Ilsa Madden-Mills returns with an all-new swoon-fest of a novel about what happens when you look beyond labels and take a chance on love. I Bet You is available now, and I have the first chapter for you.
The door to my bedroom flies open and I grab my chest, my fingers clutching the bodice of my sapphire-blue dress. Standing in front of me with his cravat slightly askew is none other than the devil himself, Lord Ryker Voss, the Duke of Waylon. He thinks he’s the best thing since crumpets and scones. Maybe he is. But I hate him.
“I’m here to ravish you, Lady Penelope.”
“No,” I gasp, but I suspect he knows I don’t mean it.
“I know you don’t mean it.” He gives me a cocky smile, whips off his dark coat, and tosses it on the floor. His white linen shirt is next, the buttons flying around the room. My wide eyes linger on the rippling muscles of his abdomen, wandering to the deep V on his hips that leads to—
His male length juts out of his trousers, and it’s hard and long…and magnificent.
Will it even fit?
“I’m a virgin,” I say, darting around the canopied bed even as I imagine him spreading me out naked on those velvet covers, his tongue sucking my peaks one by one—
He captures my arm. “Are you imagining me fucking you, Lady Penelope?”
I tremble and melt into him. “Yes.”
“Good.” Caressing my bodice with his palm, he tugs on the fabric until it rips and my voluptuous breasts pop out. Desire glows in his aqua-colored eyes. He pushes me down on the bed and gathers my skirt up, his fingers finding the opening in my undergarments. His huge length teases my entrance, and I moan, my hands clutching his shoulders—
“Yo! Garçon, we need some help back here,” comes a deep male voice from somewhere inside the restaurant. I jump at being pulled from my concentration and nearly fall off my stool before righting myself, my face a deep cardinal red. I slam my journal shut with an emphatic bang and tuck it under my laptop on the bar to make it less conspicuous.
I’m on my break, but I stand to see who needs help, groaning when I see the football table waving at me.
Of course it has to be him.
I exhale as my eyes drift over the players and jersey chasers before coming back and landing on Ryker freaking Voss himself, the center of attention and Mr. Golden Boy Quarterback of Waylon University.
I swear I can smell the testosterone from here.
And to think I imagined him ravishing me…
Please. I grimace. Ryker is such a douche. Everyone knows his bedroom is a revolving door, and he wouldn’t know what a real woman was if she walked up and hit him on the head.
He cocks an infuriating eyebrow at me and calls out, “Today would be nice.”
I glance at my journal. I probably inserted him in my bodice-ripping scenario because school is back in session—senior year, baby—and Ryker just happens to be here in Sugar’s. I waited on his table earlier, and once I get going with an idea, it gets a life of its own and the words just flow across the page.
I make a mental note to go back and scratch his name out of my notebook.
Clearing my throat, I stick my hands in the pockets of the half apron tied around my waist and head to his table. Of course, I could get one of the other servers to wait on them, but most of them are dealing with their own customers or cleaning up in the back.
And his table is in my section.
I exhale. Since the moment he waltzed in with his buddies an hour ago and requested me as his waitress, I knew it was going to be a long night. School started two weeks ago, and he’s been in a few times, always asking for me.
He enjoys me being at his beck and call.
His gaze is arrogant and riveted on me the entire forty feet or so it takes to get there. It’s a little intimidating to be the focus of his scrutiny, as if I’m his serving girl and he’s the lord of the manor, but I straighten my shoulders and give him my brightest, sweetest smile—the one I reserve for people I don’t like.
Which I suspect he knows.
The truth is I wrote a scathing editorial about him a few months ago in the Wildcat Weekly, an article that carefully detailed his part in a football fighting ring spring semester. Once the smoke cleared and the NCAA exonerated him, I did write a brief follow-up…but too little, too late, I suppose. I already painted him in an unethical light, and I’m guessing those words are probably hard to forget.
He hates me.
I come to a stop at their table, my hand going to my hip like it does whenever he’s near.
