Sneak Peek at Prince of Lies

Prince of Lies arrives February 14th, 2023. You can preorder it HERE. Enjoy this excerpt of Bash and Rowe…


I was supposed to be climbing Mount Kinabalu this week. 

I’d been prepared for some physical discomfort, for long days navigating unfamiliar terrain and communicating in a foreign language, but I relished the challenge and unpredictability of extreme adventures. Climbing icy peaks, diving out of airplanes, and rafting turbulent rivers pared a person’s existence down to their most important qualities: intelligence, courage, strength of will. That was what made them fun.

Then I’d made the mistake of answering my mother’s phone call.

One brief convo later—“Sebastian, darling, the Dayne family has donated hundreds of thousands to the Coalition for Children over the years. Your father and I are in the south of France and can’t possibly attend, but it wouldn’t do for us to snub the organization at their largest annual fundraiser. Can’t your trip wait?”—my expedition to Borneo had somehow morphed into a world-class guilt trip. 

Oh, there was still physical discomfort, alright, but in the form of a stuffy tuxedo. And there were communication challenges too, like explaining (repeatedly) that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, an amazing new investment opportunity, or to get anyone’s kid a job at Sterling Chase just because I happened to sit on the board of directors. My existence had been pared down to what was most important in this world: my bank balance and my connections… and it was the opposite of fun. 

In fact, this gala was a fun wasteland, where everything was black and white, cold and flat, and nothing new or exciting ever happened. 

As I stood in a small alcove off to the side of the MoMA’s elegant reception room, trying to coax my brain cells back to life after a mind-numbing conversation with Constance Baxter-Hicks about her topiary garden, her eligible, gay nephew Patrick, how much Patrick loved topiaries, and how desperately she’d like us to grow topiaries together, I decided I’d reached the upper limit of my boredom tolerance. Since I wasn’t leaving for Borneo, better to get some rest so I could focus on work in the morning.

I’d only taken a single step for the door when a man sailed across the polished floor directly in front of my hidden alcove, arms windmilling wildly. His face—snub-nosed and freckled and sort of weirdly… angelic—was frozen in terror, until he managed to grab a support column like a drowning sailor grabbing a life preserver, and swing himself into the shadows directly in front of me, where he landed on his feet.

Well. This was different.

“Good. Fucking. Fuck,” the man said succinctly and a bit breathlessly, bending over at the waist to catch his breath.

I resisted the sudden urge to laugh out loud. For someone who looked like he’d walked out of a Botticelli painting, he had a hell of a mouth on him… and the curve of the ass he was inadvertently displaying in his black pants wasn’t bad either.

“Impressive dismount,” I said mildly, startling the angel into jumping nearly a foot. “But I’m afraid you’re going to need to find your own potted plant to hide behind. This one’s taken.” He gasped and spun toward me, and his face morphed into an expression not unlike a disgruntled kitten—adorable and cranky. 

“You saw nothing,” he informed me with a glare. “Now back off—uh…” He hesitated as he belatedly looked me up and down, then from shoulder to shoulder. His eyes widened and he wet his lips, seemingly unconsciously. “…please?”

A knot of anticipation coiled in my gut. 

A stray curl chose that precise moment to flop directly in the center of his forehead, and I bit my cheek, torn between amusement and a burning desire to pull the man against me—

Whoa. No. Bad Sebastian.

Clearly, I’d had too much champagne because I did not hook up with strangers I met at fundraising galas. In fact, I’d rarely hooked up with anyone at all recently, and for very good reason.

But even knowing all that, I couldn’t stop myself from returning the man’s up-down look with a slow, appreciative appraisal of my own. Shiny brown curls, doe eyes, plush lips, fair skin. His tux was a size too big, but I could still see hints of the toned body it hid. And for the first time in a while, I felt a pulse of desire and challenge that reminded me a lot of the feeling I got when I prepared to scuba dive into a Mexican cenote or paraglide off a Turkish mountain.

Yes, this evening had definitely gotten considerably more interesting. 

Still staring at me, the man swallowed and made a strangled noise, then swallowed some more, like he was experiencing a powerful reaction as well. Either that or going into anaphylactic shock.

“You alright?” I asked, concerned.

“Me? Oh, ha! No. Yes. No.” He clapped a hand to his mouth and stared at me in horror like the words had babbled out against his will. 

Curiouser and curiouser. 

My lips twitched. “Enlightening. Thank you. Blink twice if whatever you have is life-threatening, three times if it’s contagious, Mr…” Belatedly, I glanced down to read his name tag and froze. “Wait. Sterling Chase?” I lifted an eyebrow. “You work there?”

That idea doused the flames of attraction in an instant. 

Sterling Chase was my company. My baby. 

It had begun as a way for my four closest friends and I to market the software we’d come up with our senior year at Yale—the Emergency Traffic Control software—but had grown into a billion-dollar startup incubator that helped other technology developers bring their big ideas to market. It was the place where I spent most of my time and all of my energy.

If this delectable stranger worked for Sterling Chase, that made him utterly off-limits. But… I couldn’t imagine how I could have failed to notice this man if he worked for me. He was nothing if not memorable.

Emotions flitted across his expressive face as he wrestled with the answer to what should have been a yes or no question. Fear. Nausea. Determination. He straightened his spine. 

Work there?” The man chuckled with excessive enthusiasm. “Ha! Do I work at Sterling Chase? No, my good man. No, indeed. I own the company.” He tapped his name badge proudly. “I… I am Sterling Chase.”

