The Negotiator

By: Avery Flynn

To my mom, Carol, because we all become our mothers in the end. Also, because I’ve looked at her in that tone of voice too many times to still be alive and yet here I am—proof that a mother’s love can be infinite, even if her patience is not.





Chapter One


“I’m going to kill you, Hudson. Slowly. With a spoon.”

Sawyer Carlyle paced the five feet between his desk and the seating area in his office at the top floor of Carlyle Tower. Usually his office was his sanctuary with its cool, crisp, modern furniture and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked Harbor City, but today it was his hiding place.

When his executive secretary Amara Grant had buzzed him about the first mystery job candidate, he’d been confused. By the time the tenth had arrived, he knew his brother had set him up.

“You can’t kill me. And you’d better stop quoting shit movies or I’ll tell the world you enjoy chick flicks,” Hudson said, his laughter coming through loud and clear on the speaker phone. “Anyway, you need me. I’m the only person who can distract Mom from her mission.”

Oh yes. Operation Marry Sawyer Off. Helene Carlyle had come out of a three-year mourning period for their father with one thing—and only one thing—on her mind: finding the perfect wife for her eldest son. How Hudson had managed to miss out on all the fun was beyond Sawyer, but Mom had doubled down on her firstborn. So far all of the candidates had been slightly different versions of the same person. Old money. No personality. Always said the right things and played the Harbor City high society game. Plus, each of them had that strained, slightly pained look of someone forever holding in a fart. It was all the fake shit that Sawyer really didn’t have time for if he was going to keep Carlyle Enterprises growing while the international construction boom imploded.

He stopped in front of his desk, the ridiculous ad Hudson had sent out everywhere was open on his computer screen.

WANTED: PERSONAL BUFFER

Often snarly, workaholic, demanding executive seeks short-term “buffer” from annoying outside distractions AKA people. Free spirits with personal boundary issues, excessive quirks, or general squeamishness need not apply. 24/7 avail req’d. Salary negotiable. Confidentiality required.

Snarly. Workaholic. Demanding. So what? He was who he was and he wasn’t about to apologize for it.

Sawyer drummed his fingers on the top of his desk, empty of a single item except his computer monitor, wireless mouse, and the phone. “This damn ad is a joke.”

“Still, you have an entire anteroom full of candidates I’ve already pre-screened to not cry at your first snarl, so stop your bitching.”

Sawyer wasn’t “grumpy.” He was busy. Did no one understand the difference?

He pivoted and stared out the windows at the expansive view. He could point out the Carlyle Enterprises’ high-rises with barely a glance. It was the same in cities all over the globe. Their father, Michael, had made his mark, and now it was up to Sawyer not to tarnish the old man’s memory. In today’s market that was no easy feat, and it hadn’t been one he’d expected to take on quite so soon.

At thirty-two, he was the youngest Carlyle to ever head the family business founded four generations before. He’d trade that distinction for having his dad back in a heartbeat. “I never asked for this.”

“Actually, you did,” Hudson said, misunderstanding Sawyer’s declaration. “I believe it was after Mom cornered you with three potential wives at the museum fundraiser. And as all good little brothers should do in such a situation, I helped you escape, got you drunk, and then let you pour out your soul to me. You’re the one who told me you needed a buffer from Mom.”

The joke about a personal buffer had been funnier when Sawyer had been holding a half-empty bottle of Scotch.

“So after years of ignoring everything your big brother has ever told you in your entire life, you picked this as the one thing to pay attention to?” Sawyer shoved his fingers through his thick hair and turned back to face the phone as if Hudson could see his scowl. “All I wanted was for you to run interference and steer some of the candidates away from me and into your bed.”

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