Make Me Lose

Make Me Lose

Book #1 in the Bayshore series

Released July 23rd, 2019

Contemporary Small-town Rom-Com

Grayson Daly and I aren’t just rivals. We’re enemies.

Born minutes apart on the same day in the same hospital, our parents thought this meant we were somehow destined to be together. We knew were we just destined to beat each other.

Competition boiled over until junior year, when the cold war turned into an unexpected peace offering. Maybe my hormones allowed me to notice his broad shoulders, stormy gray-blue eyes, and soccer star’s chiseled frame. But after I fell for him…he stomped all over my heart.

Ten years later, I’m at the top of the realty game in Bayshore and Grayson is just a distant memory. Until he shows up from NYC, his ego bigger than a skyscraper, and asks me to sell the house he recently inherited.

It’s easy to say no. Even though I want to climb him like the jungle gyms we used to dangle from in strong arm battles.

But I forgot that Gray doesn’t take no for an answer. And that he isn’t content unless he’s defeating me.

He butts into my evenings on the boat. Ropes me into water skiing battles. Even shows up at the bar and creates a scene when I’m scouting a date to the upcoming Bicentennial Ball.

It’s almost like he’s gunning to win me.

But if he wins, that means I lose.

And I’m not ready to cede victory just yet.


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Read on to snag a peek at the first chapter below…

CHAPTER ONE

HAZEL

“All I’m saying is, you can’t take your dad.”

It’s a shame my best friend, London, can’t see me rolling my eyes. She would have laughed so hard she shot her beverage of choice out of her nose. But truth is, I’m alone in my spacious lakefront office. It’s ten a.m. I’ve finished my coffee and am already itching for another. And only I can feel how hard my eyeballs are shooting into the backs of their sockets.

“Yeah. Got it. And you know what?” I counter, reaching for my empty coffee mug. The emptiness I find is depressing, but not depressing enough to make another trip to the cute coffee shop around the corner, The Daily Grind. “I’m not taking my father to the Bicentennial Ball. Never planned on it.”

London is an asshole. But I love her, so I keep her around. Also, she knows me better than anyone on Earth. We went to high school together here in Bayshore, but that’s not where we really connected. The magic for us happened in college, when we went to the Ohio State University. Back before we knew what the hell we were doing. Back before we knew how fucking awesome we’d turn out.

Awesome and chronically single.

“Hazel, I know you love your dad,” London says. “I love your dad. But you need to find a date. A real date. And he needs to be hot. Like, your level hot.”

I heave a sigh, as though it will help anything. London is making the trip home for the Bicentennial Ball and renting a room at the boutique hotel a few blocks from my office because she fully plans on hooking up with some overlooked hottie from our collective past.

Me, on the other hand? I live in Bayshore permanently. Which means I have my own comfy king bed on my own quiet, tree-lined street, and a very intimate knowledge of how many un-overlooked hotties remain here. And the numbers are depressing.

Like, Tinder has stopped loading any matches-style depressing.

“I think you forget what our hometown is like,” I remind her, tapping a pen against various points of the edge of my desk. My gaze drifts to the windows lining the northern wall of the office. Briggs Bay glitters a tealish-blue a block away. A motorboat cuts through the water, leaving a frothy, white-topped wake in its path. Even though I’m in air-conditioned comfort, I can feel the humid bite in the late-morning air simply from staring at the lake.

It’s a feeling I’ve come to love.

Like practically everything about Bayshore. Except for its startling lack of single men my age, that is.

“Oh, no,” she says ruefully. “I remember.” She doesn’t come back much, like a lot of our graduating class. The ones who stayed, I see regularly, given the fact that damn near everyone in this county uses me for their real estate needs. That means I’ve got my thumb on the pulse of who’s who, who’s married, and who’s gone downhill in Bayshore.

And now that my graduating class is nearing the end of our twenties, the number of people who didn’t casually go downhill but slid there on a super-greased sled would surprise you.

“What about the Daly brothers?” London asks, which forces another sigh from my lips.

Of course. The Daly brothers. The perpetually handsome bachelors who used to strut around this town like a flock of virile geese: loud in how handsome they all are, slightly dangerous in that they will probably come chasing you down during a quiet lunch at the park and break your heart. Not that geese regularly break hearts, but that’s beside the point.

I’m probably bitter. Still. It’s only been ten years, but part of me hasn’t quite forgiven Grayson Daly for his virile-goose antics. Aside from Grayson, I love the Daly family. I grew up with those guys. And despite the fact that one of their boys came out an asshole, I really do love Grayson’s mom. It’s not their fault that Gray is an arrogant jerk. Actually, scratch that—their intense, ladder-climbing dad probably had something to do with Grayson turning out like he did. They got four other good boys, so statistically, one of them had to go bad.

