Authors: Lexxie Couper
For Mari Carr. Because she’s Mari Carr, damn it.
To the Down Under Divas: Jess Dee, Sami Lee and Rhian Cahill. You put up with my neuroses and make me laugh. For that I love you all.
Francesca-Maree—Frankie—Winchester, had to admit the party was a success. A wild, irreverent who-cares-if-I’m-a-grown-up-I-wanna-play-games success. She grinned. Lil always did know how to throw a party. Wonder if the supermodel’s big brother knew she’d thrown this one? If he didn’t, Frankie may have to step in and protect her client from a family blood shedding.
Grinning, she reached behind her and threaded her fingers through her best friend’s slender ones, tugging Miki along as they weaved their way through the crowded house. This was exactly what they both needed. Mikaila needed to forgot about the crap the last eight years of her life had thrown at her, and Frankie needed to forget…
A soft frown pulled at her eyebrows. Well, she didn’t actually need to forget anything. If she did, her whole PR business would come crashing down and the country’s most famous and infamous would be screwed. No, what she needed from this party was a chance to blow off some steam. To pretend for a little while she didn’t have the careers of almost fifty of Australia’s hottest celebrities resting on her slim but straight shoulders. To let her hair down and, in a word, go off like a frog in a sock.
“I don’t think I’m dressed for this place,” Miki shouted behind her, lagging a little.
Frankie flashed Miki a wide grin, pulled her closer and nudged her with her shoulder. “You look like jailbait. Perfect for this place.”
Miki snorted, but the corners of her mouth still curled. A little. “I look like a frump next to you,” she grumbled, obviously fighting her want to smile.
Frankie stopped and held out her arms, refusing to let Miki’s hand go even as she did so. “Honey, I look like a skanky ho. You know it and I know it.”
She looked down at her ensemble for the night—skin-tight black leather trousers, thigh-high black leather boots, a thick firefighter’s belt she’d bought at an op-shop and her favourite retro Han Solo T-shirt. The bright red one she used to wear when she was twelve. It still fit too. In a manner of speaking.
Miki rolled her eyes. “A skanky ho who has the heart of an angel, albeit a pushy angel. Which brings me back to what I was trying to say earlier—I’ve got the minutes of the last
Playgrounds for Hope
meeting and the state government has approved your application for third-level charity status, which means—”
Whatever she was going to say next was cut short by the sudden and altogether rude appearance of a man roughly Frankie’s height insinuating himself between them. A smirk Frankie knew he thought was sexy stretched his thin lips. “Baby,” he said, turning his back on Miki as he waved a dripping cocktail, complete with sliced fruit and paper umbrella, in Frankie’s face. “I’ve been waiting all night for you to get here.”
Frankie cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really? Wow, that’s a bit of a surprise, ’cause I have no freaking clue who you are.”
His right eye closed in a lewd wink, his smirk growing, well, smirkier. “I’m the man who’s going to take you home tonight in
Porsche and show you what a good time really feels like.”
Behind him, Miki burst out laughing.
Frankie studied him, a thorough head-to-toe inspection that made his smirk turn into a smug grin. Dressed in casual Armani, right down to his shoes and—she’d hazard a guess—boxers, the designer clothes came close to hiding the paunch squishing over his belt but failed to hide his narrow shoulders and broad arse. The watch strapped around his wrist was a Rolex, ridiculously expensive and in-your-face. She let out a steady breath. That was the trouble with parties in this part of Sydney—nine times out of ten, those attending had more money than God and thought they were just as powerful, if not more so.
guy was no exception, and by Frankie’s practiced eye, he had to be in importing. The I-can-deliver attitude rolled off him in waves.
Licking her top lip with a deliberately slow stroke of her tongue, she leant toward him. “I’m going to take
home tonight in
Audi R8,” she whispered, letting the words fall from her in a husky breath. “And I’m pretty certain I’ll have a better time with my vibrator than what I’d have with you.”
