By: Lauren Layne
Released October 6, 2015
Meet the men of Oxford magazine! In the first captivating spin-off of Lauren Layne’s Sex, Love & Stiletto series, a not-so-friendly battle of the sexes turns into a scorching office romance.
Hotshot sports editor Cole Sharpe has been freelancing for Oxford for years, so when he hears about a staff position opening up, he figures he’s got the inside track. Then his boss drops a bombshell: Cole has competition. Female competition, in the form of a fresh-faced tomboy who can hang with the dudes—and write circles around them, too. Cole usually likes his women flirty and curvy, but he takes a special interest in his skinny, sassy rival, if only to keep an eye on her. And soon, he can’t take his eyes off her.
Penelope Pope knows all too well that she comes off as just one of the guys. Since she’s learned that wanting more usually leads to disappointment, Penelope’s resigned to sitting on the sidelines when it comes to love. So why does Cole make her want to get back in the game? The man is as arrogant as he is handsome. He probably sees her as nothing more than a barrier to his dream job. But when an unexpected kiss turns into a night of irresistible passion, Penelope has to figure out whether they’re just fooling around—or starting something real.
“First game?” he asked.
Brown eyes flicked to him, barely. “What?”
“First baseball game?”
That got her attention. For the first time, she seemed to really look at him. Her eyes drifted over him slowly, before returning to his, her tone just slightly annoyed. “No. Not my first game.”
“Ah,” he said, already mentally maneuvering into a backpedal. “Bad assumption of me. You were just so into the game . . .”
“So you figured I must be trying to figure out how it all worked?” she asked. “That I must be trying to understand why some of the field is green and some is brown, and whatever could those white squares on the dirt be, and why-oh-why are those men running toward the white squares, but only sometimes . . .”
“All right,” Cole said with a laugh. “I’m an ass. You know baseball.”
Her smile was quick and easy, and he was relieved to see that she wasn’t one of those snippy, hold-it-against-him-forever types. “I know baseball.”
Is that what’s in your notebook? Baseball stuff?
She took a huge bite of her hot dog, completely unabashed at her bulging cheeks, and Cole hid a smile, pretending instead to be fixated on the game.
Hell. When had he ever had to pretend to be fixated on the Yankees?
“You were partially right,” she admitted, after swallowing.
He glanced at her. “Oh yeah?”
She grinned. “This is my first Yankees game.”
“I knew it,” he said, matching her grin full on. “I knew there was something virgin about you. But tell me, how come a baseball fan like you never made it to Yankee Stadium until now?”
“Well . . .” She licked a spot of mustard off her finger, but not in the slow, deliberate way that most women he knew would have done it. “It’s a long way from Chicago . . .”
Cole tore his eyes away from the way her lips closed around her thumb, sucking off that mustard. “You’re from Chicago?”
“From there, yes,” she said. “But let’s just say that as of two weeks ago, I’ll be spending a lot more time here than at Wrigley.”
“Ah. You’re new to New York.”
“How do you like it?”
She hesitated. “It’s . . . intense.”
“Meaning . . . we New Yorkers are scary as hell?”
She smiled. “Well, it’s not as hostile as I’d been warned, but yeah. We Chicagoans are a bit more openly friendly than you New Yorkers.”
“I’m friendly,” he countered.
Tiny Brunette laughed. “No. You’re just incredibly charming. And a smidgen good-looking.”
He gave her his best bedroom look. “Am I?”
She smiled. “You know you are.”
Their eyes held for a moment, and Cole was startled to realize it was the most relaxed—the most himself—he’d felt around a woman in . . . hell . . . he didn’t know.
Mostly he was used to throwing out a couple of witty lines, a few slow smiles, and watching women counter with moves of their own.
There were no moves with this woman. She merely was.
Cole realized he didn’t even know her name.
“So tell me, as a Chicago baseball fan, are you Team Cubs or Team White Sox, Ms. . . .”
“Pope,” she said. “Penelope Pope. And both.”
