Chapter 1 – Man Hunt


Friday 6:05 pm

The last thing I wanted to do at work on a Friday at six was fill out a sex quiz.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how kinky you are?

I glanced at the question on my computer screen and rolled my eyes. Then they snagged on the time in the upper right corner, and I panicked.

“Fuck. I don’t have time for this,” I muttered to myself. I hadn’t finished updating the graph on my desk in front of me or adjusted the project schedule or any of the other things that got pushed back because of the meeting earlier. Just like everything else on the James Inn build. Instead, I rushed to finally fill out a silly sex quiz my BFF was forcing me to complete.

It was after six and no one else was in the office, the others having cut out for the weekend already. It wasn’t that I was more diligent, but I was dreading going to happy hour.

Yeah, that was me. The weird woman who didn’t want to meet up with her bestie and others for ladies’ night. I liked my friends, but the friends were bringing friends and the bar would be crowded. Men on the prowl. Ladies on a manhunt. I wasn’t interested. It made me nervous. Uncomfortable.

And I really didn’t want to have my quiz shared, like all of them would. My sex life sucked, and I didn’t need to share it.

I typed my answer about being kinky with “No comment” then scanned the next question.

If you didn’t answer, is it because you are a virgin?

“Jesus.” I couldn’t believe Mallory had come up with this. No, I could. It was just like her to be so bold and… insane. To take something from an eighties movie and put a modern–and adult–spin on it.

I jammed the N and the O keys extra hard.

How many partners have you had?

My cell rang and I jumped, then when I saw the display, I grabbed it up and answered. “I can’t believe you’re making me take this stupid quiz,” I told my best friend instead of hello.

“I can’t believe you haven’t answered any of my calls,” Mallory countered, but wouldn’t be distracted. “And the quiz is for ladies’ night.”

That, I already knew. She’d been pestering me about it for almost a week. Yes, I’d been holding off that long. As for ignoring her, I’d seen she’d called three times and left four texts, but it’d been too crazy to reply.

“I had to hear from Jemma about the gorgeous man in your office.”

Of course Mallory would get the latest from Jemma, the office manager, who she knew since she came to the office sometimes.

“I want to hear alllllll about it.”

“Sex quiz or details on Maverick James?” I offered her the options, but I wasn’t sure which one she was going to pick.

“Shit, that’s a tough call. It’s going to be so much fun reading all the sex quiz answers,” she replied with enthusiasm that bordered on giddy. “But from what I heard from Jemma, a woman can orgasm by the sound of that man’s voice.”

That wasn’t too far from the truth.

“I hate you,” I growled, playing with my ponytail and remembering I had a pencil behind my ear. I tossed it onto my desk.

“What’s got your panties in a twist? What’s wrong with being horny for the hot boss?”

I rested my forehead in my hand and shook my head.

“It’s been a day,” I explained, leaving out the fact that a lot of my frustration really did have to do with the guy. My boss’s boss. The hot one. Who I really was horny for. Not that I would admit that to Mallory. She’d make me go shopping and wear makeup to work for him to notice me.

I’d done that all by myself earlier. No makeup needed.

“Tell me all about it,” she continued on a sigh. “Especially if it involves Maverick James, that gorgeous piece of man meat.”

“How do you know–”

“I looked him up online after I talked to Jemma.”

Of course she had. She wasn’t lying about him, except– “If you want me to get to the bar on time, or anytime tonight, I need to finish the quiz.”

It was the only way I could think of to get her to stop talking about him. Talk about a guy making me nervous and uncomfortable.

She and I had watched the Sixteen Candles two weeks ago and she decided that making a sex quiz–like in the movie–and sharing answers tonight with a bunch of girlfriends was happening.

“You haven’t finished it yet? Don’t tell me you’re still at work.”

“Fine, I won’t tell you.”

Another sigh came through the phone. “You need to take that Physics teacher job at the high school. You’d have your summer off like me.”

“Not all of us can teach first grade,” I countered.

“Whatever. I thought you were going to go home and change into the cute top.”