The guy’s mouth fell open.
Frankie slid her gaze to the chuckling Miki behind his right shoulder. “But instead, I’m going to be having an even better time with my lover.”
The man snapped his head in Miki’s direction so fast Frankie swore she heard his neck crack.
With a roll of her eyes, she tugged on her best friend’s hand again, pulling her away from their newfound chum and his newly red face.
“Lover?” Miki gave her an exasperated look. “You haven’t resorted to
since we were in senior year at high school.”
Frankie shrugged, reaching the crowded bar and elbowing a clearing for her and Miki. “What can I say? I’m a fan of the classics.”
Giving the barkeep—a very cute young man who probably worked the catalogue-model route—a wide smile, she ordered two tequilas, straight up. She passed one to Miki and held hers aloft. “To reliving our youth.”
Miki rolled her eyes. “God, I hope not. My youth was about being constantly unsure of everything. You were the one who threw caution to the wind and bucked the system whenever you could.”
Frankie grinned. “Good point. In that case, here’s to living right now.”
“I’ll take that one.” Miki clinked her shot glass against Frankie’s and, on the count of three, tossed the drink down in a single swallow. She then burst into a coughing fit so violent people around them stared at her with rising horror.
Frankie chuckled, patting Miki on the back. “That’s my girl.”
Leaning back on the bar, she rested her elbows and cast her gaze around the luxurious living room, currently packed to the rafters with a wide selection of partygoers all doing their best to forget for a few hours the pressures of adult life. Lil had done it again. The party’s theme this time was party games, the kind played by teenagers and kids when their parents had left them alone in the house for a weekend and their rampaging hormones got the better of them. There were various game stations throughout the downstairs areas of the multi-million-dollar mansion and Frankie didn’t doubt she’d find more upstairs. When it came to making memories, her client, Lillian McDermott, super-model extraordinaire, knew what she was doing.
A small glow of sheer happiness warmed Frankie’s hellion soul. She’d done some insane things in her lifetime. Growing up the only child of the country’s most successful and, let’s face it, extroverted record producer and his equally as outlandish publicist wife meant Frankie had zero boundaries. Zero boundaries and way too much pocket money, but a party dedicated to the thrills and utter joy of being a horny teenager was a new one for her. God, when
the last time she’d played Twister? Or Truth or Dare?
Hell, even Spin the—
Frankie’s gaze fell on a tall man moving through the crowd. A tall,
Jesus, you’ve got to be kidding me?
Her heart leapt into her throat, choking her, robbing her ability to breathe. She stared at him, her lips tingling, her stomach knotting.
He still stood taller than anyone else in the room, just as he’d always done, except now the wide width of his shoulders fitted perfectly with the broad expanse of his back and muscled width of his chest most definitely absent the last time she’d seen him. His arms were just as sun-kissed brown, but now their lengths were sculpted by smooth muscles the likes found more commonly on an elite athlete or model, his biceps straining the sleeves of his crisp white T-shirt. His stomach was just as flat, his backside just as tight in his faded Levis, Levis snug enough to reveal a bulge she’d never suspected of—
Frankie tried to swallow the lump in her throat, but to no avail, her stare fixed on the man striding his way across the busy living room. His honey-blond hair was still a scruffy mess, but now it looked too damn sexy for words, his cheeks and jaw were covered in a fine golden growth, the bristles doing nothing to hide the twin dimples in his cheeks when he smiled at those around him.
“Alley Cat.” The nickname formed on her tongue, a soundless whisper that made her nipples pinch tight.
She licked her lips, her mouth dry. What the hell was Alley Cat doing here? At a party in Avalon? And not just anywhere in Avalon, but the most luxurious house in the most exclusive street? Who could he possibly know with the social connections to be invited to a party at Avalon?
