Hot on the heels of her beloved Marriage to a Billionaire novels, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Probst returns with the second book in her sexy romance series featuring red-hot contractor siblings who give the Property Brothers a run for their money…and I have a never-seen-before excerpt for you!
The door pushed open. Morgan came in, dressed in her usual white, her blond bob swinging neatly above her shoulders. Sydney was at her side, a complete contrast with her fiery red curls and bright yellow shirt, green eyes sparkling with what seemed like anticipation. Raven had liked them from the very first night she’d served them, almost a year ago. They were fun, smart, and strong, the three ingredients Raven sought in a female friendship. She’d kept her distance only because of Morgan’s relationship with Cal, but time began eroding the barriers. She didn’t get to see Izzy much, since they were both so busy. It would be nice to make some new friends and hang out with Morgan and Sydney.
Sometimes she just needed some girl time.
“Thank you for setting this up, Raven,” Morgan said, her white Chanel purse swinging on her arm. “I swear, y’all, I needed to get away from the buckets of testosterone. Tristan and Cal had a fight and began wrestling on the ground like toddlers, and knocked over the Waterford vase. I stomped out and swore there’d be no dinner for the next week, and then I had to deal with the puppy-dog eyes and the promises that they were only kidding.”
Sydney laughed. “I’m thrilled to escape watching Frozen for the billionth time. And I brought tons of singles!”
Sydney not only worked at Pierce Brothers and ran the offices with an iron fist, but also had a five-year-old daughter whom she adored and doted on. Raven gave her a lot of credit for being such a dedicated single mom. “Sweets, there’s no strippers here. You buy in with chips, and I happily take twenty-dollar bills.”
Her face fell with disappointment. “Oh. You know, the bank teller looked at me with suspicion when I asked for fifty singles. Should’ve known.”
Morgan ripped out a hundred-dollar bill with glee. “I brought a hundred!”
Raven pressed her hand over her mouth, holding back her mirth. “This is a training session, ladies. I don’t think we’ll be playing for such high stakes yet.”
Now Morgan looked disappointed. “Oh. Maybe next time?”
“Definitely. I made some new cocktails for you to try out. Come over to the bar and I’ll show you.”
“The place looks amazing,” Morgan commented. Her gaze swept over the restored bar, new stools, and the rearranged tables and decor.
“Dalton is a master with woodworking, isn’t he?” And so many other things . . .
“He is.” She refused to let anyone know they were sleeping together. It would only raise further complications. “This is a twist on a key lime martini I’ve been playing with. I made it with Skinnygirl products, so calories are manageable.” She poured two martini glasses rimmed with graham cracker crumbs, added a slice of lime, and plopped them in front of the women. Then she set out glasses of water with lemon. “I won’t serve you another drink until you hydrate with one full glass of water in between. Limit is three per person, but you have to blow into this before I let you go home.” She pulled out her Breathalyzer. “Can’t be too careful, now.”
Sydney sighed. “Is it okay to have a girl crush?
’Cause I have one on you.”
“Aww, I’m flattered, sweets.”
Morgan burst into laughter. “I love it! I swear, you’re like my heroine.”
Raven leaned her elbows on the bar. “I heard you have a pink hammer,” she said. “And a pink hard hat with matching boots. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Morgan tilted her head, considering. “Yeah, you’re right. I guess I have a bit of cool in me, too.”
“And, Sydney, you’re raising a daughter, who you show every day by example that you can have anything you want if you work hard enough. That’s as badass as it gets.”
Sydney stared at her, gratitude gleaming in her green eyes. “Thanks. Sometimes I really need to hear that.”
Morgan grabbed her friend’s hand and squeezed. “Not supposed to be easy, is it? At times I feel like women have all this stuff inside that trips us up, more than men. Thoughts and emotions and worries. Expectations and analysis. It’s exhausting.”
“Men are so much simpler,” Sydney agreed with a sigh. “Food. Beer. Money. Work. Sex.
“I know. But then after I met Cal, something shifted inside me, and all that junk rotating in my head became less important.” Morgan’s face softened, and her eyes glowed with a light that made Raven’s heart ache. “It was almost like, because he loved me, he took on half of the load, giving me this beautiful air and space inside I never had before.” She bit her lip. “Sorry, it’s silly.”
Raven smiled. “No, I think it’s . . . nice.”
“Me too,” Sydney said. “The only time I ever felt like that was with—” She broke off, as if realizing the name she was about to drop like a nuclear bomb.
“With . . . ?” Morgan prodded.
A flush hit her cheeks. She waved a hand in the air. “Nobody. Not important. Someone I loved when I was very young and very naive.”
Raven wanted to ask more questions, but she respected Sydney’s secrets like her own. Some things weren’t meant to be shared.
