Charade, out a week from tomorrow, is a little different for me. It’s a fake fiancée romance. Want a taste? First, how about the cover?
And, uh, how about the blurb? (Thanks to the awesome folks in my Facebook group, Jade’s Bullet Babes, for their feedback before I finalized it.)
No kissing necessary. Definitely no sex.
Erica Larson had dreamed of being a lawyer for as long as she could remember, but the job at Ford & Associates—a family business run by a father and his three sons—is sheer drudgery. Erica is ready to pull up stakes and move home—until devilishly handsome but arrogant Brock Ford, the youngest son, makes her an offer she can’t refuse.
Play his fiancée for a month…maybe two, because his future with the firm depends on deception.
Just attend a function here and there.
No kissing and definitely no sleeping together.
Well…maybe one kiss.
And, before Erica knows it, she’s doubting if she can distinguish between fiction and reality, because her heart can no longer tell the difference. Can she stop herself from becoming a victim of his charm before it’s too late?
Okay, okay…here’s the first chapter! You don’t have to wait too long!
Chapter One of Jade C. Jamison’s Charade
BROCK FORD RESISTED the urge to clench his jaw—for the tenth time during this short meeting.
It was a habit he’d broken in the courtroom, in the bedroom, on the green, and even standing in a long line, but it was always a behavior he reverted back to when surrounded by family in a tense situation. His father Brady Ford had until recently been a hard ass, demanding and unforgiving, and as the youngest of three boys, Brock had learned to keep his tongue in check. The only way to do that was to clench his jaw so he could ensure his mouth was closed and not flippantly spewing out his true thoughts.
He’d learned that lesson at eight years old to avoid a spare-the-rod spanking, and it had continued through high school when he’d clamped his jaw down instead of telling the football coach to fuck off. It was that kind of self-taught self-control that had earned him the position of starting quarterback then and, by college, his clenched jaw had saved him from more misery than he could remember—from spewing in the heat of the moment that he loved a girl to bypassing an angry outburst in an unindulgent courtroom.
His emotions were on lockdown.
By the time he was an adult, though, the problem was that the clamped mouth had become a bit of a giveaway—a tell, according to his first true mentor. Practicing law in a courtroom as a trial lawyer was a bit like playing poker…and you never wanted to give your emotions away. Be cool. Be calm. Not only did you want them to never see you sweat, you wanted to look a bit like a statue. Everything you did on the courtroom floor was for show—and your audience was watching and judging every moment. So Brock then had to learn how to clench his jaw only in the figurative sense. Unless he was emoting for the sake of the jury’s attention, his facial expression wouldn’t waver from looking studious, thoughtful, and serious.
In the boardroom with his father and two older brothers, though, it was a bit harder. Under that kind of stress, his emotions often took a trip down memory lane, and he had to make a conscious effort to keep his face neutral.
But today the stakes were high. “Thank you all for coming,” said his father in his deep voice that still sometimes shook him to the core. And what was with the “you all,” like it was a staff meeting or something? Like Brock had seen since the first time he’d attended a meeting that his father led, the older man’s hands, still strong but covered in looser skin, were folded in front of him on the table, precise and ready to strike. His posture was perfect, making him look tall even while seated. And even at 65, women found Brady Ford attractive, even with the white hair and gray goatee, making Brock believe it was due to his formidable presence. “My sons, you have made me proud. Each one of you is a fine attorney and you would be a wonderful addition to any team, but I’ve been fortunate: Not only did my sons want to follow in my footsteps but they wanted to work for me. How many fathers have had that pleasure?”
Brock would have loved to correct his father. Maybe his brothers were different, but Brock had never gathered that he’d had any choice in the matter. That said, he’d always felt like he had something to prove, so rather than specializing in business law (like his oldest brother Bret) or property law (like their middle brother Brandon), Brock had chosen criminal law. What his brothers had chosen ensured that the money would continue to flow like a waterfall through Ford & Associates. Brock’s area of expertise merely ensured that he would continue to be the black sheep and the only thing that saved him was that he toyed with the occasional tort to rake in the dough.
But he was a lawyer, dammit…and a good one.
“I didn’t ask you here to praise you, though. I think the three of you know that I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m ready to hand over the reins to you, and you have all proven yourselves worthy. The details haven’t been worked out yet, but there’s time for that. In the meantime, your mother is planning a large event to make the announcement. There will be dinner and possibly press. I expect you all to be there.”
