Authors: Anne Oliver
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Contemporary Romance
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Have you been married before?’
Do I look stupid?
She received his message loud and clear.
She wrote ‘COMMITMENT-PHOBIC’ in her ‘Getting Acquainted’ column. She believed in marriage when two people loved and trusted each other and were committed to making it work. She just didn’t believe that she personally could do the long-term bit. Or maybe she was afraid to believe.
Did that make her as commitment-phobic as him? she wondered momentarily. Not at all, she told herself. She wasn’t phobic, just … careful. Right?
‘I’m also serious about sharing a little pleasure around the business aspect,’ he said.
‘Well, maybe I’m not.’ She added ‘APPROACH AT OWN PERIL’ to the list and slapped her notepad shut.
‘You were enjoying it fine a few moments ago.’
His eyes dared her to take issue with the inconvenient truth.
‘You didn’t give me time to … to change my mind,’ she said of their kiss. ‘I wasn’t ready.’
‘You’ve been ready since the last time we bumped lips.’
Bracing his forearms on his knees, he gave her that sexy grin that made her want to throw herself onto the couch next to him and beg him to do it again …
was born in Adelaide, South Australia, with its beautiful hills, beaches and easy lifestyle. She’s never left.
An avid reader of romance, Anne began creating her own paranormal and time travel adventures in 1998 before turning to contemporary romance. Then it happened—she was accepted by Harlequin Mills and Boon for their Modern Heat™ series in December 2005. Almost as exciting, her first two published novels won the Romance Writers of Australia’s Romantic Book of the Year for 2007 and 2008. So, after nearly thirty years of yard duties and staff meetings, she gave up teaching to do what she loves most—writing full time.
Other interests include animal welfare and conservation, quilting, astronomy, all things Scottish, and eating anything she doesn’t have to cook. She’s travelled to Papua New Guinea, the west coast of America, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the UK and Holland.
Sharing her characters’ journeys with readers all over the world is a privilege and a dream come true.
You can visit her website at www.anne-oliver.com
Recent titles by the same author:
THE PRICE OF FAME
THE MORNING AFTER THE WEDDING BEFORE
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT A REBEL
Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
T LEAST SHE
was going to die in spectacular fashion
Chloe Montgomery clenched her fingers around the tacky tar-smelling rope and tried to imagine that she wasn’t suspended
who knew how high?
above the pitch-black auditorium in one of Melbourne’s finest entertainment venues.
A rough knot below her feet scratched her bare soles. The way-too-small-barely-there costume dug into her ribs, making breathing almost impossible—especially when every shallow gasp could be her last.
‘You’ll be fine, Chloe,’ the guy behind her whispered as he made a final adjustment to the slim safety harness at the back of her waist. ‘Trust me, you’ll be the highlight of the evening’s entertainment.’
‘Trust you …’ Her voice came out reed-thin, a touch hysterical and barely audible above the rushing sound in her ears. How was she going to get one note of Happy Birthday out when her throat was closing over? She was no singer at the best of times.
‘Ready?’ the guy murmured.
‘Mmm-hmm,’ she managed between tightly pressed lips. What insane reasoning had convinced Chloe that she was up for this—in any way?
Because she wanted—
—to prove to her new boss
that she was an asset to her event-planning business. No task too hard, no unforeseen circumstance she couldn’t handle.
So when the artist booked for the event was involved in a car accident on the way here, Chloe had stepped up to the plate—or, in this case, the rope. And if everything went as planned, she’d be lowered onto the birthday boy’s lap, kiss him on the cheek, someone would be there to unfasten her harness and she could escape to the venue’s kitchens, challenge met and dignity intact. Dana would be only too grateful and impressed and desperately keen to take on such a valuable,
A single spotlight exploded into life, blinding her with its brilliance and holding her captive in its hot white light. The audience’s hushed murmur of anticipation rose into the stratosphere and she could feel every pair of eyes focused on her. Chloe, who’d spent her life trying and mostly failing to be someone people noticed, was finally the centre of attention.
A pity she was going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Thought fled as the rope shuddered and began its descent.
You’re supposed to sing,
she reminded herself.
Find the target, focus on him
. She squinted through the glare to the table directly beneath her. The cake, flickering with candles amongst champagne flutes, red foil stars and silver-ware, marked her destination.
A man was staring up at her with a faint smile—or was it a smirk?—on his lips. Hard to tell in the spotlight’s dazzle but there was enough candle-glow to make out that they were, indeed, very nice lips. Forget the lips—
imagine him naked
—wasn’t that what people afraid of public speaking were supposed to do? It couldn’t hurt here either.
Except that his wife had organised this surprise. Which reminded her she had a job to do …
Clearing the constriction from her throat, she launched
into a wobbly, out-of tune rendition of Happy Birthday, keeping her eyes pinned to his as she descended.
imagining him naked. Much.