Our eyes meet and I hold my ground, not breaking our stare. I’ll admit he’s a magnificent male, all six feet, four inches of him. With his tousled mix of brown and blond hair, ocean-colored eyes, and sensuous full lips, he’s the kind of gorgeous that makes you stop and blink. You might even rub your eyes to make sure he isn’t some sort of sexy devil/angel.
“Yes?” I break our gaze, and my eyes sweep the table. Everything looks fine. Burgers and fries are mostly gone. Soda glasses are full. “Was there a problem with your check?”
Ryker’s lips curl up. “No. We have a proposition for you.”
My eyes narrow, and I’d like to tell him to suck it, but I keep my voice polite and sweet. Every Southern girl knows how to do this because our mamas taught us. “If it doesn’t have anything to do with your service here, I’m not interested. Thank you.”
One of the jersey chasers giggles. A buxom brunette with a ton of smoky eyeshadow—his usual type—she’s sitting next to him and has her hot pink manicured hand curled around his arm. “But it’s Ryker,” she says in a high-pitched voice. “Don’t you want to know what he wants?”
He wants to annoy me. It’s obvious. I straighten my black cat-eye glasses. “Nope.”
“But why not?” Her face is perplexed.
Bless her heart.
I sigh and break it down for her. I’ve been nice long enough. “A guy who calls me over by yelling garçon, which means ‘boy’ by the way, and then has a proposition for me…yeah, no. I have better things to do. Now, if you’ll excuse me—”
“Wait. Don’t run off,” Ryker says, leaning forward on the table and easing the girl away from him. She points a pout his way, but his eyes are on me. “It’s just a bet.”
“I see. How…quaint.” The football team is notorious for their betting shenanigans leading up to homecoming.
“All in good fun,” he says, spreading his hands. “It’s a tradition among the players. We even have a trophy that’s been passed down since Waylon first got a football team. It’s mostly the offense against the defense, but sometimes we do individual bets just to mix it up—which is why I called you over.”
I give him a short nod and a tight smile. “I get it, but I have actual work to do, you know.”
His eyes flick to where I was sitting at the bar. “You didn’t look busy to me.”
“I didn’t know you were keeping tabs on me,” I say, stiffening.
“Then how do you know I’m not busy?”
I smirk. “Well, we all know what assuming does.”
“You were sitting at the bar writing in a notebook.”
My eyes flare. Sweet baby Jesus, if he only knew. “You’re very observant. Is there something about me that interests you?”
He shrugs those impossibly broad shoulders. “Maybe I need more soda.”
I look at his glass. “You don’t.”
“Maybe I need—”
Blaze, one of the players who’s been watching our back and forth with wide eyes, interrupts him. “Um, this is getting weird. Can we get back to the bet?”
Ryker clears his throat, his thick and surprisingly dark lashes closing for a second as if he’s shielding his expression. “Of course. Back to the nitty-gritty. The guys and I have been talking and were wondering if you’d want to earn a quick forty bucks.” That infuriating eyebrow arches up. “Easy money.”
I pause. Money does come in handy, especially when you hold down two jobs and go to school full time. Easy bets are also hard to resist. My roomie, Charisma, and I do them all the time, mostly to spur each other on. Last week I bet her she couldn’t get an A on her first astronomy quiz, and she managed to pull one out. Her prize from me was a homemade breakfast complete with buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy.
I exhale and look around at the faces. Besides the jersey chasers in between each player, I take in Archer, Blaze, and Dillon, all of them seniors and star players. I know Blaze best of all, a rather rambunctious puppy dog type of guy I tutored last year in algebra.
As a whole, they seem harmless enough, and I relax a little, pulling a raspberry lollipop out of my apron, taking the wrapper off, and sticking it in my mouth. They help me think. It’s also a nervous reflex.
Ryker’s aquamarine blue eyes are riveted on me.
“What’s the bet?” I say, popping the sucker out and considering him.
He tilts his head toward the center of the table where someone has placed a bottle of ketchup front and center. “We bet you can’t open that. Ten bucks from each of the players if you can.”
