Authors: Tamelia Tumlin
Copyright © 2012 by Tamelia Tumlin
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without the written permission of publisher or author, except where permitted by law.
Cover design by
** ONE **
Showing up in one of New York’s most prestigious hotels dressed like a tart had never been one of Sophie Westbrook’s ambitions. Yet here she was. G-string and all.
Sophie balanced her cramped legs inside her latest masterpiece – a giant three-tiered partially plastic and partially edible chocolate pop-out cake. She pulled a face even though her assistant, Felicity, couldn’t actually see her. “Right. Jumping out of a cake like a two-bit tart has always been a dream of mine.”
“It won’t be that bad.” Felicity snickered.
Sophie snorted at her assistant’s obvious delight in her predicament. “Not for you. You’re not the one packed in here like a hooker in a box. At The Rinaldi of all places.
Great Pete! Foreign leaders, billionaires, movie stars – anybody who was
– frequented The Rinaldi. And those
probably wouldn’t find humor in her upcoming performance. Quite frankly, neither did she.
But, that wasn’t the reason she was in such a tither.
Sophie squirmed inside the confining plastic. Beads of sweat trickled down her neck into the valley of her exposed cleavage. Billionaires and movie stars didn’t make her nervous. She had hobnobbed with the best of them all her life and wasn’t the least bit intimidated by their holier than thou attitude. Of course, she didn’t necessarily care to parade around half-naked in front of them either, but she certainly wasn’t intimidated.
It was the mere thought of going back in the same hotel where she’d made a complete and utter fool out of herself six years earlier that had her insides in turmoil. Of course, it hadn’t been called The Rinaldi back then. It had been called Olive Branch Resorts. Not that the name mattered. What did matter was the fact she’d picked up a stranger in the hotel bar and went back to his suite for the best mind-blowing sex she’d ever had in hopes of forgetting her sudden tragic loss. She never dreamed the sexy Italian who had charmed the pants off of her was actually half-owner of the hotel. Or course, once she had realized it, she’d made sure their paths never crossed again. In a city of a million plus people that hadn’t been too difficult.
Her stomach tightened. What if she ran into–
Sophie gave herself a mental shake. No! Life wouldn’t be that cruel. Packed in a cake like a trollop was enough humiliation for one day. There was no way she could face
again on top of this. Seriously. The gods would really have to have it in for her for that to happen.
Besides, hadn’t she had called ahead to make sure he wouldn’t be there? Hadn’t the nice lady on the phone assured her that he would be out of the country this week on business before she’d even agreed to cater the Carmichael shindig? Really, she assured herself, there was no need to panic. The odds were in her favor this time. Sophie took seven deep breaths to calm her rapidly unraveling nerves. Surely even fate couldn’t botch this up. She’d taken every necessary precaution to make sure she never had to face Maximus Rinaldi again.
“You know, boss, I’d do this for you if–”
“I know, I know. You’d be in here if it weren’t for your asthma.” Sophie interrupted, shifting her weight inside the plastic mausoleum. She winced as a muscle contracted in her calf.
Wonderful. A Charlie horse was coming on.
She rubbed her calf and inhaled the succulent scents of imported dark chocolate surrounding her. Even the rich aroma couldn’t distract her from the fact she was about to make a fool of herself.
In the Rinaldi Hotel.
Sophie grimaced. Any other time she would have savored each cocoa whiff. After all chocolate
a girl’s best friend. But, apparently today chocolate had it in for her because in the span of a few short hours she had gone from self-made rising entrepreneur and owner of A Touch of Spice Catering to fate-made bimbo in a box.
Not exactly her best career move.
Sophie tugged at the barely-there royal blue sequined string top covering her ample breasts. A fruitless effort since she had too much bosom – even for a modest C cup – for the teensy triangles attached to even teensier strings. “Okay, girls,” she muttered patting her chest, “stay put. You don’t want to be responsible for some old geezer kicking the bucket.” She sent up a silent prayer that one of her
wouldn’t accidentally make an appearance during her client’s seventieth birthday party.
“Remind me again exactly why I agreed to make a spectacle of myself.” Sophie raised her voice so Felicity could hear her through the plastic layered cake. She hoped she didn’t sound as deflated as she felt.
“Because you didn’t have the heart to disappoint an old man on what could be his last birthday.”
“Right. No disappointments. That’s me.” Sophie expelled a long sigh.
Except for my father. Then again, the Good Lord Himself couldn’t have pleased that man.
A lump formed in her throat. She immediately gulped it down.
Been there, done that and bought the tee-shirt.
No point in dwelling on the past. At least she finally found the good sense to stop trying to please
man. “Okay. Let’s get this show on the road.”
“We’re off then. Old Mr. Carmichael is waiting.” Felicity snickered again. The sound slid over Sophie’s raw nerves like sandpaper.
We’re off all right. Off the deep end.