Brilliant timing; she sang the last note as she reached table height and safety. She had to manoeuvre herself and the rope a little to ensure she landed on his lap. Her body prickled hot and cold all over when her barely covered bottom came into contact with a pair of rock-hard thighs, and she had to shift slightly to keep from falling off. Which would be easy to do because her whole body was trembling.
Warm palms slid firmly to her waist to steady her and she stifled a gasp at the electrifying contact. How embarrassing. How
. She lifted her chin and met his gaze. Up close his eyes were blue. A piercing, blinding blue that, to her shame, melted her insides to mush. ‘Happy Birthday …’ she finished in her best Marilyn Monroe voice, then came to a breathless pause. What the heck was his name again? Oh, my, he was …
Not available, Chloe
She leaned in to brush the expected kiss over his cheek, caught the whiff of his enticing masculine skin before his head turned and his lips were somehow on hers. Warm, firm. Friendly.
. Appalled, she peeled her lips away to stare at him. He stared back, those fascinating blue orbs sending all the wrong signals for a married man.
‘I’m not the birthday boy,’ he told her, before she could blink. He leaned closer so that his breath tickled her ear and murmured, ‘But then you already knew that, didn’t you?’
He jerked a thumb at the man on his left and leaned back, his hands dropping away from her waist. ‘Sadiq’s the one you should be kissing.’ The tone of bored cynicism belied the heat in his eyes.
She felt the safety harness being unclipped and realised
still sitting on his lap
. And … she went completely still … was she turning him on?
Not waiting to find out, she slid off immediately, her legs barely supporting her. ‘Hey,
kissed me,’ she whispered into his ear, keeping her smile in place, but furious with his dismissive attitude and furious with herself for making the mistake in the first place.
She turned her attention to the handsome black-haired, dark-eyed man who’d have looked right at home in one of those desert romance books. Way less unsettling. He was watching the two of them with an amused look, apparently unconcerned she’d stuffed up so sensationally.
she said with forced brightness and leaned down to kiss him to a roomful of enthusiastic applause. She wished him an enjoyable evening or some such but her mind was stuck on the previous thirty seconds.
You already knew
. The weird—and incorrect—accusation burned like a hot wire in her blood. How dared he—whoever the hell he was—insinuate she’d contrived this act to somehow seduce him?
. The taste of bile rose up her throat. An employee’s word over some fancy schmuck with the wealthy connections? Like that was ever going to happen. One word of complaint from him and Dana was
going to fire her.
Jordan Blackstone watched the blonde’s pretty cheeks flush, her well-endowed cleavage on full view as she made a fuss of his friend, privately enjoying her discomfort … and more than a little disconcerted at his own. Thankfully, she’d stood up before things had got too awkward. Another moment of her cute rhinestone-encrusted butt squirming on his lap, he’d have been in real trouble.
Women were always contriving new ways to meet him and he had to admit this one was unique. As was his body’s
response to hers. He hadn’t expected to find his dormant libido awakening so fast and so hard.
He watched her drop a quick kiss on Sadiq’s cheek. His own lips tingled at the memory of how they’d felt beneath his.
Soft and sweet
. What the hell had possessed him? Sheer momentary madness obviously, because in that pulse-pounding moment he sure as hell hadn’t been himself.
She didn’t hang around. He’d barely blinked and she was gone in a flash of sparkles and skin. The sort of shimmering flash that lingered on your retina long after the moment had passed.
He shook his head to clear the image. Soft and sweet was just a facade. No matter that she’d played the innocent mistake game, she was the type of out-there, attention-grabbing, rich-man-hungry woman he avoided. And that costume—what there was of it—was obviously intended to over-enhance her curves. Even if said curves were every man’s fantasy, it was hardly appropriate for this occasion.
And she couldn’t sing to save herself.
He picked up his glass, drained the bubbly mineral water to moisten his throat, which he realised had gone dust-dry, and watched Sadiq blow out his candles. A hovering waitress whisked the cake away to cut and distribute to the roomful of elite guests.
The band struck up a party number and dancers hit the polished floor amongst the bobbing helium balloons. Jordan gazed at the ceiling as the rope snaked upwards and disappeared over a balcony. ‘Well. That was … interesting.’
Sadiq chuckled. ‘Not as interesting as the look on your face when the lady landed on your lap, my friend. And that kiss … Want to tell me what you were thinking?’
Jordan scowled. ‘I
thinking.’ And that was the problem. He had to be grateful for Sadiq’s request to ban the media
from inside the venue or he’d be front and centre in tomorrow’s gossip rags.
His friend leaned closer and spoke over the noise. ‘A discreet word here or there and you could get lucky tonight.’
