Hanging by a Thread
Love is not one size fits all...
Bebe Banerjee’s genius IQ didn’t stop her from doing something stupid: agreeing to a sham engagement in exchange for a free ride to Harvard Law. And now, her fake fiancé is trying to blackmail her into a real marriage. While she can’t choose her future husband, she can choose her first lover. But she never imagined that man would be Cal O’Brien, the handsome heir to the Riley O’Brien & Co. denim empire…
Although Cal has always been fascinated by Bebe’s brilliant mind and beautiful eyes, he’s never pursued her. She can’t stand the sight of him, and every time they’re in the same room, they end up trading insults. Yet when he finds out about Bebe’s bold plan, he makes his move, unaware of her upcoming nuptials. He promises to make her firsts unforgettable, but he doesn’t know how hard it will be to forget her when their arrangement ends.
Chaste. Untouched. Maiden. Pure. Innocent. The words that described virgin might sound pretty, but the truth was downright ugly, at least in Bebe Banerjee’s opinion. She was convinced her virginity was the reason her heart raced, her breath seized, and her palms sweated whenever she was near Cal O’Brien.
Bebe surreptitiously studied Cal, trying to ignore the wave of lust that surged over her. If she had some experience between the sheets, she was sure she’d be able to handle the way he made her feel.
If she had gotten naked with a few guys, maybe she wouldn’t obsess about his glacier- blue eyes and his thick, dark hair. Maybe she wouldn’t notice the way his jeans clung to his tight behind and long legs. Maybe she wouldn’t fantasize about his lips, his smile, his big hands….
Bebe desperately wished she could just avoid him, but his little sister, Teagan, was her best friend. If she wanted to spend time with Teagan, she had to put up with Cal. She said no to a lot of Teagan’s invitations to hang out because of him, and she had to be very careful not to offend her best friend.
That was why the object of her X-rated fantasies stood next to her in a club-level suite at PacBell Park. The San Francisco Giants were in the playoffs, battling against the Atlanta Braves to win the National League pennant, and Teagan had invited her to attend the game in the Riley O’Brien & Co. suite.
Founded by Teagan’s great-great grandfather, Riley O’Brien & Co. was the nation’s oldest designer and manufacturer of blue jeans. Americans had worn Rileys for nearly two centuries. In fact, Bebe was wearing a pair right now.
Beside her, Cal shifted slightly and took a pull on his Shiner Bock. He was close enough to touch, and she clenched her hands into fists just in case her fingers suddenly decided to act out her secret fantasies. He didn’t even look her way, and he probably wouldn’t unless he felt the need to toss an insult at her.
“How was Antigua?” Cal asked, directing the question to his sister and her new husband, Nick Priest.
“It was the most amazing place I’ve ever been,” Teagan said, her blue eyes shining and her glossy lips turned up in a smile.
Teagan and Nick had just returned from their three-week honeymoon to the Caribbean island. Both of them were glowing from their tans and their newlywed status.
“We were lucky we had our own private beach because Nick is an exhibitionist,” Teagan added with a lustful gleam in her eyes.
Nick was a former professional football player, and he had been voted as one of the “Sexiest Men Alive” by People. With his blond hair and bright green eyes, he was gorgeous, no doubt about it. But in Bebe’s opinion, he wasn’t nearly as gorgeous as Cal.
No one is as gorgeous as Cal.
Nick leaned down and whispered something into Teagan’s ear, something that was obviously naughty because her face turned the color of cherries. When he straightened to his full six five and saw her red cheeks, he chuckled.
“You’re so bad,” Teagan muttered, lightly slapping Nick’s chest. In response, he grabbed her hand, hauled her up against him, and kissed her…with tongue.
Cal made a gagging noise. “Jesus Christ,” he groaned, “do you have to do that in front of me?”
Teagan pulled away from Nick. “Please,” she shot back, her voice full of disgust. “Do know how many times I had to listen to my high school friends talk about you and your big—”
Much to Bebe’s disappointment, Cal covered his sister’s mouth with his hand and cut off the rest of Teagan’s sentence. She tried to pull his fingers away, and finally she got free by elbowing him in the stomach.
Laughing, Cal stumbled sideways into Bebe, almost knocking her over. He grabbed her forearm to steady her, his hand hot against her skin, and she gasped. Even the slightest touch from him made her pulse pound, and she tugged her arm to get away from him.
Instead of releasing her, his fingers tightened. She looked up…way up. He was almost as tall as Nick, and he loomed over her by more than a foot. He was a little leaner than Teagan’s husband but still solid muscle. His faded Giants T-shirt showed off his broad shoulders, impressive biceps, and ropey forearms. He’d paired the shirt with ancient Rileys that fit him like a glove and well-worn boots.
“Sorry about that, Cookie,” Cal said.
“I told you not to call me that,” she snapped, trying to jerk her arm free.
She hated it when he called her Cookie, and he knew it. Of course, that was why he did it.
He had come up with the nickname right after he’d found out she had a medical degree in addition to her MBA and law degree. He’d claimed it was a better moniker than Bebe since she was such a smart cookie, but she knew it wasn’t a compliment.
