About THE BEAUTY OF US:
New York Times bestselling author Kristen Proby delivers another sizzling novel in her delectable and sexy Fusion series.
Riley Gibson is over the moon at the prospect of having her restaurant, Seduction, on the Best Bites TV network. This could be the big break she’s been waiting for. But the idea of having an in-house show on a regular basis is a whole other matter. Their lives would be turned upside down, and convincing Mia, her best friend and head chef of Seduction, that having cameras in her kitchen every day is a good idea is daunting. Still, Riley knows it’s an opportunity she can’t afford to pass on. And when she meets Trevor Cooper, the show’s executive producer, she’s stunned by their intense chemistry.
Trevor’s sole intention is to persuade Riley to allow Best Bites TV to do a show on her restaurant. But when he walks into Riley’s office, he stops dead in his tracks. The professional, aloof woman on the phone is incredibly beautiful and funny. But can he convince her that he’s interested in Riley for himself? Or is he using the undeniable pull between them to persuade her to agree to his offer?
I didn’t sleep worth shit last night. I waited for a response to my e-mail from Riley for a while; I’m not exactly sure why. I just don’t like the thought of her being embarrassed.
Because she has no reason to be. She didn’t know who I was, and it was closing time. She was venting to her friends.
It’s really no big deal.
But I could see the mortification in her big blue eyes when she realized who I was, and that doesn’t sit well with me.
When no response came, and for all I know she hasn’t even read the e-mail yet, I sat down for a game on the PS4. I don’t travel anywhere without it. Some people read to unwind. Some go to the gym, and there are times I do the same. But to truly relax, I enjoy gaming. I have since I was a kid.
So I settled in the apartment the network has rented for me this month and played online with my friends, talking about our days and shooting the enemy.
We played well past midnight, and I usually would have gone right to bed afterward, but my mind was still turning, making falling asleep impossible. The restaurant is better than I imagined through my research on their website and customer reviews. It’s visually stunning, the food is fantastic, and they’ve hit the mark on the sexy factor.
But added to that, the five women who own the place are all beautiful, smart, and will make for great TV. Viewers will eat this show up, pun intended.
I lean over the sink and wash my face, not bothering to shave today, and as I dry off, I reach for my phone.
I have several new e-mails.
The most recent is from Riley Gibson.
Thank you for your kind email. I apologize again for the conversation last night. I would like to promise that we don’t always talk like that at work, but that would be a lie. At least we keep it to closing time over a glass of wine.
I grin and sling the towel over my bare shoulders. Riley isn’t what I had pictured in my head before I got here. I knew that she was pretty because their photos are on their website, but she’s much prettier in person.
Working with her will be fun.
And a test to my libido. Because Riley is fucking sexy. I’ve never mixed business and sex before, and I don’t plan to start now, but keeping my hands off her will be a test of wills.
And that too should be fun.
After my run this morning, I stopped by a bagel place to eat and read a newspaper, came back to the apartment for a shower, and I think I’ll go to Seduction for lunch. I hadn’t planned to go back there until my meeting with Riley tomorrow, but I also haven’t had lunch there yet.
I dress quickly in jeans and a red T-shirt and walk the six or so blocks to the restaurant.
They’ve just opened, so they’re not busy yet. The atmosphere is calm, the lighting a bit brighter than last night, making it a fun spot to meet with colleagues or friends for lunch.
I’m seated on the far side of the restaurant, where it meets the bar, and I can see Riley and the other women sitting around a high table, talking.
Loud enough for me to hear.
“So, he’ll be here tomorrow. Filming doesn’t start for another week, unless the timetable has been moved up,” Riley says, studying her iPad and checking things off a list. “It would be great if we could watch our language.”
“Right,” Mia says, rolling her eyes. “Because that’s gonna happen.”
“Just watch the F-bombs then,” Riley says with a grin. “And I’ll do my best not to vent to him about my horrible dating experiences. Not that I’ll be having any more of those.”