‘I make my own luck.’ A sultry image involving him peeling that costume from her lithe and voluptuous body danced on his eyelids. He blinked it away. ‘And she’s hardly my type.’
Another chuckle. ‘You have a type?’
Jordan didn’t bother to reply, just reached for the water carafe and filled his glass.
Not his type?
Hell, certain parts of his anatomy obviously begged to differ. She was hot, no question. And wasn’t that all he was looking for in a woman these days? Hot and single and temporary?
The sounds of merriment swirled around him as the music quickened, its throb beating low and heavy in his sensitised groin. He drained his glass, then tugged at his collar. Ever since she’d plonked that sexy butt on his lap and he’d felt her womanly assets graze his chest, his clothing had felt two sizes too tight. He could still smell her fragrance—warm and spicy and sensuous, making him think wicked thoughts; like lying naked with her in front of a roaring fire, her skin flushed with heat from their love-making.
Then there were the eyes. The colour of aged Scotch. He hadn’t missed that initial flare of attraction, that quick clash of heat on heat, gone before he could think
hot night in paradise
. No, he hadn’t misinterpreted that, but recognition …? He frowned. Had he got it wrong?
Because after the kiss and the accusation, those eyes had burned with a very different kind of heat—indignation. If there hadn’t been an audience, he had a suspicion he’d have felt the hot sting of that anger in one way or another.
And now that he thought about it, quite possibly he’d have deserved it. Maybe she was already in a relationship? But she hadn’t worn rings—and why he’d noticed was beyond him.
He relegated the confounding incident to the back of his mind, glanced at his watch and pushed up. Unfortunate timing, but his mate’s thirtieth birthday bash clashed with important business. He clasped Sadiq’s shoulder on his way. ‘Gotta go. Teleconference with Dubai in an hour.’
His friend nodded. ‘Good luck. You’re still on for lunch tomorrow?’
‘I’ll be there.’ He dropped a light kiss on Sadiq’s wife’s cheek. ‘‘Night, Zahira. Great party. By the way, I loved your surprise.’
Zahira’s dark exotic eyes smiled. ‘Wasn’t she delightful? And so brave to step in at literally a moment’s notice.’
Jordan, who’d already turned to leave, swung back. ‘Is that so?’
‘The original artist had an accident earlier tonight,’ she explained. ‘A member of Dana’s staff volunteered to take her place.’
Jordan felt a prick of guilt. Not a professional entertainer then, but a girl with maybe no experience who’d stepped in to save the day. That accounted for the debacle of a performance. It excused her actions; it didn’t excuse his. ‘Good for her,’ he mumbled. Then because he admired people prepared to give it a go and he’d treated her less well than he might have, he said, ‘She deserves a bonus at the end of the evening.’
Zahira flicked him one of those unreadable female looks. ‘I’ll tell her you said so when I hand it to her, shall I, Mr Blackstone?’
An odd sensation prickled the back of his neck. ‘That’s not necessary—I’ll tell Dana tomorrow at lunch.’ He pulled his car key from his pocket. ‘Enjoy the rest of the evening.’
Except for her boss, Chloe was the last to leave the building when she exited through the staff entrance at two a.m. She pulled on the worn leather jacket she’d bought at a charity
shop and swung her backpack onto her shoulders, glancing at the sky’s heavy underbelly and hoping she could make it home before it rained. The birthday boy’s wife, Zahira, had stopped by with praise aplenty and a nice fat wad of notes.
Dana had asked her if she wanted to take on regular work. Chloe did a little happy dance right there on the footpath.
What an evening! One minute she’d been swirling raspberry liqueur sauce over the desserts and wondering how she was going to make ends meet, and the next she’d been dangling over a balcony in a borrowed costume and singing in public.
Of course, it hadn’t
gone according to plan. She’d got the wrong guy, after all. And Mr Wrong had
at her—she was sure of it. She’d be the first to admit she couldn’t sing,
she was dead scared of heights, but she’d tried, hadn’t she? Jerk.
Then he’d kissed her. Tingles shivered through her body at the memory. The drugging taste of those lips, the way he’d held her safe on his lap so she wouldn’t fall, his musky masculine smell. Until he’d all but pushed her off with some ridiculous accusation that she knew him.
Chloe dismissed him with a snarl, then jammed on her helmet and headed for her scooter parked a few metres away and looking all the more ancient in front of a shiny new maroon SUV.
. The important thing was she’d come out on top. So it hadn’t been the world’s best performance; she’d made twice as much money in one night than she had since she’d stepped back on Australian soil a fortnight ago, and a regular job with reasonable pay would give her a realistic chance to resave the money she’d lost.
She slowed her steps, rubbed her arms against the chilly winter air. And then it just might be time to consider reconnecting
with her family. A friend she’d made while overseas had lost her chance to reconcile with hers when an accident had taken both parents. Chloe didn’t want to have the same regrets.