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Leveling The Field (Gamers #4)

By:Megan Erickson

Chapter One

The guy was late.

Lissa Kingsman glanced at the clock on the wall of the office and tried not to look as irritated as she felt.

It was hard, though, because this day was simply not her day. First, she’d woken up with a headache that pain meds had just barely taken the edge off of, then her favorite barista wasn’t at Queenie’s Coffee and the substitute had messed up a simple latte.

Now she was standing in the conference room of Gamers magazine with a real-life Ken doll and the most annoying journalist to ever journal.

The only reason she hadn’t left yet was, A) that would be unprofessional, and B) her friend Chad had promised her the guy who’d yet to show his face would be a perfect candidate for her project.

She tugged on a strand of her black curls and cracked her gum. Loudly.

Steven, the journalist writing the article about Gamers for the local newspaper, widened his eyes. Whoops, that might have been a little obnoxious.

Ken Doll, or Grant Osprey as he’d introduced himself, looked at her with amusement and a little bit of solidarity. Lissa decided she liked him.

“He said he’ll be here soon,” he said with a bright white smile.

Lissa cracked her gum again and raised her eyebrows.

He barked out a laugh and turned to look out the windows of his office.

She sighed and peered at the LCD screen on the back of her camera, flipping through pictures she’d taken yesterday. She wasn’t a journalist, but she freelanced often as a favor to her long-time friend Sal, who ran the art team at the Willow Park Daily.

Her passion was portrait photography, and her current project was everyday people who bore scars—whether from surgery or a car accident or something else—and listening to their stories. When she’d seen the Gamers shoot on the newspaper’s art department schedule, she hadn’t been interested in taking the job until she’d mentioned it to Chad, knowing his sister worked at the magazine. Chad had told her he thought Ethan Talley, part owner of Gamers, would be perfect for Lissa’s project.

Which was why she needed to be Charming Lissa today. Not Gum-Smacking Attitude Lissa.

She spit her gum into a napkin and threw it into the nearby trash can.

Letting her camera hang from her neck, she crossed her arms over her chest and gazed out the window.

A large black SUV pulled into the parking lot. The door opened, and a man stepped out, dark sunglasses protecting his eyes from the fall sun. He wore a black suit. Black shirt. Black tie. Black on black on black. His hair was black. The only thing that wasn’t black was his skin, which was actually quite pale.

As he closed the door to his vehicle and the car beeped as the locks engaged, Lissa straightened and took a step closer to the window. In the background, she heard Steven and Grant talking softly, but her gaze was on the man now walking toward the building.

He was tall, very tall, with broad shoulders, and his stride was smooth—all long-legged and confident.

Lissa’s knees went a little weak and her heart beat faster in her chest. Who was this guy? She had a thing for a man’s walk. It was weird, beyond weird, but she loved to watch men walk. A hesitant gait turned her off, but a masculine strut like this guy? It revved all her engines.

Her sister used to tell her she should just check a man’s teeth as if he was a horse if she was that into a guy’s walk. Lissa used to tell her to shut up. Of course, if she could talk to her sister one more time, she certainly wouldn’t be saying “shut up.”

At that memory, Lissa squeezed her eyes shut, her arousal effectively doused as a wave of grief passed over her like it always did when she thought of her sister.

She took a couple of calming breaths and then opened her eyes to see the man opening up the front door of Gamers. It would be just her luck if he was the less-than-punctual Ethan Talley. She turned from the window and clutched her camera, the grip familiar and comforting, as loud footsteps came closer to the conference room.

Grant’s head went up at the sound and he smiled. “Ah, Ethan’s here.”

Lissa sucked in a breath as a shadow crossed the threshold, because yes, he certainly was.

He stood in the doorway of the conference room, his hands hanging loose at his sides, his feet braced apart in their polished black shoes. His sunglasses were in his right hand, his ice-blue eyes surveying the room in a sweep until they finally landed on…her.

Did she imagine the slight stiffening in his body at the sight of her?

She blinked, willing herself to maintain a passive expression while she took in the scars that crept up his neck and along his jaw like flames.

Oh yes, she very much wanted to photograph him and learn his story. Except this guy didn’t look forthcoming at all. His jaw was tight, his hands clenched so hard she feared he’d break his sunglasses, and his eyes were shards of ice. His gaze darted to Grant. “What’s she doing here?”

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