The cute top she was talking about was hanging in the back of my closet and never to appear. It was banished there as Mallory forced me to order it. It wasn’t something I ever planned on wearing. Not that it was over-the-top or inappropriate, it just wasn’t me. Or, it showed too much of me. I glanced down at myself. Jeans and a long-sleeved white t-shirt. Plain. Boring.

“The project is behind schedule,” I told her instead of continuing the conversation about why I didn’t want to wear the cute top. I was content being less seen. Blending in. The clusterfuck earlier today was an example of that. Being a woman on a huge construction site was bad enough. I didn’t want to look… good. I wanted to work and get on with my unexciting little life. “Besides the coffee spill, the framers are going to add a second crew,” I continued, pushing the point home that things were hectic. “The electrical team is on hold until next Thursday and my boss got fired.”

“Maverick James was fired?” she screeched.

Out of all the issues, she focused on that. “Not him. He’s the owner, remember. Maverick James as in James Corporation. My boss’s boss.”

“So your boss’s boss fired your boss?”

That had been a scene and I curled in on myself even remembering. I didn’t like confrontations and that had been a doozy. And about me. “Yes.”

“Good. That guy is a total sleaze.”

In the past, I’d shared with her how much of a dick the guy was. I was going to have a drink–or two–later to celebrate his departure and the spectacular way it was done.

“I’ll see you in a few at Kincaid’s,” I told her.

“Hell no,” she replied. I imagined her holding her hand up in front of her. “I’m not letting you off the phone until you finish the quiz and email it to me. Then you’ll drive your butt right to over here to the bar.”

I rolled my eyes at the ceiling, then back to the screen. “Fine.”

I set the cell to speaker mode and sat it on my desk so I could type with two hands.

To the number of partners question, I typed in 1.

It was a sad number at twenty-two and my prospects to change it weren’t on the horizon.

What’s the one thing you wish you got from your partners?

That was easy. Orgasms.

“I hear the keyboard clacking. I hope that means you’re doing the quiz and not some fancy math validating the vertical structural integrity of an I-beam.”

“Vertical structural integrity?” I asked, my fingers stilling. “What does that even mean?”

“I have no idea. You’re the math and engineering brainiac.”

I sighed, trying to keep up with Mallory’s busy thoughts. I was the quiet shy one and she was the extrovert constantly trying to pull me out of my shell. It had worked since elementary school when our desks were side by side, but after high school, I’d gone to MIT for college. Far from Hunter Valley, Montana. When everyone wanted to know why I’d returned a semester early and without my degree, it hadn’t helped. Mallory was trying, but it was going to take more than a sex quiz and ladies’ night to get me out there again. “Do you want me to finish this quiz or not?”

“Finish. Finish. Finish,” she began to chant.

I laughed, then pushed on.

What do you want a guy to do to you in bed? This is anonymous so share your darkest fantasy.

I exhaled loudly.

“You’re on the fantasy question, aren’t you?”

“Yup.” I paused, stared at the blinking cursor, then typed. What the hell, I thought. It was anonymous since no name was on top and Mallory was going to print them all out and bring the stack to the bar. Knowing the other ladies who were joining us and answered their own sex quizzes, my fantasy response would sound like it came from a nun in comparison. They weren’t tramps or anything. Not that any woman was a tramp, but these were more Mallory’s friends than mine since I’d been gone for three years and I always felt like I was tagging along. I may have left the time zone, but I was back now. Home with my proverbial tail between my legs.

“What does it matter? I mean, guys go for pretty women like you and your friends. High maintenance. Like you said, I’m just the smart one not wearing the cute top.”

“Bridget Jane Morrison, we need to find a man who will spank your ass for me for saying that.”

My mouth fell open. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

“I can’t believe you just put yourself down. Again.

I frowned, then typed in my answer. My secret fantasy.

Moving on… Who do you want to do it with? Name your dream lay.

“Bridge, come on. What the hell’s taking so long?” she poked.

I typed in the first thing that came to mind to get this over with and Mallory off my back. Jake Ryan. The cute hero from Sixteen Candles. The same answer that Samantha gave in the movie. My first true–fictional–love.