“I wish I’d been here for that,” Addie says with a smile. “It’s hilarious.”
“No, it’s not,” Riley says, but smiles and covers her lips with her fingers. “Okay, it’s a little funny. I’ll be working from home today.”
“Why?” The blonde speaking, I presume Cami, asks.
“Because I have a roofer coming today,” Riley says. “But if you need me, just call. I can come back after he leaves.”
“Go.” Mia waves her off. “We’ve got this.”
The girls all stand, about to go their own ways to get their day started. They’re clearly good friends, which will come across well on film.
Riley walks out of the bar and glances up, spotting me.
“Hi.” I offer her a smile and motion for her to join me. She sits, sets her iPad aside, and squares her shoulders.
I love a woman with grit.
“Why are you here?” she asks.
“I’m having lunch,” I reply, and gesture to the salad sitting in front of me. “It’s delicious. Adding the brussels sprouts is smart.”
“I’ll pass that along to Mia,” she says, and then laughs. “I guess you heard the part where I asked the girls to not swear.”
“I did,” I reply, and patiently butter a piece of warm bread. “Don’t worry about that stuff. They’re adults.”
“With potty mouths,” she says.
“And we can bleep stuff out, or ask them to rephrase. You’ve already got the gig, Riley. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. This isn’t an audition.”
“I know.” She sighs and reaches over to take a piece of my bread, surprising and delighting me. “I just want things to go smoothly.”
“Perhaps you should order lunch too.”
“I don’t have time,” she says, and then her blue eyes widen as she realizes what she just did. “I’m so sorry. I eat when I’m stressed out, and I didn’t—”
“No.” I hold my hand up to stop her. “It’s fine. I like that you’re relaxed with me. I think you need to relax more often.”
“What are you, my life coach now?”
“If you like. Did you cancel those dating sites like I suggested?”
She bites her lip and looks to the side, then nods. “I did.”
“Good.” I take a bite of salad and nod. “Are you sure you don’t want some food?”
“I rarely have time to eat,” Riley says, and checks the time on her phone. “In fact, I should go. I have to meet the roofer at my house.”
“What’s wrong with your roof?”
“It’s old,” she says with a shrug. “That’s what happens when you buy an old house. I’m fixing it up a little at a time.”
I nod, and find that I don’t want her to go quite yet. I want to talk more, to learn more about her.
“Why don’t you come to my apartment tonight and I’ll cook you dinner?”
She pauses and stares at me for a moment. “Why?”
I laugh and set my fork down. “Because I asked you to. We’re going to be working closely over the next few weeks, we might as well get to know each other a little better. Also, we can discuss my new duties as your life coach.”
“Well.” Her lips twitch as she thinks it over for a moment, a myriad of emotions moving across her beautiful face, and finally she says, “Okay. Do you mind texting me the address and the time?”
“Not at all,” I reply, and immediately pass her my phone. “Plug in your number and I’ll text you this afternoon.”
She complies, passes it back, and smiles. “Okay, see you later.”
And with that, she’s off. Her ass swaying enticingly in her tight skirt, calves flexing from the height of her heels, and the food I’m currently chewing immediately tastes like cardboard.
And I just voluntarily offered to spend time with her. Alone.
I’m a fucking glutton for punishment.
“I’m starving,” Riley immediately says as I open the door. She’s in jeans and a well-loved University of Oregon sweatshirt, her hair is pulled up in a ponytail, and she looks like she could be a co-ed herself. “I forgot to eat today.”
“Does that happen every day?” I ask as I gesture for her to come inside and close the door behind her.
“Most days,” she admits. “Is this one of those bad choices that you’re gonna coach me through?”
“Yes,” I reply, and lead her into the kitchen. “You have to eat.”
“I know, I just get focused on other things, and the next thing I know, the day is gone and I’m starving.” She passes me two bottles of wine. “I didn’t know what we were having, so I brought red and white.”
