beck and call without giving him everything he wants. Like another shot at having her in his bed. But Ava doesn't count on Cade's determination. Because he's never gotten over her— and he's not above playing dirty to score a second chance at a red–hot future…

Excerpt

Chapter One

I'm not sure if I just made a really savvy move—or the biggest blunder of my life.

Present Day, the 9th of November

The bastard was late. Ava Spencer cursed the man she was waiting on as she paced the front foyer of the Wolcott mansion, alternately hugging herself against the cold and trying to rub some warmth into her arms through her coat sleeves. The place had been closed up for several weeks and between the wind currently buffeting the mullioned windows and the rainstorm that had blown through earlier, leaving a Seattle centric damp-to-the-bone chill in its wake, she was freezing her ass off.

She would've turned on the heat, but there was little point. If the guy ever deigned to get here, she'd be showing him the mansion from attic to wine cellar. And while Jane kept the front parlor and hidden closet in Miss Agnes' upstairs sitting room climate controlled for the preservation of the Wolcott collections that weren't currently sold or on loan to museums, it would take until noon tomorrow to warm up the rest. And although she had turned on every light in the house, the illusion of warmth from the yellow glow from the lamps and overheads didn't come close to replacing the real thing.

A laugh that went a little wild escaped her. Like that was the crucial issue here. Because. . .It's not some guy, Av. It's Cade Calderwood Gallari.

Jeez Marie. She couldn't believe she'd agreed to this. So, yes, she was concentrating on the minutia for all she was worth to keep from thinking about it. Because it was too freaking late to second guess herself now.

Wasn't it?

She froze for an arrested second. Hell, no, it wasn't! The heavy feeling in her stomach lightening, she snatched up her purse and started down the hallway to the kitchen. Its exterior door was the direct route to where she'd parked her Beemer. Cade was late? She was out of here.

Headlights swept the east wall across from the kitchen archway, stopping her dead. "Shit."

Too late.

She did a little dance in place to shake off the muscle- tightening tension that had her tighter than a guy wire, throwing in some yoga-breathing for good measure. Exhaling a final gusty breath, she nodded to herself. "Okay. Time to pull on your big girl pants."

She forced herself to shove down her irritation over Cade's tardiness, over the fact that he breathed, and bury it deep. It's been thirteen years, girl. He's a footnote, someone who no longer matters. Who hasn't mattered for a very long time. So it probably wouldn't do to snap his head off first thing.

But, oh, boy. The temptation.

She watched him through the back door window as he climbed the steps and stopped beneath the porch light, and her annoyance surged back with a vengeance. She fought it to a standstill once more, blew out a final exhalation and reached out to unlock the door.

The knob turned before she could open it and he blew into the kitchen, shaking himself like a wet dog and sending raindrops flying in all directions from his sun- streaked brown hair. Looking beyond him, Ava saw that it had begun to pour again.

"Man, it's wet out there!" He flashed her his trademark Gallari smile, white teeth flashing and deep creases bracketing his mouth. Only she noticed that this time the blue, blue eyes glinting between dense, dark lashes held. . .something. Wariness maybe or. . .calculation? Something cooler and edgier than the smile that for years had haunted her dreams.

It just bugged the hell out of her that she felt his impact like a cattle prod to the breast bone. Why was it like this every damn time she laid eyes on him: this immediate, visceral one-two to the heart? It was identical to the reaction she'd had around Teenage Cade--and even after everything she knew about him, everything he'd done, seeing him gave her that same hot punch to the solar plexus.

Well, it would be a cold, cold day in hell before she felt the least bit tempted to act on it. She raised an eyebrow. "And you call yourself a Seattle native?"

"I forgot how fast the rain can soak a guy up here."

She gave him a polite smile. "I suppose living in southern California will do that to a person." She glanced at her watch. "Shall we proceed?"

"Yeah, sure." His mouth developed an unyielding slant that somehow looked more at home on his chapped lips than his old smile. "Sorry I'm late. There was a wreck on I-5 and it took a while to get traffic moving again."

She nodded her acceptance of his apology and watched as he looked around the kitchen. A small pucker of dismay appeared between his dark eyebrows. "It's been modernized."

When Ava looked him fully in the face this time, she found it less unsettling. "Surely you didn't expect it to be the same as it was back in the Eighties?"

"I guess I'd hoped it would be."

"As soon as Poppy, Jane and I inherited it, we had the awful sun room addition removed and yes, modernized the place throughout." We were expecting to sell it, Slick, not rent it. "But a tour is worth a dozen explanations or descriptions, so let me show you the work we had done. I think you'll agree our crew did a wonderful job of preserving the spirit of the original design in their restoration. We can start with the dining room across the hall."

She turned, only to feel Cade wrap a hand around her forearm to halt her. Heat seeped through the cashmere of her coat sleeve beneath his light grasp, and she promptly swung back around, twisting her arm free.

"Do not," she said with hard fought calm, "touch me."

Releasing her, he stepped back. "I just wanted to tell you, before we get started, how genuinely sorry I am for what happened back in high school. I was--"

"Forget it," she interrupted. She so did not want to rehash the ugly details of the past with him. "I have."

"Really?" Those eloquent eyebrows rose, surprise flashing in the depth of his cobalt eyes.

She gave him a regal nod. She'd cut him off at the knees the other times he'd sought her out over the years to apologize, but if acknowledging his regret would move him along to a place where they didn't have to hash over the past, then, fine. She'd grant him his damn redemption.

"You forgive me then?"

No. Hell, no. That would be a snowboarding day in hell.

But she gave him a serene smile. "Let's just agree to leave the past in the past, shall we?" Not awaiting a response, she led him to the dining room and got down to business. "As you can see, great care was taken in here to preserve the integrity of the era in which the Wolcott Mansion was built—"


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