“When will it be?” Of course, Bret would be the one to ask, always sucking up to their father. Between that and the fact that he looked like their mother with his blonde hair, green eyes, and olive skin, it was no wonder he was their father’s favorite.
“Wednesday evening at seven.”
Brock felt his jaw growing tight again. Something this big, this important, shouldn’t have been sprung on them last minute. It was inconsiderate and rude—but it was also quite typical of his father. As always, he was expected to be the center of their universe.
And he also liked to keep his sons on their toes.
When he asked, “Any other questions?” Brock knew it was best to keep his mouth shut. His father had a habit of expecting questions to be asked before the end of the meeting—in context, when questions were relevant. It was only a polite gesture that he asked at the end, and that was thanks to dealing with thoughtful clients over the years. But it was clear that this meeting was over.
So Brock moved his head just enough that it was clear he had nothing to ask. He stood, buttoning his black jacket, and nodded to his father and brothers before walking toward the door. It wasn’t the first time that it struck him just how different he was from the other men in his family. Bret looked like their mother; Brandon looked like their father had at his age—brown hair with eyes to match; but Brock even looked the black sheep with his dark hair and blue eyes. What made him striking was the dimples he’d fought so hard to hide. Had he not had an uncle with the same features, he might have thought he’d been the product of an affair, and who could have blamed his mother? His father was gone from home a lot when Brock had been younger, and even when his body had been in the house, his mind was on his law firm and often his eyes were in a brief he’d brought home to “peruse” after dinner.
Whatever would the man do with his time now?
It wasn’t Brock’s problem. When he’d left for college, he’d never returned home—to live anyway. He’d come home in the figurative sense, taking a position in the firm as expected, but he’d never moved back in his parents’ house. He relished his freedom more than anything else, and his ties to the firm were his only chains.
Trying to hustle down the hall so he could do some strategizing—because he now knew what he had to do to ensure equal footing with his brothers in the firm when his father handed control to them—he fell short. It was only seconds before Brandon caught up with him.
Brandon with his baby face, the one who could have been mistaken for their dad in days gone by, was the least confident of all the brothers. A stranger never would have been able to tell, but the way Brandon questioned everything left no doubt in Brock’s mind. “Wait up, Brock.” He paused and turned slightly, still fighting the urge to grind his teeth. Brandon’s voice was low as he began walking with Brock down the hall. “We all know dad’s retiring, but do you know what the big deal is? Why is he going to announce it publicly next week?”
“Because dad likes to do stuff for show, Brandon. This is free publicity for the firm if he invites the right people—and it’s like passing the torch. Sure, we’ve been here for a while, but dad still has his own personal clients who probably don’t trust us. It’s his way of ensuring them that everything will be okay even after he’s left.”
Brock was not going to tell Brandon his other theory.
“What else could it be?”
Brandon shrugged. “So you don’t think I need to worry about anything coming out of left field?”
No, but Brock did—and that was why he needed some time alone. “What’ve you got to worry about, Bran? You’ve never had clients complain to dad about you and you don’t screw stuff up. Relax.”
Brock tried to get away but Brandon grabbed his arm by the elbow. “You don’t think dad’s giving control of the firm to Bret, do you?”
Yes, he’d thought of that—Bret was the pet, after all—but he didn’t think that was going to happen. “Anything’s possible, Bran. You know that. And if he does, then what? You still have a job, right? You’re still a partner. So what if he has ultimate control?”
His brother pursed his lips but then said, “I guess you’re right.”
“The bottom line—if dad’s already made up his mind, you can’t do much to change it now.” Even though that was exactly what Brock planned to do. “Go home and have a stiff drink. Spend some time with Lisa and the baby. Don’t think about this place till tomorrow.”
“Good advice. I think I’ll take you up on it.”
Brock let out a slow breath. He had to think fast, without his brother distracting the shit out of him, because he knew exactly what his father would do—and there was no sense letting Brandon know, because it wouldn’t affect him negatively. When Brock had first joined the firm five years earlier (after working as a clerk every summer since his junior year in college), his father had sat all three sons down and told them he was planning to retire in the next ten years and that he wanted his firm run by family men. Brock’s ears had perked up at that. He’d barely started living; he’d hardly tasted his freedom. The last thing he’d wanted to do was settle down like Bret and Brandon, being ratcheted down by wives and children and housing costs. No way. He planned to enjoy life as a bachelor for as long as possible.
But his father believed that married men made for more reliable businessmen, lawyers, and partners. They had a vested interest to continue working and working hard. They had a reason to get up in the morning, because they had people counting on them. Brady Ford had never said it out loud, but his youngest son had heard it loud and clear: If you want to inherit my firm someday, I expect you to have a family.