“I thought you liked nicknames.” He smiled angelically and widened his eyes to look innocent. “You call Teagan kanya all the time.”
Kanya was Bebe’s nickname for her best friend. It meant “girl” in Hindi, the native language of her Indian ancestors. She had been born and raised in the United States, but using Hindi words was one way she stayed connected to her heritage.
“Teagan and I are friends,” she pointed out.
He got her message loud and clear because his eyes got all squinty. “I can be friendly.”
Yes, he could be friendly. In fact, he was friendly to everyone but her. He never had anything nice to say to her, and she returned the sentiment.
She wasn’t sure who had struck first, probably her, but now they launched verbal missiles at each other with frequency and precision. He went out of his way to be rude and antagonistic, and she did the same.
Bebe knew the real reason she acted like such a bitch around Cal. She liked him, and she didn’t want him to suspect how she really felt. She didn’t want to be the pathetic geeky girl with a crush on the hot guy.
Before Cal, she had never been attracted to any man. She’d never even experienced a high school crush because she had entered the ninth grade when she was twelve and had graduated when she was fifteen. She had immediately headed off to college, and she’d obtained two bachelor’s degrees in three years.
By the time she had been able to vote, she had been in her first year of medical school. She’d become accustomed to being viewed as a study partner rather than a sex partner.
She wasn’t oblivious, though, and over the years, she had noticed good-looking men. But she had never felt that zing of sexual attraction until she had met Cal four years ago. She hated the way he made her feel: gauche, nervous, and over-stimulated. When he was near, sounds were louder, colors were brighter, and smells were stronger.
Right now, she could smell him, a panty-soaking aroma of warm male and expensive cologne. It was so delicious she could barely concentrate on the conversation swirling around her.
“Even though Antigua was amazing, I’m glad to be home,” Teagan said. “I missed everyone. Mom and Dad. Quinn and Amelia. Bebe. Letty.”
“You didn’t miss me?” Cal asked, feigning hurt feelings.
Bebe knew Teagan had intentionally excluded Cal, trying to annoy him. The O’Brien siblings teased each other mercilessly. Their relationship was so different from the one Bebe had with her older brothers.
She rarely talked with Pritam and Ranjit, and when she did, they definitely didn’t tease her. They didn’t even call her Bebe. They insisted on referring to her by her full name, Bindu, which she hated.
“No. I missed Kim more than I missed you,” Teagan replied, referring to the woman who did her nails at the swanky spa she frequented.
Teagan’s snarky response made laughter well in Bebe’s throat. Before she could choke them back, giggles escaped her. Cal stiffened next to her, and she mentally prepared for their next verbal battle.
Ready. Aim. Fire.
Cal tried to ignore Bebe’s soft laughter, but the musical sound washed over him, and his cock twitched. He shifted away from her, annoyed with his unruly body.
Bebe didn’t bother to hide the fact that she couldn’t stand him. She was pretty much the only woman who didn’t like him, and he didn’t know what he’d done to make her hate him.
He had told himself a million times he didn’t care, but he was lying. It bothered him…a lot. It bothered him so much that he acted like an asshole anytime he got within fifty feet of her.
Cal slanted a sideways glance toward Bebe, who was staring at her feet. Her shiny hair, the same color as his favorite dark roast coffee, was in its usual bun. He had never seen it any other way, and he’d spent more than a few minutes thinking about what it would look like around her shoulders. He had imagined holding it in his hands while she knelt in front of him.
A few wispy tendrils clung to the nape of her neck, and he wondered if they were as soft and silky as they looked. Everything about her looked soft and silky, from her smooth, golden skin to her full, pink lips.
He felt Teagan’s gaze on him, and he pulled his attention from Bebe’s lips. His little sister was way too observant, and he had a feeling she knew exactly why he was rude to her best friend.
“Nick and I have decided to throw a Halloween party to show off the house,” Teagan announced.
After Priest had retired from the NFL at the end of last season, he’d taken a job with Riley O’Brien & Co. and moved to the Bay Area. He’d bought a historic mansion in Pacific Heights, and the two-story Italianate-Victorian had been under renovation for months.
Cal was surprised Priest had agreed to host a party since he tended to avoid situations where he was expected to talk. He went to great lengths to hide his severe stutter, and most people didn’t even know he had a speech impediment.
Teagan leaned against Priest, and he pulled her closer, squeezing her waist. Suddenly Cal realized why they were throwing a party: his new brother-in-law would do anything Teagan asked.
“Costumes will be mandatory,” Teagan added. “I think Nick should be a Greek god.”
Priest groaned dramatically, and Cal chuckled, imagining the other man in a white bedsheet. “Which one?”
“Zeus,” Teagan answered promptly. “The king of the gods.”
Cal took a swig of his Shiner Bock, and as he lowered his arm, his hand accidently brushed against Bebe. She jerked away from his touch, and irritation rushed through him. She acted like he was a fucking leper, and it pissed him off.
What the hell is her problem?
