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Bad Reputation by S.L. Scott (1)

Prologue

Hutton

“I’m going to talk to her.”

“Damn, dude,” my friend Gear says. “You have balls of confidence.”

“Why do you say that?” I ask, unable to tear my eyes away from the most beautiful woman in the bar. Despite wearing the frumpiest costume I’ve ever seen, she stands out among the crowd. Beauty like hers doesn’t blend in.

“She’s the hottest chick in the place, even if she is dressed like that,” Gear says.

“Exactly.”

She brushes a strand of chestnut-colored hair off her perfectly poised shoulders as she takes a sip of her drink. Her skin is smooth and without the tanning bed glow most women my age have. It’s refreshing. And compelling. And a complete turn-on.

“Lemme ask you something. I know the Everest brothers tend to get what they want, but have you ever been shot down, Hutton?”

“No.”

Gear rolls his eyes. “Well, I have and it sucks.”

A group of college-aged kids huddle at the end of the bar. There’s no doubt they’re trying to summon the courage to talk to her.

“Do you have a point?” I ask. “Because, if not, I’m heading over there.”

Two fingers come out from around his pint glass and point her way. “There’s a reason no guy is approaching her. She’s gorgeous, but for fuck’s sake, I bet she’s a cold-as-ice princess, man. And you didn’t even dress up for Halloween.”

I glance at my attire. The same gray dress pants and white button-down shirt I left Houston in this morning cover my body. I didn’t have time to plan for Halloween.

“Check out the devil in the corner.”

Three women dressed to be noticed stand in the corner with empty glasses. Their coy act—looking around innocently while batting their eyelashes—stand in stark contrast to the costumes they chose this Halloween. And Gear falls right in line with what they are going for. He nods his approval.

I check out the woman he’s eyeing, but there’s nothing there that draws me. She’s sexy—hot, even—but when I shoot a glance back at the other one in the corner, there’s no comparison.

“She’s all yours,” I say. “And probably anyone else’s who wants her tonight. I like to fuck, but it’s not about quantity. It’s about quality.”

“So you’re saying the frumpy princess is quality? How do you figure?” Gear asks, then takes a sip of his beer.

“Because she doesn’t have to show off that sexy little body she’s hiding under that dress. Pay attention. See how the top hugs her chest?”

“Yeah.”

“I can tell how her breasts are shaped—full teardrops that are more than a handful. And I have big hands. Also, they’re real, or they’d ride high.”

“What’s wrong with fake tits?”

I laugh. “Nothing. Just telling you how I break it down.”

“Okay. Go on,” he says, setting his glass down and then crossing his arms. “What else, oh wise one?”

“Is that sarcasm I detect?” I joke. “Just for that, I’m not giving you anything else. You can figure out life on your own.”

Gear pops back with some ridiculous retort, but his words fall on deaf ears. My eyes return to the beauty just in time to catch her eyes on me. I nod out of habit and instantly kick myself for it. Fuck. That’s not going to impress her.

She smiles but turns away to talk with her friend who’s dressed in what appears to be a deflated ball gown. Then I get it. And as soon as I realize what they’re dressed up as, I start laughing.

“I get the frump,” I state.

“Huh?” Gear motions for another beer. “You get what frump?”

“I know what she’s supposed to be.” The bartender draws my attention when he tosses a bottle in the air, much to the amusement of the small crowd watching. I’m amused, too, but not with him. A single plastic slipper sits unattended at the end of the bar. It appears to be a discarded costume prop.

Perfect.

“This is all I need,” I tell Gear, grabbing the shoe.

He laughs. “A shoe can’t save you from blue balls. Save your balls the trouble.” I tuck the shoe into my belt at my back.

I take a deep breath. “I’ll be back . . . unless I get lucky, and then I’ll see you tomorrow before I leave.”

He takes the filled glass from the bartender and tips it my way. “I’ll bet you the next round you’re back here before I can order another one.”

“You’re on,” I say, already walking away.

The pretty woman tracks me as I make my way over, a small smile playing on those delicate lips I hope to be kissing later.

Her gaze heats my blood. The slight lift of her chin making it hard not to walk too fast or start talking too quickly.

Play it cool, Hutton.

The bandana on her head only hides the top. The rest of her brown hair flows down over her back in soft waves. She clasps her hands in front of her and stands, angled my way, as if she’s waited her whole life for me.

I get the evil eye from her friend, but I don’t let her derail me from my mission. “Hello,” I say, holding out my hand.