It didn’t matter that Brock was the youngest nor that he was a damn good lawyer without the fetters.
His father always got his way, and if he didn’t, punishment followed. What that meant to Brock was that, if he wasn’t a family man, he wouldn’t be a full managing partner in the firm. He could be fired at the whim of his brothers if they both chose to do it—and, with his maverick style of courtroom antics, he could see one or both of his siblings deciding to give him a boot.
It was time to take matters into his own hands.
It was time to control his destiny.
Brock Ford was on a mission.
* * *
Erica Larson ran her fingers through her light brown hair before letting out a long breath. She stared at the pile of files on the table and shook her head before standing up. She needed another cup of coffee if she was going to get through all this crap before eight o’clock.
This was not what she’d imagined for herself when she’d enrolled in pre-law classes at the University of Denver, and this was most certainly not what she’d envisioned when she’d then been accepted into their law school. She’d wanted to fight for justice for the little guy or help put a bad guy behind bars—she hadn’t expected to be drowning in research.
Instead of feeling like an attorney, she felt like an archaeologist as each discovery led to something else. It was like digging up a dinosaur, and not until you had located all the bones did you know your job was complete.
It was utterly unsatisfying.
Over the past week, she’d been contemplating moving back home to Gunnison on the western slope of Colorado. Surely, she could find law work there or even hang her own shingle—local girl makes good. That alone would probably help her start her own business, even without much experience. And her mom and dad still maintained her old bedroom and had told her their door was always open.
But she was determined to make it. She just didn’t know that Ford & Associates was the right place to do it. After accepting their offer of employment a year ago (after clerking with them for quite a while before that), she’d known she’d have to do a little grunt work to prove herself. This was ridiculous, though. She was doing paralegal work and growing damn sick and tired of it.
For now, though…coffee. She needed caffeine to help her think clearly. She could wait till Sunday to contemplate her future. And she fully intended to. This weekend, she was going to outline exactly what she’d say to Bret Ford, her boss, and then give him an ultimatum on Monday morning: either she start doing more significant work, or she was gone. And then she had to be prepared to be shown the door. At this point, she knew that was fine. Better to live free, happy, and poor than be buried under a mountain of mind-numbing bullshit paperwork, financially comfortable but not living life.
She made her way to the break room still feeling foggy. Although she could neither see nor hear other people in the building, she knew they were there. Like herself, there were about a dozen or so newbies who felt like they had to bust their asses to keep up with the work and either get noticed or risk unemployment. So it surprised her when she saw that not only was the coffee pot empty, it had been turned off. Crazy people.
Erica held the carafe under the faucet, trying to decide if she wanted to make a full or half pot. As she was pouring the water into the machine, she heard footsteps. It was probably Mankin, the guy from the second floor who’d been working past six the last three weeks. He’d tried hitting on her once or twice but Erica wasn’t interested. She’d told him there was no time for romance with the kind of hours she put in, but it was really that she felt no chemistry with the guy. In fact, she was pretty sure she would feel more sparks with a piece of whole wheat toast.
But the man who’d entered the room wasn’t Mankin. If she was correct, he was the youngest Ford brother.
Bret had hired her, had taken her around the first floor to introduce her to some of her coworkers, but had never bothered to show her the rest of the building, nor let her meet the rest of his family who ran the firm.
Shit. She should have studied up on them, because now she was going to look like an uncaring jerk and who knew how much that could hurt her future here at the firm. Then again, maybe that would be the push she would need to leave. It might be a good thing.
So she decided to play dumb—even though the way this guy looked made her feel dumfounded. He was freaking gorgeous from head to toe—dark hair slicked back, striking bone structure that somehow made him look all business, with eyes the color of a cool pool of water. She could easily get lost in those eyes. And he wasn’t the tallest guy she’d ever met, but his presence somehow made him feel like he was towering over her.
Then she knew—this had to be the youngest brother, the trial lawyer, the one who walked fearlessly into a courtroom, in spite of the fact that his older brothers had never seen one. Of course, that was all gossip, but feeling how his entire being took up the whole room, she wouldn’t have doubted it in a second.
The grapevine had never mentioned just how captivating he was, though. He was taking her breath away.
She swallowed and dumped the scoops of coffee into the basket, keeping her hands busy since her brain was buzzing.
“Mind if I have a cup when it’s done?”