The door swung open, and a trail of women came through, giggling and excited about a night out for themselves. Raven set everyone up with drinks, noting that the key lime martinis were the most requested, and led them over to the tables. She dispersed chips, completed a round of introductions, and gave everyone cheat sheets to begin.
Most of the women had played some form of cards before, so it was easier than Raven thought. Within an hour, they were able to play a decent game with a big enough pot to get interesting.
Morgan threw a chip in the pot, her face cool and politely distant. She was definitely the best bluffer in the group. “I’ll raise a dollar.”
Susan, a sweet, doe-eyed pastry chef, batted her lashes like she was flirting. “I think you’re bluffing,” she announced. Her silver bracelets jangled as she threw a bunch of chips in the pot. “I raise five dollars.”
A hush fell upon the table. It was the biggest raise of the night. Sydney quickly threw her cards in. “I fold.”
Victoria stared at her cards, then back and forth between Susan and Morgan. She was a young blonde with animated gestures and seemed to
have trouble keeping still. “I’m in. Five to stay.”
Two more dropped out, including Raven, and there was another raise. When it came back to Morgan, a strange expression gleamed in her eyes.
Almost like a predator sensing prey.
With a sharklike smile, she pushed all her chips into the center of the table. “All in.”
The group broke into excited chatter and gasps. “You can’t do that!” Susan said. “Can she?”
Raven nodded. “Since someone else raised, she could either meet the raise or raise again herself. We didn’t put a limit on the raise, just the ante. So, yes, she can do that. But Morgan has fifteen left, and you only have ten, so you’d need five more to stay in.”
“Fine. I’m all in, too.” She pushed her chips into the center and turned to her friend Lindsey.
“I need to borrow five dollars.” “Done,” Lindsey said.
“Umm, guys, why don’t we agree we’ve reached our limit at fifteen and everyone show their cards?” Raven suggested.
The quietest woman in the group—the librarian, for goodness’ sake—practically stood up to make her announcement. “I raise by fifty dollars!” And then it became a bloodbath.
The rush of adrenaline combined with key lime martinis turned them feral. Victoria grabbed more money from her purse, buying more chips, and friends borrowed from friends. Morgan shoved her hundred-dollar bill at Raven with the mad expression of a gambler on track to win a big pot. Voices raised in a fury, and when Raven finally halted the madness, there was five hundred dollars in the pot and almost all the chips were gone from her stash.
She’d have to buy more chips. She had seriously underestimated her students.
Tension settled over the group. Cards were gripped with deathly tightness, drinks drained, and everyone stared at the colorful pile of chips in the center of the happy red table.
Raven cleared her throat. “Susan, you go first, since you were the last to raise. Show your cards.”
“Three of a kind. Jacks.”
“Nice hand. Next.”
They went around. There were two people who showed two pairs, one with three deuces, and two bluffers, including the librarian, who’d just gotten caught up in the excitement of the moment. Victoria bounced up and down in her chair when it was her turn and flipped over a straight with eight high.
“Sorry, Susan, straight beats three of a kind.”
Raven pressed her lips together, trying not to laugh. Damn, she liked this group. “Morgan, show your cards. This is it.”
Morgan’s French-manicured hands flashed as she flipped them over. Raven figured she’d lost, since there wasn’t a shred of emotion in her face.
Five hearts stared up at her.
“Flush. I win.”
Raven’s mouth dropped open. Sydney screamed, the ladies cursed and congratulated in varying
degrees, and Morgan finally broke out in a big, satisfied smile.
That woman had balls.
Everyone began taking out more money to play another round, but Raven held up her hand. “Sorry, ladies, we’re done. It’s almost ten and I have to work tomorrow.”
Sydney gasped and shot up. “Oh, my God, my poor sitter! How did it get to be this late?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t keep my eye on the time,” Morgan said, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Things got a bit crazy.”
Raven grabbed the wad of cash, quickly wrapping it in a rubber band and putting it in an envelope. “There’s your winnings,” she said. “I can’t wait to see you hustle Cal. You’re really good.”
A frown creased her brow. “Yeah, but I get the feeling he was humoring me about poker. Almost patting my head, like I was some lamebrained blonde who couldn’t play a man’s game. Isn’t that a bit archaic?”
Susan came over. “I agree! My husband laughed and said, ‘Enjoy your cute poker game.’ Cute? Screw him.”
Lindsey agreed. “My boyfriend said you wouldn’t be able to teach me right, Raven. Told me he’d teach me the right way.”
Raven tilted her head, considering. “Got it. Well, it’ll take a few more game nights to increase your skills, but I’ll show you some simple ways to make sure you beat them when we finally combine male and female poker night.” “How?” Sydney asked.
Raven smiled slowly. “I’m going to teach you to cheat.”
Sydney sighed. “I really love you.”
Raven laughed, made sure each of them blew into the Breathalyzer, then watched them disappear one by one until the bar was finally silent.
Damn, that was fun.