I blinked in disbelief. Beneath the freckles that dotted his nose and cheeks like a kaleidoscope of tiny butterflies, a blush of color crept across his face. A kind of nervous, excited, defiant energy rolled off him in waves… and no wonder. This Not-Sterling person was an angel-faced, sexy as fuck, lying liar. And he wasn’t even attempting to be subtle about it. 

Despite rumors to the contrary, there was no Sterling Chase. Not a human one anyway. In fact, as only maybe five other people on the planet knew, my friends and I had named the company after my friends’ college pets: Silas’s iguana Chase, and Zane’s ridiculously hairy, pain-in-the-ass Peruvian guinea pig, Sterling. 

But even as I stared at the man, waiting for him to back down or equivocate, Not-Sterling set his jaw, threw his shoulders back so forcefully his shirt buttons would have popped if the garment had fit properly and attempted to look down his nose at me—no mean feat, since I was six-foot-one, and he was at least six inches shorter. 

Logic said I should contact security about this man immediately. But a fun-starved corner of my brain reminded me that it had been a hell of a long time since I’d been so intrigued by anything—not by a scientific breakthrough, or an extreme adventure, or the men who occasionally warmed my bed. So when that part of me whispered that I should fuck with the man instead, I listened. 

“Sterling Chase.” I gave him a broad smile. “I must say, you’re not at all how I pictured you.”

“I bet.” He coughed lightly. “I mean… I bet you imagined Sterling Chase was old and crotchety?” He nodded to himself. “And you probably thought since Sterling had more money than god, he’d be all high and mighty, too, but no. Sterling Chase is down to earth. One might even say… quirky. You know, the sort of billionaire who smells like corn chips on purpose.”

Dear god. 

I ran a hand over my mouth to hide the smile I couldn’t restrain. “And I imagine talking about yourself in the third person is part of the quirkiness?” 

“Er.” His blush deepened and he stuck a finger in his collar like his tie was suddenly tight. “Yes. Exactly.”

My gaze narrowed on his collar and on the tie that ringed it. I leaned closer for a better look, inhaling the clean, soapy smell of him. “Pardon me, but are those… bunnies? That’s very quirky indeed.”

He clapped a hand to his throat, hiding his tie, and his face went even redder. “Er. Yes. Well. In fact, they’re, ah, Playboy bunnies. You know, as in… Hugh?” He made it sound like he was name-dropping a close personal friend… who nobody had notified him died years ago. “They’re on my socks also. Always match your socks to your tie, my grandfather used to say.”

We both simultaneously looked down at his feet, where red and green Christmas socks protruded from his oxfords. 

“I mean…” he stammered. “I mean, match your underwear to your bowtie.”

“Your grandfather taught you to match your underwear to your bowtie,” I repeated blandly. “How avant-garde. Was he a dancer, perhaps?”

Not-Sterling looked vaguely panicked… then captivatingly confused. But when any sane man would have shut his mouth, this man kept babbling himself into a deeper pit. “Uh. Yes. I believe he did foxtrot from time to time. Before the war.” 

“Fascinating,” I said, shocked to find I meant it, not about his dancing grandfather, but about the man himself.  

Who was this guy with his strange babble, and his lies, and his overwhelming air of innocence? 

All I knew was that when he darted a glance around the small space like he was planning his escape, I was determined to keep him talking. 

“Well, Sterling.” I stuck out a hand for him to shake. “I’m Bash. It’s lovely to meet you in person at last.”

Not-Sterling frowned. “Bash.”

“Your new personal assistant, of course. We’ve been communicating by email for weeks. Don’t you remem—Ah!” I wagged a playful finger at him. “I see what’s happening here. You’re teasing, aren’t you?”

My lying angel’s eyes went nearly as wide and panicked as when he’d sailed across the floor. “I… yes,” he agreed faintly. “Ha! You caught me…. Bash. Erm. Lovely to meet you in person.” 

He put his smaller hand in mine and I gripped it tightly, my skin tingling at the warmth of him. Not-Sterling’s breath caught.

“I must say, I didn’t expect to meet you here tonight,” I went on without releasing his hand. “You tend to avoid social gatherings. And I thought you were hiking Mount Kinabalu this week.”

“Did you?” His eyes darted around the small space like a cornered animal, his voice so strangled I worried he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. 

“Wasn’t that what your last email said?” I blinked at him innocently. “Two weeks in Borneo, during which you’d be out of communication? Did you decide to skip the last portion of the trip? Did something happen?”

He nodded slightly and then squeezed his eyes tightly shut. His pulse fluttered frantically against my fingers. For a moment, I was certain he was going to drop the pretense and confess that he wasn’t who he’d claimed to be… but I was wrong. 

“Yes, I… I’m afraid I can’t talk about the trip, Bash. It’s too, ah… too fresh. Too painful.” He shook his head sadly. “Another of my quirky billionaire eccentricities. You understand.”

Quirky billionaire eccentricities. This was going to be good.

“I’m your assistant, Mr. Chase,” I said in a low tone, still holding him in place. “You can tell me anything.”

“Oh.” He leaned toward me like he was imparting a secret. I couldn’t help but lean in also. “You see… I lost my true love on the side of Mount Kinababloo.” He sighed gustily. “Poor Bubbles. I really… can’t speak of it anymore.”

I shook my head. This man was a liar—an unrepentant liar—and I should have been—was—disgusted. I knew better than anyone on the planet that money attracted con artists, cheats, and opportunists the way nectar attracted bees, and I hated that kind of manipulation. 

But Jesus, there was something about this man—maybe how innocently and poorly and entertainingly he lied—that got past my defenses. He was doing an impersonation of a rich person that should have been incredibly insulting but somehow managed to be endearing. And he made me want to see what he came up with next.

Preorder Prince of Lies here.