Series: Texas Cattleman’s Club: Bachelor Auction
Publication Date: December 1, 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Desire
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Interracial
Heat Level: Sensual
To the highest bidder goes…
A friendship with benefits?
When Tessa Noble takes the stage at a charity auction after a sexy makeover, her best friend, Ryan Bateman, must place the winning bid. It’s definitely not because he’s jealous. Their weekend getaway is a ploy for positive press…or so the rancher tells himself. But soon things take an unexpected turn from platonic to passionate, catapulting the couple far beyond the friend zone…
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Tessa Noble stared at the configuration of high and low balls scattered on the billiard table.
“I’m completely screwed,” she muttered, sizing up her next move. After a particularly bad break and distracted play, she was losing badly.
But how on earth could she be expected to concentrate on billiards when her best friend Ryan Bateman was wearing a fitted performance T-shirt that highlighted every single pectoral muscle and his impressive biceps. He could have, at the very least, worn a shirt that fit, instead of one that was a size too small, as a way to purposely enhance his muscles. And the view when he bent over the table in a pair of broken-in jeans that hugged his firm ass like they were made for it…
How in the hell was she expected to play her best?
“You’re not screwed,” Ryan said in a deep, husky voice that was as soothing as a warm bath. Three parts sex-in-a-glass and one part confidence out the wazoo.
Tessa’s cheeks heated, inexplicably. Like she was a middle schooler giggling over double entendres and sexual innuendo.
“Maybe not, but you’d sure as hell like to be screwed by your best friend over there,” Gail Walker whispered in her ear before taking another sip of her beer.
Tessa elbowed her friend in the ribs, and the woman giggled, nearly shooting beer out of her nose.
Gail, always a little too direct, lacked a filter after a second drink.
Tessa walked around the billiard table, pool cue in hand, assessing her options again while her opponent huffed restlessly. Finally, she shook her head and sighed. “You obviously see something I don’t, because I don’t see a single makeable shot.”
Ryan sidled closer, his movements reminiscent of a powerful jungle cat stalking prey. His green eyes gleamed even in the dim light of the bar.
“You’re underestimating yourself, Tess,” Ryan murmured. “Just shut out all the noise, all the doubts, and focus.”
She studied the table again, tugging her lower lip between her teeth, before turning back to him. “Ryan, I clearly don’t have a shot.”
“Go for the four ball.” He nodded toward the purple ball wedged between two of her opponent’s balls.
Tessa sucked in a deep breath and gripped the pool cue with one hand. She pressed her other hand to the table, formed a bridge and positioned the stick between her thumb and forefinger, gliding it back and forth.
But the shot just wasn’t there.
“I can’t make this shot.” She turned to look at him. “Maybe you could, but I can’t.”
“That’s because you’re too tight, and your stance is all wrong.” Ryan studied her for a moment, then placed his hands on either side of her waist and shifted her a few inches. “Now you’re lined up with the ball. That should give you a better sight line.”
Tessa’s eyes drifted closed momentarily as she tried to focus on the four ball, rather than the lingering heat from Ryan’s hands. Or his nearness as he hovered over her.
She opened them again and slid the cue back and forth between her fingers, deliberating the position and pace of her shot.
“Wait.” Ryan leaned over beside her. He slipped an arm around her waist and gripped the stick a few inches above where she clenched it. He stared straight ahead at the ball, his face inches from hers. “Loosen your grip on the cue. This is a finesse shot, so don’t try to muscle it. Just take it easy and smack the cue ball right in the center, and you’ve got this. Okay?”
“Okay.” Tessa nodded, staring at the center of the white ball. She released a long breath, pulled back the cue and hit the cue ball dead in the center, nice and easy.
The cue ball connected with the four ball with a smack. The purple ball rolled toward the corner pocket and slowed, teetering on the edge. But it had just enough momentum to carry it over into the pocket.
“Yes!” Tessa squealed, smacking Ryan’s raised palm to give him a high five. “You’re amazing. You actually talked me through it.”
“You did all the work. I was just your cheering section.” He winked in that way that made her tummy flutter.
