The Charmer

By: Avery Flynn

Chapter One

Surrounded by Harbor City’s elite decked out in Armani and Michael Kors, Hudson Carlyle couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

Even in little kitten heels, she barely stood above people’s shoulders. Her long, dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, but a few strands of hair had escaped from the hot-pink elastic band and hung like limp string down her back. Then, there was the dress. Boxy and black, it stopped mid calf and left everything to the imagination. She could have been smuggling one of the ant colonies they were supporting with this fundraising cocktail party at the Harbor City Museum of Natural History under the damn thing. There was absolutely nothing about her to make a guy like him pause for a first look, let alone come back for a second and a third—except that’s exactly what he was doing. Why? Fuck if he knew. All he could think was that underneath her oversized black glasses were two startlingly blue eyes and a pair of cheekbones that had him itching for a paintbrush and a blank canvas.

A soft cough pulled his attention away from the mystery woman and over to his mother, who’d clearly caught him ogling. Shit. Hudson Carlyle’s mother was a barracuda in a bun, and there was no missing the danger signals in her steely gray eyes. He’d seen them before, when she’d set her matchmaking sights on his older brother, Sawyer. And now she was looking at him, her youngest son, with that I-just-found-the-perfect-sacrificial-lamb gleam in her eyes.

Rubbing the back of his neck, he tried to ignore the prickly sensation crawling along his skin and focus on the party before him.

At least the throngs of wealthy guests would help distract Helene Carlyle from whatever mission she was about to undertake. Well, that and the fact that the fundraiser they were attending was in the middle of the Harbor City Museum of Natural History’s Ant Lab—which was exactly what it sounded like. Shudder.

Each wall of the lab was made up of two sheets of glass with ant colonies sandwiched between them. If it wasn’t for the fact that he loved his family, there was no way in hell he’d ever be caught dead here. He’d much rather be hunkered down in his cabin, finishing up the paintings he’d sold. Or rather, that “Hughston,” one of Harbor City’s most sought after—and mysterious—artists had sold.

His chest tightened at the thought of all the little white lies he’d been telling his family for years to keep his double life a secret. They thought he was nothing more than a rich playboy, only interested in the next cover model he could get naked, and that was just how things needed to remain.

Still, when his family needed him, he came—even when it was to a place where the walls were literally crawling with bugs. Double shudder.

“Let’s mingle,” his mother announced in that well-bred tone that brooked no argument, then she hooked her arm through his and started walking.

He shook his head. And I guess we’re “mingling” now. Because of his height, he could look over the crowd and see the throngs of charity guests parting as though he was walking Queen Elizabeth across the red carpet, a person nodding at them here, another trying to gain their attention there. His mother acknowledged them with a gracious nod but didn’t stop. She was guiding them toward Hudson’s older brother Sawyer, who was standing next to, but not actually talking to, his former best friend Tyler Jacobson.

His mother continued as they went, “While I appreciate you being my escort for this fundraiser, I really wish you had someone of your own to bring.”

Hudson let a lazy half smile curl his lips and raised one eyebrow teasingly—a move that usually annoyed his mom as much as it made the city’s sexiest socialites sigh and lose their better judgment. “Be careful about saying ‘escort’ too loudly,” he warned. “We wouldn’t want to give people the wrong idea about what it is I do with all of my free time.”

She raised a matching eyebrow. “Considering I know almost every person here, and they all most definitely know who I am, we can safely assume that no one is going to mistake my son for an escort.”

“A guy can dream.” He shrugged with a laugh, his gaze again settling on his brother and Tyler. The animosity between the two men had lessened over the past few months, but they were nowhere near the friends they’d been for decades.

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