Ha.I maintain a poker face, fighting back my grin. I open stubborn ketchup bottles on the regular. An hour ago, I managed to get a pesky jar of pickles open for our manager—who’s a man.
“And if I can’t?” Our eyes meet across the table, and I get a zip of heat from the intensity of his gaze.
“Then dessert is on you.” He smirks. “I’ll put my order in now: key lime pie.”
He. Is. So. Freaking. Cocky.
I exhale, my hands flexing from thinking about opening the bottle.
They’re all looking at me with expectant faces, and dammit, I know there has to be a trick here. They’ve probably been sitting here tightening it up for the past half-hour like overgrown kids.
But I’m no weakling either. I work out. I do yoga. I run. Heck, I do all the things.
“Do it, do it,” Blaze chants, and I tell him to zip it.
“I don’t think you have the balls, cher.” This comes from Archer, his lilting Cajun accent reminding me he’s from Louisiana. I take in his Billy Idol vibe: bleached hair, diamond studs in his ears, and full-sleeve tattoos. He gives me the creeps, but it isn’t because of his bad boy appearance. It’s the sly, beady look in his eyes that bugs me.
I move past him and look at Ryker—who grins.
I know I should just ignore them and keep working, but something about him gets the rebel in me riled up. I want to win and rub it in his handsome freaking face.
“Fine, give it to me.”
The guys clap and fist-bump each other as I hold my hand out. Ryker swipes the bottle off the table and stands to walk over and offer it to me.
I’m five ten, yet he towers over me when I look up at him.
“Good luck,” he says with a smirk as he passes it off. Our fingers brush—accidentally—and electric sparks detonate. I realize it’s the first time we’ve ever touched skin to skin, and my mind goes back to the sexy snippet I wrote. My entire body flushes.
I wonder if he feels the same current because he gets this peculiar expression on his face and drops his hand quickly, a scowl on his face. He considers me carefully, as if I’m a puzzle he can’t quite figure out.
Whatever. I don’t have time to dissect his reaction.
I look down at the full bottle, and it appears to have never been opened. I give it a try, testing it out with a strong tug, but the white cap doesn’t budge. This might be harder than I thought.
“Need some help?” Ryker says as he takes his seat.
“Not from you.”
He just grins. Again. Unfazed by my rudeness.
And I’ll be honest, there’s a dimple on his right cheek that does squishy things to my insides when he smiles. It always has. But, like I’ve done in the past, when it comes to a womanizing football player, I squash that feeling down. Football players are not for me.
Time to get serious and get this mother off. I take a break from twisting, set my sucker on a napkin on the table, and then wipe the sweat off my hands on my apron. I go in again, bending over and holding the bottle with one hand while the other tugs at the stubborn cap.
Ryker watches me with avid, intense interest, and it makes me more determined.
There is no way in hell I’m serving him pie on my dime.
“Penelope! Penelope! Penelope!” Blaze chants, and I glare at him to be quiet.
A few more twists and pop! it’s free.
I let out a triumphant cry, but because of the angle and the pressure inside the bottle, red liquid spurts out everywhere. I look down at my I ♥ Vampires shirt, which now sports a blob of dark crimson ketchup that starts at my right shoulder, crosses my A cups, and then trails down to the waist of my yellow skinny jeans.
Great. I’m covered in half the bottle.
And it’s my favorite shirt.
Everyone at the table bursts out laughing, and my hands clench. My gaze darts around the group and when I meet Ryker’s gaze, he stops smiling, sobering as he takes in my face. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“But fuck if it isn’t funny,” says Archer the Asshole.
“Dude, you look like someone shot you,” Blaze adds.
“Thanks,” I snap.
The jersey chasers giggle again.
“Shut up,” Ryker says quickly, and then he looks back at me. “You okay?” He stands back up and hands me a wad of napkins, but I push them away.
My lips tighten. “I’m fine. I’m going to go clean up, but when I come back, I want my money.”
He nods and gives me a long, searching look…one I can’t decipher. “Done.”