Sophie felt the cart carrying her inside the cake move across the carpet, then heard a door creak open and slam behind her. Seconds later the cart stopped and the top tier – an edible red velvet chocolate cake – lifted. Sophie’s heart bungee-jumped to her stomach as an oversized chandelier hanging from the vaulted ceiling came into view. Oh, lord!
Here goes nothing. One. Two….
Sophie sprang up, resisting the urge to hold her
in place, plastered on the best smile she could muster and shouted a cheery, “Happy Birthday!”
A distinctive wheezing noise caught her attention. She whipped her head around just in time to see Felicity’s brown eyes bulge like a choked Chihuahua. Her assistant grabbed her throat, wheezed again and made a mad dash toward the door.
An asthma attack. Perfect timing, Felicity.
Guilt poked her in the stomach and Sophie instantly felt contrite. No need to be a sour apple. It wasn’t Felicity’s fault she was in this mess. Nor could her assistant help the fact she had asthma. Fate simply had it in for her. Always had and always would.
Swallowing a sigh, she sucked in a deep breath careful not to make eye contact with anyone in the room – why make this even more embarrassing? – then placed her blue three-inch spiked heel onto the footstep inside the cake and attempted to climb out with as much dignity one could rally wearing a blue-sequined G-string. She managed a somewhat graceful exit onto the black lacquered table in front of the cart. Then for a few spine-tingling seconds she teetered like a bowling pin before her legs finally found their bearings.
Okay. Still standing. That’s a good sign.
Where was the music? The laughter? This was a birthday party, wasn’t it?
Keeping her eyes averted, Sophie leaned over the cart and pushed the button on the CD player. Soft, rhythmical tambourines of
Belly Dance Nights
filled the room. She closed her eyes, gritted her teeth and started to sway.
Please let me be somewhere close to the beat of this horrific music
Coordination had never been her thing.
What the hell are you doing?”
The deep masculine voice thundered over the tambourines and harps streaming from the CD.
Startled, Sophie’s eyes flew open. The breath rushed from her lungs and tentacles of awareness gripped her spine. All oxygen seemed to evaporate from the room.
Oh, dear heavens no! It can’t be!
Looming – definitely looming with at least six feet or so – at the opposite end the of the rectangular table in front of a large white projector screen displaying vibrant bar graphs stood the one man she hoped she’d never see again.
The sexy Italian she’d practically thrown herself at six years ago.
Sophie blinked, clenching her fist so tight her nails dug into her palm.
Please, please, please let this be some sort of an illusion
She swallowed hard, her eyes taking in his tanned olive skin, thick dark hair with just a hint of curl brushing the collar of a charcoal Armani suit, a proud Italian chin, cold dispassionate gray eyes and an arrogant, unsmiling face.
The man staring back at her definitely wasn’t seventy and this was no birthday party.
Oh, God, please, please, please don’t let him recognize me
* * *
Maximus Rinaldi stiffened in mid-speech, laser pointer in hand, a thin red beam aimed straight at a creamy bare midriff connected to long, sinewy legs on top of the table. His gaze swept over the nearly naked woman giving what could only be described as a pitiful attempt at some kind of dance – or was she having a seizure? – in the private conference room filled with his Chinese investors.
Max clenched his chin. His
Shoulder-length auburn hair swirled around a pale heart-shaped face with each distorted movement and shocked, lovely green eyes flecked with a sensuous mocha starburst seemed to bore into him, but what he noticed the most was her full, voluptuous body covered with only–
Max blinked. Strings?
His jaw twitched. Damn. It
strings. Royal blue with shiny baubles that left very little to the imagination. Especially, since she had just leaned over and given his colleagues a very interesting view of her thongs. Max’s chin tightened. A very nice view he might add and any other time he might have appreciated the distraction.
Might have even been amused.
But this was not that time. Not with a roomful of potential investors now murmuring disapprovingly among themselves about the morals – or rather the lack of morals – of Western women. A sound he didn’t care to hear after spending the better part of two hours convincing them that his hotels were a
and sound investment.
What the hell are you doing?” Max flicked off the laser and strode toward her with long purposeful strides. “And for God’s sake turn off that dreadful music.”
The woman’s eyes widened, a flush creeping over her cheeks all the way to her hairline. For a brief second, Max almost felt sorry for her. For whatever reason she had felt the need to interrupt his business meeting and break into a dance – or whatever in God’s name she was trying to do – that she certainly wasn’t any good at it. Max’s brows slashed downward. Who was she? A spy sent by another company? Someone sent to sabotage his meeting? Or simply another gold-digger trying to get into his wallet?
“Right. Sorry.” The woman leaned over, her hair falling forward like flames around her face, and punched a button silencing the harps and tambourines. Max sucked in a sharp breath as the movement flashed the room another eyeful of her charming derriere and along with it the small birthmark situated along her right thigh.
Max drew his brows together. Hadn’t he seen that dark half-moon somewhere before?
He reached her end of the table just as she straightened. He froze and a soft breath hissed between his teeth. God, she reminded him of…