She sets her hand gracefully on mine. I bring it to my mouth and kiss the top. But before she pulls away, I gently turn her hand over and kiss the underside of her wrist, letting my lips linger and my eyelids dip as our connection overwhelms me. I release her hand and look up, noticing that her breathing has picked up like mine. I’m about to ask something stupid like, “You felt that, right?” but stop myself. I would sound like a lunatic.

Then the beauty whispers, “Do it again,” and I realize I’m not insane. She feels it too.

I kiss her wrist again, feeling her pulse race beneath my lips. Blood rushes through my veins, causing my heart to pick up its pace even more. Her smile tells me everything. If destiny had a name, she’d be called . . . wait.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Ally.”

Ally. “That’s a beautiful name.”

“Thank you. What’s yours?”

“I’m Hutton. Hutton Everest.”

A smile plays on her lips. “Like the mountain?”

“Just like it.” Noticing her empty hands, I ask, “Can I buy you and your friend a drink?”

“We’d like that.”

A grin splits her cheeks, the tops of which are perfectly pinked. I need to say something to get the drinks I promised, but all I can do is look at her.

Her friend takes a step forward. “Before we go any further with this—”

Ally taps her friend’s arm. “Don’t be rude, Margie.”

“I just want to test him,” Margie says as though it’s an inside joke . . . at my expense.

“It’s okay,” I say. “I can handle it. I don’t mind being put to the test. Nothing great was ever gained without effort.”

“Emerson?” Margie asks.

Detecting animosity in her tone, I try to maintain my grin and attempt to keep things light. “Everest. My dad. It’s his motto. Work hard. Work harder.”

Ally giggles. “I think he forgot the play part.”

“Nah. That’s just his sense of humor. It’s another Everest gem.”

Margie rolls her eyes. “Sounds like a bundle of fun.”

“Maybe not fun, but he’s a good man.”

Ally ignores Margie and squares her shoulders toward me. “His strong work ethic is admirable.”

Unpretentious. Confident. Gorgeous. She’s easy to admire.

“What do you do for a living, Hutton?” she asks.

“I’m a financial analyst for Everest Equity.”

“Is that your company?”

“My dad started the company twenty years ago, and when I graduated from UT, I joined him.”

Ally’s eyes sparkle. “I go to the university. I’m getting my master’s in business communications and international relations.” She tugs at the waist of her dress, drawing my eyes to her breasts when they jiggle.

“Impressive,” I say, focusing on her degrees and not her great tits. “What made you choose that path, Ally?”

“Like you, just following in my family’s footpath.”

“Footsteps?”

“Yes, sorry, that’s what I meant.” A tinge of embarrassment colors her cheeks. “I can earn all As in school, but I always mix up idioms.”

Could she be any more endearing?

Quality.

Margie sighs as if we’re boring her to death. “I didn’t think I’d be listening to talk of idioms on Halloween night.”

“Me neither, but here we are,” I tell her.

She looks me up and down. “Were the stores having a sale on your costume?” Rolling her eyes, she adds, “Perfectly Styled dark hair and cognac eyes. I bet you drive the ladies wild dressed like that.”

“Actually, I drove from Houston to see a band play. I didn’t have time to change after work.”

“Oh.” She furrows her brows. “I thought you were Prince Charming.”

“I guess it comes down to the eye of the beholder,” Ally says, eyes focusing on me.

“Seeing is believing,” I add.

“Well, do you know what we are?” Margie asks.

“I do.” Reaching around, I pull the plastic slipper from where I had it tucked into my belt and kneel before Ally. “Cinderella . . . and a wicked stepsister.”

Ally’s hands fly to cover her mouth when it drops open. A smile to rival the sun beams on her face. “What are the chances that we’d meet?”

“Some might call it destiny.” I’m not really expecting her to put on the fake shoe, but her flat shoe is dropped from her foot, and she points her toes.

Guess we’re doing this . . . acting out a fairy tale as if it’s real . . . in the middle of a bar.

“If the shoe fits,” I mutter in astonishment.

“Destiny. Indeed.” She rests her hand on my shoulder and slides her shoe back on. Her eyes stay on mine when I stand again. “I think I’ll take that drink now if the offer is still there.”

“It is, but under one condition.”

“What is that?”

“That I can see you again.”

That pretty smile returns. “How do you already know you want to see me again?”

“I don’t know it. I feel it. There’s just something about you.”

Destiny.

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