“Thanks.” I grin and set them both on the counter. “I made salmon and asparagus with baby red potatoes. What goes best with that?”
Her eyes light up. “The white. Holy shit, are you a chef yourself?”
“I went to culinary school,” I reply, and squeeze some lemon on the salmon before plating it. “But I discovered I was better at a desk job.”
“That’s unusual,” she says, her head tilted to the side as she listens. “Most people fight to get out of a desk job.”
“Not me. I have a ton of respect for Mia, because being a chef isn’t easy, and pleasing people sucks.”
“True.” Riley nods. “She doesn’t get many plates sent back to her, but there are a few. Can I pour you a glass?”
“No thanks,” I reply, and reach in the fridge for a bottle of water. “I don’t drink alcohol.”
“Oh.” She frowns. “I’m sorry. I can drink water too.”
“It’s fine,” I reply, and pat her shoulder. “I don’t mind if you drink. I just don’t.”
“But last night, you were drinking Jack and Coke.”
“Nope, just Coke.”
She sits at the table, still frowning. “I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for.” I set our plates down. “I’ve been sober for ten years. I’m not the kind of alcoholic who can’t be around others having a drink. It was never that bad for me. I’m just a better person if I don’t drink.”
“Good for you for knowing that,” she says, holding her glass out to clink against my water. “This looks delicious.”
“You sound surprised.”
“I expected pizza or Chinese takeout,” she says. “Honestly, that’s probably what you would have gotten from me. I’m also surprised that you’re not staying in a hotel.”
“I’m here long enough that the network sprung for the apartment. They usually do when I’m somewhere longer than a week or so.”
“You must travel a lot for this job,” she says, eating her food like a starving child. I don’t know if she even tastes it, she’s eating so fast.
“I travel often,” I reply, and grin when she takes the last bite. “Are you going to lick the plate?”
“Maybe,” she says with a grin. “I’m not even embarrassed that I ate that so fast. It was delicious.”
“I’m glad you liked it. There’s more.”
“No, I’m good,” she says, and reaches in her bag, pulling out a pad of paper and a pen. “You can eat while I interview you.”
“For the position of life coach,” she says with a sassy grin. I want to kiss that grin right off her face, but instead I take a bite of potato and gesture for her to begin.
“Okay, first question: What qualifications do you have that make you a good fit for this position?”
“Well, I have a few years on you, so I would say wisdom with age.”
She tilts her head to the side, the way she does when she’s turning something over in her head. “You can’t be that much older than me.”
“Seven years,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“A lot can happen in seven years,” I reply, and sip my water.
“Okay, I’ll give you that.” She checks something off on her paper.
“Did you really write down questions?”
“Of course. I’m the queen of lists and the roofer was at my house forever.” She bites her lip as she looks at her list. “How many women have you life-coached in the past?”
“Well, I didn’t have an official job title, but I have two younger sisters, and an ex-wife, so I would say three.”
“But the wife is an ex, so maybe that did go well?” Riley asks. “And are your sisters productive members of society?”
“As opposed to being in jail?” I ask, laughing. “You’re hilarious, Riley.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“My sisters are great. The older one is married, a stay-at-home mom with two kids, and the younger one is a waitress.”
“But the ex-wife thing didn’t work out.”
“She’s not a mess, we just both decided that she shouldn’t be my wife anymore.”
I sit back in my chair and wipe my mouth on my napkin. “Because she thought it was a good idea to have sex with other men.”
Her eyebrows climb on her forehead and she blinks twice. “That’s a good reason.”
“I thought so.”
“Okay, next question.” She checks something on her paper and looks up at me with a smile. “How do you intend to be compensated for your work?”
“I’m working pro bono,” I reply with a wink.
“Because I’m going to be here anyway, and why not.” I shrug and finish the food on my plate. “What else do you want to know?”
“Is my coming to a virtual stranger’s apartment by myself one of the bad decisions you should have coached me on?”