Cole’s subconscious acknowledged that Penelope Pope was somehow exactly what this woman’s name should be. Perky and alliterative. His consciousness, however, latched on to another fact. “Both?”
It was not a typical answer. Most people had one baseball team, even if you were from a city with two teams, as Penelope was.
She shrugged. “Baseball’s not about who wins. It’s not even about who’s playing. It’s about the game. The consistent flow of it, the smack of the ball against the glove when you’re lucky enough to be sitting along one of the baselines, instead of stuck up here in this stuffy box—”
He stared at her. The words so closely echoed his own thoughts from just moments before that he wanted to kiss her.
She might just be his dream woman.
“That explains the hot dog,” he said.
He nodded his chin at the last bite of hot dog, ignored in her left hand. “The hot dog. You’re in a luxury suite in Yankee Stadium with a whole buffet of gourmet foods, and yet you went and fetched the most basic hot dog you could find.”
She grinned. “Guilty.”
Cole turned his body all the way toward her now. “Tell me, Penelope Pope, what brings a Cubs and White Sox fan all the way to New York where you’ll face a whole new dilemma of choosing between the Yankees and the Mets . . .”
Tiny Brunette never got to answer.
The shadow of someone coming up behind their seats caused them both to turn. It was Alex Cassidy, Oxford’s editor in chief, looking down at them with a half-amused, half-worried expression.
“Cassidy,” Cole said. He lifted an eyebrow and silently added, Nice of you to show up.
“Sorry I’m late,” Cassidy said, not really sounding sorry at all. “I got held up.”
Automatically, Cole’s eyes scanned the luxury suite until he found the pretty woman he knew was likely to be somewhere around here . . .
Yup, there she was.
Emma Sinclair, Cassidy’s long-ago runaway bride, with whom he’d recently reconciled, was surreptitiously wiping smudged lipstick from the corner of her mouth.
His eyes returned to his boss, this time looking closer . . .
“Third button, dude,” Cole said wearily.
The always polished Cassidy glanced down, and without so much as wincing, fixed the misaligned buttons of his shirt.
Cole should have known. A naked Emma Sinclair was the only thing that could throw Alex Cassidy off his rigid timetable.
But Emma and Cassidy’s sex life was where the predictable part of the evening ended, because Cole was absolutely not prepared for Cassidy to reach out a hand to Tiny Brunette, a polite smile on his usually impassive face.
“Alex Cassidy. I’m so sorry I’m late, Ms. Pope.”
Cole glanced between the two of them. They knew each other?
“Not a problem,” she said, turning an easy smile on Cassidy. It was the exact same friendly smile she’d given Cole, and it very much made Cole want to punch his friend in the mouth.
“It’s refreshing to see you two playing so nicely,” Cassidy said with a droll look at Cole.
He narrowed his eyes at his boss, not sure what he was missing, but certain that he was missing something.
Cassidy answered Cole’s silent question with his usual professional businessman smile. “Cole, this is Penelope Pope.”
“We’ve met,” Cole said slowly.
“Excellent. So then you know that Penelope is our late-stage applicant for the sports editor role at Oxford?”
Very slowly, Cole turned toward Tiny Brunette. Took in her friendly smile even as he took in the sorry-not-sorry glint in her eyes.
This was his competition. This was the person standing between Cole and the job he so desperately wanted.
“I suppose I should have been more thorough when I introduced myself,” she said sweetly. “Penelope Pope. Sports editor.”
Plus side? At least now Cole knew what was in her damn notebook.
The downside? Everything else.
Lauren Layne is the USA Today Bestselling author of more than a dozen contemporary romance novels.
Prior to becoming an author, Lauren worked in e-commerce and web-marketing. A year after moving from Seattle to NYC to pursue a writing career, she had a fabulous agent and multiple New York publishing deals.
Lauren currently lives in Manhattan with her husband and plus-sized Pomeranian. When not writing, you'll likely find her running (rarely), reading (sometimes), or at happy hour (often).