“Two of them live out of state,” I said, frowning as I attempted to reengage with my computer. A few people wander past my floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Water Street. They’re holding maps, marking them as some of the thousands of tourists who populate this town in high season. “Dominic lives in the Cleveland area, I think. And the youngest two are still around. I see Maverick from time to time. He’s usually high.”

London snorted. “Well, those two are a little young for my tastes.”

My frown deepens. I don’t like talking about tastes when it comes to the Daly brothers. For a brief, psychotic period of my life, I was in love with Grayson Daly. And then he shit all over my trust. We graduated, and after a few other character shaping activities, here I am. The most successful real estate agent for my age in the entire state of Ohio, dressed to kill on the daily.

“I’ll go on Craigslist,” I say. “I’ll put up an ad. Seeking Super-Hot Date for two-hundredth Birthday of Bayshore. Must be willing to pose for endless pictures and buy all my champagne and appear on my Instagram as a doting partner.”

“There we go,” London encourages.

“Great. You know, you just agreed with my idea to solicit a date on Craigslist. This means I’ve hit rock bottom.” I’m grinning as I give her shit. My ten-minute goof-off window is ending. These scheduled breaks to call friends and family keep me alive in my fast-paced realty business. I work damn near eighty hours a week most weeks. I love my job, though, what I’ve created. It’s not a burden. It’s my dream life. Living in my hometown, my cozy house two blocks from Briggs Bay and, a little further, the expansive, choppy waters of Lake Erie.

“I wouldn’t call your dating life rock bottom,” London says. “More like…pitiful.”

I snort. Even better. But she’s not wrong. The little bells on the front door of my office jingle, signaling a newcomer. I’ve had my four-inch glossy black heels propped on the edge of my desk, a form-fitting skirt hiking up a little too far for professional comfort. I sit up straight, glancing at the new arrival.

He’s gotta be about six foot two. Broad shoulders, a build that falls somewhere between football and soccer star. Stormy blue eyes that cut right through me from across the gallery.

My throat immediately seizes. I jerk my gaze away, lest this man realize that I know who he is.

The man who we were talking about only moments before. As though this conversation had summoned him from the pits of Hell.

Grayson Freakin’ Daly.

“You there?” London asks.

I force my voice to sound normal. I keep my gaze on my computer, as though I’m the busiest, most important, most unaffected person in the world at this moment. “I really appreciate your call. I think that our collaboration will be extremely lucrative. Thank you, George Clooney, for your interest in Hazel Homes.” I slam the phone down on the receiver, my heart pounding.

That’s the other thing about Grayson.

He and I, we’ve had this killer competitive streak since the day we were born.

And apparently, that was summoned from the pits of Hell along with Grayson.

I swing my gaze his way, batting my eyes, popping on the brightest smile I can muster. “Hello there! How can I help you?” My heart is pounding so quickly I might pass out. I have no idea how to handle this. All I know is that my old responses are popping out of the deepest depths of my being like no time has passed at all. The responses that push me to win, to beat Grayson, to be better than he is.

And apparently, the best path forward is acting like I’ve never seen this handsome devil before.

Grayson cocks a smirk, the type that takes me right back to that psychotic period when I fell in love with him for three months. Except now he’s older, more refined. He’s got on a medium-gray suit that sits halfway between Billionaire Chic and Vogue model. Alligator shoes that come to a point. He stuffs his hands in his pockets as he begins an intolerable saunter toward me.

“You’re really going to act like you don’t know who I am?”

The gruff bass of his voice sends heat straight to my pussy. I blink demurely for a few moments, feigning my best confused face. I squint at him. I let it draw out. Maybe too long.

“Hazel,” he says. “Cut the crap.”

His commanding tone irritates me so much that I do exactly as he says. I set my lips in a thin line. “Oh, jeez. Yes, Grayson Daly. It can only be you.” I avoid his gaze as I set to work reorganizing my desk. Anything to avoid looking at his impossibly handsome frame, his dark hair clipped short on the sides but longer on top, allowing one delectable finger wave to emerge. “Sorry, I didn’t recognize you.” I can’t help myself. The words fly out. “You got old.”

He cocks his head to the side, an expression like oh, come on creasing his face. “I’m ten minutes older than you, so I assume you feel the same way about yourself.”

Ugh. He always threw that ten minutes older than you crap in my face growing up. Like it allowed him to ultimately win. Well not anymore. I’m taking my ten extra minutes of youthfulness and running with it.

“I’m as perky and bright as they come,” I say, tossing him a plasticized smile. “A veritable fountain of youth.” As I face him down, I try to see myself in my mind’s eye. Hoping my fire-engine red lipstick isn’t smeared. It never is, but on the day that Grayson shows up, you can never be too sure. I thank the gods above that I got my eyebrows done earlier this week. I would have prepped more, had I known Grayson was going to saunter into my office as if he was auditioning for the role of Unaffected Businessman. But I’ll have to work with what I’ve got. “Now, how may I help you, sir?”