“I bet I can guess what you’re going to be,” he said, pointing his beer toward her.
Since she was looking down, she didn’t realize he was talking to her. He tapped her on the shoulder with the neck of the bottle, and she jerked her head up.
Her eyes were the same color as the gold that his Grandma Violet’s ancestor had found during the California Gold Rush, luminous and ringed with long, dark eyelashes. She blinked slowly and licked her lips, leaving them shiny and wet.
He gritted his teeth as his cock thickened behind his fly. What was it about her that made him so hot?
“Did you hear me?” he asked, his voice nearly a growl.
She shook her head, and he repeated what he’d said. She frowned.
“Oh, really?” she snarked. “What am I going to be?”
He bared his teeth in a semblance of a smile. “Since you’re so smart, I figured you’d go as a dictionary.” He snapped his fingers. “Or maybe an encyclopedia since you think you know everything.”
Priest gave a muffled laugh, and Cal met his eyes. The other man raised his dark blond eyebrows, and Cal flushed. He just couldn’t seem to stop himself from acting like a jerk.
“That’s a good idea.” Bebe smiled brightly, but there was an edge of anger behind it. “I have a suggestion for your costume, too. Since you’re such a jackass, why don’t you go as a donkey?”
It took him a second to process the insult because he was fascinated by the emotions swirling in Bebe’s eyes. When he realized what she’d said, he couldn’t help but laugh. He was a jackass when he was around her.
Teagan snorted. “Come on, Nick,” she said, grabbing her husband’s hand. “I’m tired of hearing my best friend and my brother hurl insults at each other. And I’m thirsty.”
His sister stalked off, dragging Priest behind her. Bebe shifted to face him, and he took another swallow of beer, studying her as he did so.
She was so petite the top of her head was even with his chest. She was even shorter than Quinn’s wife, Amelia, who was a couple of inches over five feet.
He doubted Bebe weighed more than a hundred pounds soaking wet, but she was slender rather than skinny. In fact, her breasts looked like a nice handful under her orange Giants T-shirt. He wouldn’t mind finding out if they would fill his hands.
She tucked a loose strand of dark hair behind her ear, and the movement drew his attention to her small hands. Thin gold rings covered every finger, wrapping around the slender digits like delicate metal vines.
She probably had a hundred rings on her fingers, and the sight of them glimmering in the sunlight mesmerized him. They made him think about what her hands would look like on his body, wrapped around his cock, stroking him to orgasm.
He let his gaze wander lower, lingering on her narrow waist and the subtle curve of her hips. She wore a pair of Rileys, and satisfaction trickled through him. He loved seeing his last name stamped on a nice ass, and he’d stared at Bebe’s enough to know hers was more than nice.
The sound of Teagan’s laughter filtered to him, and Cal pulled his gaze from Bebe. He searched for his sister and found her across the room with her new husband. Priest was perched on the back of one of the leather club chairs, and Teagan stood between his legs. His hands clasped her hips, and a huge smile lit up her face.
Bebe looked over her shoulder, her gaze landing on the newlyweds. After a moment, she brought her attention back to Cal.
“I was worried that I’d never see her again,” he admitted.
When Teagan had come back from Boston, where she'd been working on her MBA and law degree at Harvard, she’d seemed like a completely different person. The funny, loving sister he had grown up with had turned into a sarcastic, angry woman. Cal hadn’t known, but Teagan had been suffering from a broken heart. Now that she and Priest had worked things out, the sister he had adored was making a comeback.
Bebe tilted her head, her eyes intent on his face. She obviously understood exactly what he meant because she smiled slowly—a real smile—and his heart kicked in his chest.
“I was, too,” she replied softly. “And I’m really glad she’s back. I missed her.”
Cal nodded. He had missed her, too.
They stared at each other, and he realized it was the first time he and Bebe had managed to have a conversation that didn’t involve sly digs and over-the-top insults. He didn’t want her to walk away, so he tossed out the first thing that came into his head.
“How’s the new job going?” he asked.
“Great. It was a smart move for me.”
Earlier this year, Bebe had taken a position at Generation Global Biotechnology, GGB for short. Its headquarters were located in downtown San Francisco, just a few blocks from Riley O’Brien & Co.’s high-rise.
When Bebe had lived in Boston, he’d only seen her a few times a year. He always had looked forward to her visits but had dreaded them, too. Each time, he’d hoped she would miraculously like him, and when it became obvious she didn’t, he would provoke her just so she wouldn’t ignore him.
Now that Bebe lived in San Francisco, he saw her all the time. Teagan invited her to most of the O’Brien family gatherings, and Bebe dropped by Riley Plaza to see his sister at least twice a week.
He knew he should stay away from Bebe, but he always sought her out, whether they were at a barbeque, a baseball game, or Sunday brunch. And he always found a reason to stop by his sister’s office when Bebe visited. He picked and poked and prodded until her golden eyes narrowed in anger and her sharp tongue slashed into him.
Deep inside, he knew the real reason why he fucked with Bebe. He did it because he couldn’t do what he really wanted to do: fuck her.