I smile and set my plate aside so I can lean on the table. “Did the girls tell you that coming here by yourself was a bad idea?”
“I only talked to Cami and she thought I should come. Plus, I have a concealed carry, so I feel pretty confident that I’m safe.”
I raise a brow and cross my arms over my chest. “You carry a gun with you?”
“Hell to the yes,” she replies, and offers me a sweet smile. “I’ve been meeting strange men on the Internet. You bet your ass I’ve been armed.”
“Good idea,” I reply with a nod. “There are a lot of crazies out there.”
“Yes. But I think that if you’re gonna meet a crazy, it could be anywhere. Online, in a bar, at the gas station. They’re everywhere.”
“That’s true too,” I reply, and nod. “Well, I’m glad you’re being cautious.”
“I’m nobody’s victim,” she says, as casually as if she’s telling me her shoe size.
That’s fucking sexy.
“Do you have any other questions?”
“Not really,” she says, and shrugs. “I didn’t really write anything down. But it was fun to interrogate you a bit.”
“Now I have questions,” I reply, and smile when she cocks her head and purses her lips. “Do you really think you need a life coach?”
“No, I have my shit together,” she says with a grin.
“Why were you really on all of those sites?”
She shrugs. “Because it’s not easy meeting people. And sometimes a girl wants to go out on a date.”
“You don’t need me,” I reply, and smile. “But I’ll be around for a while, just in case.”
“Just in case I slip and fall back into the online dating?”
“That, or if you just want to have dinner, or chat. And I think we should watch a marathon of Star Wars. Your lack of knowledge is cause for concern.”
“It’s kind of a guy thing,” she says.
“I know many women who like Star Wars.”
“Well, I would watch one or two.”
“You need to see them all to understand what’s happening.”
“That’s a lot of hours of my life that I’ll never get back,” she says with a frown. “Aren’t there CliffsNotes somewhere? A speedy way to get caught up?”
“No,” I reply, and fist my hands in my lap so I don’t reach out and tuck her hair behind her ear.
Or yank her against me so I can kiss the fuck out of her.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“Are you always this observant?”
“I’m an overthinker,” she says. “So yeah, I’m an observer.”
“I’ve been labeled an overthinker too,” I say with a grin.
“Would you say it’s an accurate assessment?”
“Oh yeah,” I say with a nod, and stand to clear our plates away. She stands to help. “I’ve got this.”
“No way, you cooked, so I’ll help clean.”
She walks ahead of me, her empty glass in one hand and her plate in the other. “Do you use the dishwasher, or do you wash by hand?”
“There are people who still wash by hand?”
“I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen them in the wild,” she says, and smiles up at me when I join her. “So I guess that means we use the dishwasher?”
“Yes.” She rinses and I load, and a few short minutes later, we’re done.
“Well, I suppose I should go,” she says, and checks the time on her phone. “Oh, Cami texted. I guess I should reply so she doesn’t think you killed me after the entrée.”
She smirks and types on her phone, then turns it off and looks up at me.
“Thanks for dinner.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
Unfortunately, it won’t be in my bed.
“Okay.” She gathers her bag, notepad and pen, and walks to the door. “Sleep well tonight.”
I grin and congratulate myself for not dragging my fingertips down her cheek.
“You sleep well tonight, Riley.”
She leaves and I close the door, letting out a slow breath. Jesus, she’s sexy and funny and smart as fuck.
And I’m not going to touch her while I’m here.
How the fuck am I going to do that?
About Kristen Proby:
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Kristen Proby is the author of the bestselling With Me In Seattle and Love Under the Big Sky series. She has a passion for a good love story and strong, humorous characters with a strong sense of loyalty and family. Her men are the alpha type; fiercely protective and a bit bossy, and her ladies are fun, strong, and not afraid to stand up for themselves.
Kristen lives in Montana, where she enjoys coffee, chocolate and sunshine. And naps.
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