“Well, thank you.” She smiled. “I appreciate it.”
“What are best friends for?” He shrugged, picking up his beer and taking a sip from the bottle.
“Thought I was playing Tess,” Roy Jensen grumbled. “Nobody said anything about y’all tag-teaming me.”
“Oh, quit complaining, you old coot.” Tessa stared down her opponent. “I always turn a blind eye when you ask for spelling help when we’re playing Scrabble.”
Roy’s cheeks tinged pink, and he mumbled under his breath as Tessa moved around the table, deciding which shot to take next. She moved toward the blue two ball.
“Hey, Ryan.” Lana, the way-too-friendly barmaid, sidled up next to him, her chest thrust forward and a smile as wide as the Rio Grande spread across her face. “Thought you might want another beer.”
“Why thank you, kindly.” Ryan tipped an imaginary hat and returned the grin as he accepted the bottle.
Tessa clenched her jaw, a burning sensation in her chest. She turned to her friend, whispering so neither Lana nor Ryan could hear her.
“Why doesn’t she just take his head and smash it between the surgically enhanced boobs her ex-boyfriend gave her as a consolation prize? It’d be a lot easier for both of them.”
“Watch it there, girl. You’re beginning to sound an awful lot like a jealous girlfriend.” Gail could barely contain her grin.
“There’s nothing to be jealous of. Ryan and I are just friends. You know that.”
“Best friends.” Her friend pointed out, as she studied Ryan flirting with Lana. “But let’s face it. You’re two insanely attractive people. Are you really going to try and convince me that neither of you has ever considered—”
“We haven’t.” Tessa took her shot, missing badly. It was a shot she should’ve hit, even without Ryan’s help. But she was too busy eavesdropping on his conversation with Lana.
“Well, for a person who doesn’t have any romantic interest in her best friend, you seem particularly interested in whether or not he’s flirting with the big-boobed barmaid.” Gail shrugged when Tessa gave her the stink eye. “What? You know it’s true.”
Tessa scowled at her friend’s words and the fact that Roy was taking advantage of her distraction. He easily sank one ball, then another. With no more striped balls left on the table, Roy had a clear shot at the eight ball.
He should be able to make that shot blindfolded.
“Well?” Gail prodded her.
“I’m not jealous of Lana. I just think Ryan could do better. That he should do better than to fall for the calculated ploy of a woman who has dollar signs in her eyes. Probably angling for butt implants this time.”
Gail giggled. “And why would he want a fake ass when he was mere inches from the real deal?” She nodded toward Tessa’s behind, a smirk on her face.
Tessa was fully aware that she’d inherited her generous curves from her mother. She was just as clear about Ryan Bateman’s obliviousness to them. To him, she was simply one of the guys. But then again, the comfy jeans and plaid button-down shirts that filled her closet didn’t do much to highlight her assets.
Hadn’t that been the reason she’d chosen such a utilitarian wardrobe in the first place?
“Dammit!” Roy banged his pool cue on the wooden floor, drawing their attention to him. He’d scratched on the eight ball.
Tessa grinned. “I won.”
“Because I scratched.” Roy’s tone made it clear that he felt winning by default was nothing to be proud of.
“A win’s a win, Jensen.” She wriggled her fingers, her palm open. “Pay up.”
“You won? Way to go, Tess. I told you that you had this game in the bag.” Ryan, suddenly beside her, wrapped a big, muscular arm around her shoulder and pulled her into a half hug.
“Well, at least one of us believed in me.” Tessa counted the four wrinkled five-dollar bills Roy stuffed in her palm begrudgingly.
“Always have, always will.” He beamed at her and took another swig of his beer.
Tessa tried to ignore the warmth in her chest that filtered down her spine and fanned into areas she didn’t want to acknowledge.
Because they were friends. And friends didn’t get all…whatever it was she was feeling…over one another. Not even when they looked and smelled good enough to eat.
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about reese ryan
Reese Ryan writes sexy, emotional love stories with family drama and surprising secrets. A panelist at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and recipient of the 2018 Donna Hill Breakout Author Award, Reese is an advocate for the romance genre and diversity in fiction.