A prickling heat filled her cheeks at the last question and she pulled a face. It was churlish. That kind of societal, socio-economic snobbery was beneath her. Her parents may have lived by it, may have bathed in its pretentiousness every day, but she didn’t.
“Seriously, what the hell does a kid from Penrith think he’s doing at a school like Knox Grammar?”
The snide comment Frankie had hissed into Miki’s ear over a decade ago at an interschool mock-trial competition, whipped through her mind and she swallowed. Okay, so she
lived by it at one stage of her life, but that was a long time ago. Before she’d grown up and realized how shallow it was. Before she found the notion of class discrimination distasteful.
Before she started feeling…things…for Alley Cat that unnerved her to no end.
She tracked his path through the partygoers, her throat tight, her cheeks warm. Aleczander Harris. The bane of her entire high school existence. The kid who had beaten her at everything. Debating. Public-speaking. State mathematic championships. Hell, he’d even beat her at freaking regional mixed-doubles tennis tournaments. If her school was pitted against his, he beat her. Every time.
Alec bloody Harris.
Here. In the flesh.
As if he felt her stare, Alec swung his head in her direction, his brilliant blue eyes—still the colour of a cloudless summer day—finding her with ease.
Her heart just didn’t thump harder in her throat, it damn near tried to slam its way out of her body through her mouth.
“You spoke really well today, Francesca.”
“And still you beat me.”
His blue eyes widened at her sharp response, his broad shoulders pulling a little straighter, his Adam’s apple jerking up and down his throat. She drove her nails into her palms. Damn it, that wasn’t what she wanted to say. She wished she could take the words back, but she couldn’t. She was Frankie Winchester. She didn’t let
get to her. No matter how much her stomach knotted when she sees him, no matter how many times she wondered what it’d be like to kiss…
“I gotta go,” she burst out, shoving the jarring memory away as she shoved her still-untouched shot glass into Miki’s hand. Half the contents splashed onto her own gazillion-dollar boots but she didn’t care. She’d deal with that later. After she’d escaped the suffocating living room.
“Huh?” Miki blinked at her, expression more than a little panicked. “What do you mean go? Where? Frankie, you’re the one who dragged me to this party. You can’t leave me here alone.”
She tore her stare from the man watching her from the other side of the living room. “I…I just saw…I think I saw…”
Frankie shook her head. She knew what Miki would do if she uttered the name
. Roll her eyes and say, “Oh God, not
“What the hell is wrong with you, Frankie?”
She gave Miki a wobbly smile. “I just need some air. I’ll be back. Promise.”
Miki’s eyebrows shot up, but Frankie couldn’t stay. Not when she was being attacked by a past she didn’t want to remember. Or own. She barged her way back through the crowd, heading in the opposite direction Alec was heading. As quickly away from him as the packed room would let her.
Which in her shell-shocked opinion wasn’t bloody quick enough.
Alec watched the stunning brunette with the wild curls, skin-tight black leather pants and just as tight red T-shirt barrel her way through the laughing partygoers.
Holy shit, is that The Gun?
He straightened his spine a little, turned back and stretched his neck in an attempt to track the brunette’s trajectory out of the living room.
Was that really The Gun? A frown pulled at his eyebrows as he peered over the heads of those around him. The woman slipped through the crowd, dodging people with the skill of a professional rugby union player, her glossy dark curls bobbing against the back of her neck and shoulders in an excited little dance. He frowned again. Maybe it wasn’t The Gun? He hadn’t seen Francesca Winchester for close to ten years, so he could be mistaken. Francesca Winchester had straight dark hair, long enough to brush the curves of her arse cheeks and was a touch more…cuddly than the pocket-rocket darting her way through the rowdy partygoers. Yeah, he had to be mistaken.
No, you’re not.
A wholly unexpected tension filled his balls at the possibility, squirming up into the pit of his stomach and sending ribbons of heat down into his dick. He ground his teeth, his grip on his glass—a crystal highball half-full of some exotic alcoholic concoction—growing firmer.