She had to force her tongue to work, but there was no helping the nervous crack in her voice. “No, not at all.” Then she felt a little surge of irritation. After all, this guy was a brother of the man who was keeping her buried in a cave piled high with paperwork. They were all cut from the same cloth—so she needed to set him straight right this second. “Me first.”
His lips turned up ever so slightly, as if he found her amusing. Oh, shit. He had dimples. That made him look even more appealing. Wolf in sheep’s clothing. “Of course.” His simple response pissed her off more, as if he knew he was getting under her skin, but she wasn’t going to say another word. No sense giving him fuel for the fire.
Damn. Was this the world’s slowest coffee pot or what? And why the hell had she chosen to make a full pot?
“How long have you been here?”
Still like a rabbit in headlights, she wondered why he cared. “Just a few minutes. Right before you got here.”
Then he chuckled, the sounds of it mocking her. “No. I mean with Ford & Associates.”
Her eyes connected with his again, and that was when she felt the full intensity of his gaze. Holy shit. Was he checking her out or scrutinizing her as a permanent employee? And she knew she looked like crap—midway in the day, she’d pulled her hair into a loose bun held in place with a pencil. Sure, she was wearing makeup, never leaving home without it, and her business suit ensured that she looked like she belonged there, but she was certain she appeared frazzled and tired—both of which were true. The coffee would help her feel better but it certainly wouldn’t help the way she looked.
Why the hell was she trying to impress this guy?
Swallowing the pool of saliva that had filled her mouth, she answered, “Officially or otherwise?”
He chuckled again, this would-be mysterious stranger. “Both.”
“I’ve been employed as an attorney of law for about a year, but I’ve been working here for two.”
“Why haven’t I seen you here before?”
She wanted to tell him it was because he was stuck in his ivory tower on the third floor. “I’ve been doing nothing but research since I got here. I’ve been stuck in a conference room for months with files and a computer and not much else.” Continuing to play dumb, she said, “What about you?” He raised his eyebrows. “How long have you been here?”
His smile was smug—half a turn on and half making her stomach turn. “Five years or so. But you could say I’ve been studying the business for decades.”
Ah…so now he was going to reveal who he was. She couldn’t continue to play dumb—but if he thought she was going to bow down to him, he was sadly mistaken. Instead, at the last second, she decided to employ a little humor—all while wishing the damn coffee would finish brewing already. “You look good for your age. Decades, huh? You must be at least fifty then.”
The handsome man then burst into laughter—and the dimples in his cheeks were impossible to miss at that point. God…she was in trouble. This man was captivating and, in spite of everything in her that told him he was nothing but bad news, she was drawn to him like a magnet. He stuck out his hand then, all business. “I’m Brock Ford.” She extended her arm to shake but she again lost her tongue. As her smaller hand slid into his strong warm one, she felt as though a bolt of electricity passed through her entire body. What would that hand feel like in other places?
Stop. If she didn’t get herself under control, she was bound to make a fool of herself. Fortunately, she’d practiced talking to a judge and jury even though she’d never done it, but she tried to get her head in that space before she answered. “Erica Larson.”
“So you’re not enjoying what my brother has you doing?”
Oh, shit. Had she said too much and jeopardized her job? Well…as she’d thought earlier, maybe it would be better that way. Honesty was the best policy. “Let’s just say it’s not what I signed up for—but I realize I have to pay my dues.” The question was if she was willing to stick around that long while the firm ate her soul alive.
“I think I might have a proposition for you…if you wouldn’t mind drinking your coffee in my office.”
On the third floor?
“Do you have five minutes?”
Knowing this might all be a test about loyalty or general state of mind, she hesitated and then told him the truth. “Not really. I need to finish all the shit scattered on my table, go home, sleep for five hours, shower, and come back and do it again.”
His response was golden. No raised eyebrows at the expletive and she was certain she saw a smile lurking underneath his cool façade. “You can leave it till tomorrow. And if my brother gives you any grief about it, you can send him to me.”
With his permission to leave her work behind, Erica wouldn’t have been able to stop herself any more than a dam with a giant crack could stop the flow of water. But she couldn’t let him know how eager she was to follow him, just in case he was the Pied Piper and not Jesus Christ. Instead, she said, “I’m intrigued,” and again wished the coffee would hurry the hell up…but this time, for completely different reasons.
Oh…you can add it to your Goodreads TBR: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36298906-charade
One week. That’s it. Now, one last thing…I’m considering making the release 99 cents for the first day only so my diehard fans can snag it then. Do you buy books when they first come out or do you wait? And, if you have an opportunity like this, do you buy on release day to get the introductory price?