Return of the Bad Boy

By: Jessica Lemmon

Acknowledgments




Special thanks to the usual suspects: God for your abundant love and blessings; John Lemmon, the recipient of the Husband of the Year Award seventeen years and running; my agent and friend Nicole Resciniti; editor Lauren Plude for finishing this leg of the journey with me; and new editor Michele Bidelspach for adopting me. Everyone at Forever working behind the scenes to help this book come together, including the cover model who loaned his perfect features to Asher Knight.

Mountains of thanks to beta readers Lauren Layne, Shannon Richard, and Erin Nicholas—your input is always welcome. And to the readers who have accompanied me on this journey—thank you for sticking with me and for your letters and heartfelt messages. You are the reason I write! A few of you helped name Asher way back when, so thank you for that as well.

Lastly, thank you, Sam Hunt. You don’t know me, but your music fueled this book. I can’t read it without hearing your album Montevallo on loop in the back of my mind.





Prologue





Last December

Pate Mansion

Will you just— Gloria, dammit,” Asher Knight, visiting rock god, client, and consistent pain in her ass, called from behind her. “Stop running!”

Gloria Shields had picked up speed on her way out of the ballroom of Pate Mansion. In tall heels and her strapless purple gown, she guessed she looked pretty good doing it. But she wasn’t trying to catch the eye of the man following her; she wanted to get as far away from him as possible.

“Sarge!”

Dammit. A charity toy drive wasn’t the time or the place for this conversation, but here they were.

“There. I’m stopped!” She spun, arms out and eyebrows aloft.

Asher, mouth agape like he was about to say something else, seemed to think better of it. But even as he shut his mouth, he moved toward her instead of away. Closer, closer. Until he had her back flat against the wall. She pressed her hands to the patterned wallpaper, wishing this were one of those mansions with a trick door she could disappear through.

No such luck.

Soft music trickled out of the ballroom as the doors swung open. Connor and Faith strolled out—Faith dressed in an amazing fuchsia gown and Connor dapper in his tux. Faith spared them a quick glance.

“We have company,” Gloria mumbled, feeling her face redden as she looked away from her friends.

“I don’t care.” Asher shrugged.

She believed him. He cared about little.

Connor and Faith didn’t stop to chat, instead continuing to the great room, where they disappeared.

“If I swore on a stack of Bibles, you still wouldn’t believe me, would you?” Asher growled, continuing the argument that started at the bar moments ago. Gloria lifted her chin, displeased at how even his snarling lip was attractive.

She really hated that about him. Or wished she could anyway.

Her eyes grazed his all-black outfit, darted down to the cowboy boots, and snapped up to the dark, styled hair and eyes so deep brown she could get lost in them like an enchanted wood. They’d started out civilly tonight, but quickly deteriorated as their potent mix of oil and water—or, well, more like kerosene and a lit match—devolved into this discussion yet again. And, yet again, Gloria stuck to her proverbial guns.

“You don’t need to swear anything,” she said. “It wouldn’t matter anyway.”

He licked his lips, looking guilty about something. Probably fucking that brunette years ago. The skinny, groupie bi—

“Sarge, I don’t want to fight with you about Jordan.”

Jordan. Hearing her name sent jealousy paired with regret surging through her. The emotion was so palpable, Gloria could photograph it and sell it on eBay. She wished she could forget the other woman’s name, or the fact that she’d found her outside of Asher’s rental cabin in naught but a nightie. But, no, Gloria’s mind was a steel trap that held on to every minute detail, especially things she preferred to forget. Every second of what happened—both good and bad—was tattooed onto her frontal lobe.

“There is nothing to fight about!” she hissed, trying to keep her voice low while being supremely pissed. “We are past tense. We aren’t even a we in any other faction save for work.” Her job was to be his agent and sell the children’s books he penned. That was it. Hell, some days that was too much.

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