“Done,” I say, saving the document.

“Send it and let’s go already. I’m wearing that new push up bra and I have to tell you my girls never looked so perky.”

Mallory regaled me all about the benefits of her new bra as if she worked with structural engineers instead of me. She moved on to making the Jeopardy countdown music which was as annoying as someone filing their nails in front of you as I attached the document and hit Send.

“Done!” I shouted, hoping she stopped.

“Finally. See you in a few. And don’t get sidetracked by some report. I will hunt you down!” She hung up.

Hopping up, I grabbed my things and headed out, ensuring the office’s entry door was locked. Climbing into my car, I slumped in my seat and took a breath. Friday night. Thank God. I didn’t hate my job, but there were aspects of it that sucked. Like my boss. Now my ex-boss. The letch. I didn’t want to think about him now, or ever, again. I shifted my thoughts to my latest and greatest fantasy instead and put all my mental power on my ride across town to Maverick James.

Big. Manly. Hot. Brash. And I didn’t realize until earlier today, a badass. A gorgeous, older badass. Broad shoulders. Muscular like exercise was his religion. Square jaw. Dark, penetrating eyes that didn’t just look at you, but into you and made you squirm.

I did just that now in my car thinking of him. My panties didn’t stand a chance when he was around. Or on my mind.

Ten minutes later, I searched the interior of Kincaid’s for Mallory and the others. Happy hour was in full swing and the crowd spilled out onto an exterior deck.

“You’re not going to get away with it,” Mallory said, setting her hands on my shoulders once I found the group at two high top tables pushed together out on the deck. Her blue gaze raked me over as she spoke. She shook her head, and I knew she was taking in my outfit. “Are those boots even sold in women’s sizes?”

Of course she looked adorable in a pair of high waisted jeans and pale blue, low cut top that only validated everything she said about the push-up bra. Her light hair was styled and she had on makeup. Like a normal twenty-something on a Friday night.

“Getting away with what? My shoes?” I glanced down at my feet. “It’s a law that I have to wear steel toed shoes at a construction site.”

“Not the shoes, although they are God-awful. Leave a pair of non-construction site shoes in your car or something. I’m talking about the quiz.”

I frowned as I waved to Zoe, one of Mallory’s friends, over her shoulder. “What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t send it.”

I blinked at her. “Yes, I did.”

She shook her head, her hair swinging along with cute, dangly earrings. I reached up and felt the tiny stud in my ear.

“Well, I didn’t get it,” she said, sounding put off.

My eyes widened as I felt a trickle of panic. “What do you mean you didn’t get it?”

She held up her phone and I grabbed her wrist so I could see her inbox on the screen. “I. Didn’t. Get. It.”

My mind started to spin, wondering where it did go. I stared at Mallory. She stared at me.

“If it didn’t go to you, then where did I send it?”

I grabbed my cell from my crossbody purse and opened up my own email. Swiped to the Sent folder and—


Right there in the middle of Kincaid’s, like I was trying out for a horror flick.

All talking on the deck ceased and everyone turned to face me. I didn’t pay them any attention. All my focus was on the name in the To section of my email along with the attachment titled Sex Quiz.

“Oh my God.” My heart was trying to beat right out of my chest and my hands shook.

Mallory snagged the phone from my hand as I willed the ground to open up and swallow me down. A single-person sinkhole would be perfect.

“Holy shit,” she whispered, eyes widening, then meeting mine. “How did that happen?”

Since I didn’t seem to be actually dying, the bar patrons went back to their fun while I was going to have a stroke or expire of mortification.

I grabbed the cell back, stared at it, willing my eyes to be wrong. “You’re Mallory. He’s Maverick. They both start with the same two letters. M. A. You were doing that annoying Jeopardy music and it must have auto-filled the rest of the address and I wasn’t paying any attention.”

“With your boss’s boss’s name.”

I nodded, trying not to vomit because she didn’t know everything that happened today. “Mal, I just sent a sex quiz to Maverick James.”



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Vanessa Vale