An annoyed burst of air rushes past his lips. Treating him like I don’t know him, don’t care about him—this is my new plan of attack.

“Thought you might be able to help me sell a house.” He works his jaw back and forth as his gaze skates around my office. The walls are bright white with gothic black frames dotting the feature wall where my awards, certificates and licenses are displayed. I’m not one for bright colors. Give me all the shades of black, purple, and gray, and I’m a happy camper. I would live inside houndstooth if I could. “I won’t be needing it, since you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to live in Bayshore.”

I grit my teeth. I know what his attack plan is now. And it’s high-grade annoying.

“Ah. That’s right. Who would want to live in the Midwest’s number one beach town? Quality of life must be something that doesn’t appeal to you,” I shoot back, starting to write an e-mail. Just for something to occupy my hands. There’s nothing in the To field. I’m typing gibberish.

“Populations above one hundred thousand appeal to me,” Grayson says, pulling out the armchair facing my desk. He clears his throat, then makes a big display of sitting down. A waft of his cologne reaches me. It’s husky and earthy and probably expensive as hell. Like Gucci meets lumberjack. “Broadway appeals to me. Diverse restaurants appeal to me. More than one movie theater appeals to me.”

He must live in a big city. Probably New York. But that’s fine. He doesn’t know that people are leaving big cities in droves to come to places like Bayshore. He doesn’t know how much I’m cleaning up on the recent shift to the smaller towns, smaller lives movement.

“Arrogance has always appealed to you as well,” I say, smiling his way without looking at him. “It’s actually one of your strongest suits.” The word makes me glance at the suit he’s wearing. Big mistake. The e-mail I’m writing now says “skkskkkksksskk sk fuck you.”

He flashes a humorless smile. His knee is bouncing. “So will you sell this house for me or not?”

“No.”

“My grandmother passed away,” he said, the edge going out of his voice. His gaze moves to the floor. Shit. Didn’t see that one coming. “This was her house.”

“Is that supposed to change my mind?”

“Sort of.”

Silence thuds between us, and I hazard another glance at him. Those stormy eyes of his haven’t changed, not even a little bit. His nearly black brows are drawn together. Like he’s pleading silently. Or begging. Not that Grayson would ever beg.

Still, the quiet between us dissolves some of my defenses. Grayson is a fox, more than when we were in high school and he ended up being voted the prom king. He’s got that look about him that makes women wilt with wanting him. And hell, I’m the same way. Even though I hate him. If he were one-fifth less of an asshole, I’d be all over him.

And if I didn’t care about upholding this decades-long competition, I’d abandon my morals and jump his bones now.

But no. I’ve got something to prove.

“I’m sorry for your loss. Why are you selling the house?” I sniff. I’m trying to walk that fine line between bitchy and consoling. His grandmother did nothing wrong. I knew her—she’d been a lovely lady. Grayson’s mom herself had come to tell me the news a few days ago, which signaled the start of the pit in my stomach, just knowing that Gray might be returning to Bayshore.

Even though part of me was certain—or perhaps simply hopeful—that he wouldn’t come back for his grandmother’s funeral.

Looks like I was wrong.

“I already told you. Nobody could pay me enough money to stay in this sluggish, uninteresting town.” The evil glint returns. I’m done being soft with him.

“Our sluggish, uninteresting populace can’t wait to be rid of you,” I assure him. “And you’re going to need to find somebody else to sell your house. Somehow, with the approximately three hundred people that you think live here, I’ve managed to make millions.” It’s a slight exaggeration. I’ve grossed millions. He doesn’t need to know that. “Which means I don’t need your money. Have a good day.”

He doesn’t move, though I think I catch a trace of panic in him. Or maybe I want it to be that way.

“You’re the only realtor in town,” Gray counters.

“Not true. There’s a very capable though vastly underutilized real estate agency down the street,” I remind him. It’s Cabanas Real Estate, run by the Cabana family. They’re nice people, but I already know why Grayson can’t go there. The Dalys and the Cabanas have been at each other’s throats for nigh on twenty-five years. What started as boat-dock neighbor friendliness turned into a cheating scandal turned into active resentment. There’s a Romeo and Juliet-style feud simmering between these families. God help any Daly son that goes after a Cabana girl.

“Hazel,” he says, as though reminding me of my name will help his case. I send him a pretty smile instead. “Come on.”

“Not sure what you want me to do. All clients are at my discretion.” I lean forward, grabbing my elbows, pushing up my already-pushed-up breasts. Just to give him a luscious glimpse of cleavage. I don’t know if he ever thinks about me anymore or if he’s wondered what I became since he jilted me right before senior prom.

But in case he has thought about me, in case he’s ever wondered what became of nerdy little Hazel, the girl he set out to make miserable, to beat in every way possible?

Well, here’s his answer.

Hazel wins.