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Authors: Christie Ridgway

This Perfect Kiss

BOOK: This Perfect Kiss
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This Perfect Kiss

How appropriate that the word implies a journey and being kept afloat. This book is for three wonderful women who are traveling through the writing world with me and who keep me buoyant with their enthusiasm, good sense, and undying support. My thanks and love to Teresa Hill, aka Sally Tyler Hayes; Barbara Samuel, aka Ruth Wind; and Elizabeth Bevarly.



Chapter 1

When a woman stands five feet two inches, a hundred…

Chapter 2

Still brimming with excitement Jilly hurried through FreeWest, the small,…

Chapter 3

The rattle of Jilly Skye’s mode of transportation—Rory hesitated to…

Chapter 4

Terrified of Iris? Rory managed not to dignify that question…

Chapter 5

Two days after returning home, Greg Kincaid wandered into the…

Chapter 6

Rory approached the gates at the bottom of the Caidwater…

Chapter 7

Seated in a corner of the Bean & Leaves beverage bar,…

Chapter 8

Greg leaned against one of the few unadorned patches of…

Chapter 9

His mouth burned Jilly’s. She made a little sound and…

Chapter 10

In the small office at Things Past, Kim frowned at…

Chapter 11

Close to midnight, after too much talk with too many…

Chapter 12

Rory prowled around the library, pausing at the windows to…

Chapter 13

Jilly was able to duck any further discussion of their…

Chapter 14

The door to Kim’s apartment was at the top of…

Chapter 15

Rory strode in the direction of Things Past, moving quickly…

Chapter 16

Trying to ignore the new bruises on her broken heart,…

Chapter 17

Jilly battled a tumble of rising emotions. She’d fled the…


The last lavish Kincaid party at the Caidwater estate took…

That’s focusing attention from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., on Rory Kincaid, the 32-year-old, gorgeous, self-made software millionaire and scion of southern California royalty. But you’ll have to wait until February 14 to find out what that something is—when Kincaid hosts a fund-raising bash for the new Blue political party at his late grandfather’s estate, Caidwater.

Expect thunderclaps and lightning bolts in the skies that night when the gods of responsibility battle the gods of revelry. After all, those on the A-list of this trendy political party—the party that promises centrist policies and candidates so clean they squeak—will be mingling at the house once reputed to supply champagne in the swimming pools and willing starlets in the cabanas. The goings-on at past Caidwater parties fed gossip columns throughout the world. Of all L.A.’s magnificent estates, none tops this one for juicy scandals and never-quite-secret secrets.

Speaking of not-so-secret secrets,
can’t resist whispering that the word is sexy and single Rory Kincaid will announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate that night. When asked about Kincaid’s chances to win the seat, political pundit Lionel Urbin, the host of CNN’s
D.C. Dish,
said, “Pollsters are telling me that the Blue Party and Rory Kincaid are hot, hot, hot.” Urbin’s wife, bi-coastal celebrity hostess Alana Urbin, added, “He has Kennedy
charisma and Hollywood looks. Beyond that…there’s just something about Rory.”

can’t help but wonder how far the apple falls from the tree. After all, there’s not a more unlikely family than Kincaid’s to produce a squeaky-clean politician. Is Rory truly respectable, or is he really more like those infamous Hollywood legends, his father, Daniel Kincaid (4 wives), and his grandfather Roderick Kincaid (7 wives), who passed away last month at the lusty age of 90? Won’t it be fun to find out?
will be watching closely.


Don’t forget,
is always seeking tips. If you catch Rory Kincaid, or any other celebrity, doing the naughty, we want to know! Call us at 1-900-555-0155. ($.99 per minute, average call 5 minutes.)

magazine, Volume 26, Issue 1

When a woman stands five feet two inches, a hundred and
pounds (the
mainly located below the neck and above the waist), it’s a bad idea to attend an afternoon business meeting in a low-cut, flesh-colored evening gown.

Throw in spaghetti straps and a few gold sequins, and the fact that it was the most crucial business meeting of said woman’s career—make that her
—and the bad idea turned downright calamitous.

Jilly Skye realized this. But she also realized she didn’t have a choice. Not if she wasn’t going to be unforgivably late.

Still, she hesitated before pressing the intercom button this side of a pair of black, we-mean-business ironwork gates. They were the last in a long line of hurdles she’d scrambled over since early this morning, when Rory Kincaid had agreed to meet with her. Thanks to a buddy’s tip, she knew Rory wanted to dispense with a house crammed full of old clothing and costumes. Jilly was a vintage-clothing dealer who wanted into that house. Badly.


Despite tight-fitting chiffon, Jilly’s stomach executed several rabbit-worthy hops. Madness was the word, all right. Because even though the emcee of this morning’s charity fashion show had rambled the event into an hour overrun; even though Jilly’s assistant had left with
the clothing that her shop, Things Past, had brought to the show, including the business suit Jilly had intended to change into, even though her frantic phone calls to Rory Kincaid to explain her holdup had resulted only in a disinterested busy signal, nothing was going to keep Jilly from this meeting with Rory. Too much was at stake.

Determination renewed, she reached through her car window to press the intercom button. But her whole hand was quaking so, she snatched it back. “Calm down, calm down,” she muttered to herself. “This is no way to get a job. Take a deep breath.” But her obedient inhale turned into a gasp when her
threatened to pop over the dress’s deep décolletage.
Oh, my
. Pinching the top of the bodice to pull it up, she wiggled all the strategic body parts back down. Her cheeks went hot. What had seemed fun and fanciful to model at a for-women-only fashion event now seemed almost…scary.

Darn Rory Kincaid!
Her predicament could be partially blamed on him, too. If she’d been able to cut through those irritating busy signals and reach him this afternoon, she could have made time for a crucial wardrobe stop.

What the heck was he doing on the phone so long? The only thing that kept a number tied up
that continuously was a long-distance romance or some heavy Internet surfing.

It was bound to be the Internet. This Rory Kincaid was supposed to be some kind of software mogul. Like Bill Gates, he was young, successful and rich.

Bill Gates!
Jilly’s heartbeat slowed a smidgen.
Bill Gates
. She mouthed the name to herself again and her nervousness was reduced by a few more degrees.

When she pictured Rory Kincaid as someone like Bill Gates—someone bespectacled, shaggy-haired, and more interested in floppy disks than fashion statements—she could feel nearly confident. If cliché could be believed, techie-nerds lost track of time—well, practically all the time. And certainly he wouldn’t care what she wore. If she didn’t say anything about the evening gown, he probably wouldn’t even notice it.

The Bill Gates idea worked better than Alka-Seltzer. Stomach settling down and heart feeling light, Jilly stuck her arm out the car window and confidently jabbed the intercom with her forefinger. This job was hers. She lifted her chin and threw back her shoulders. As the gates slowly opened, she pressed down on the gas pedal, all the while mentally chanting her brand-new mantra,

Her car slowly climbed past the empty gatehouse and up the steep, curving driveway. She shifted in her seat, trying to wiggle herself more securely into the almost-nude evening dress. Yes, she told herself, this meeting was going to be just fine, as long as she held onto that BillGatesian
image of Rory Kincaid.
, she whispered silently, willing the idea to take deep root.

Just fine, she assured herself once again. A guy like she was picturing probably wouldn’t even notice she was a tad over, or rather,


Alerted via the intercom at the front gates that his tardy afternoon appointment had finally arrived, Rory Kincaid walked out of the Spanish-style Caidwater mansion and into winter air hovering at an obscene eighty degrees.

He grimaced with distaste.

A dry breeze brushed over him, carrying with it the light scent of orange blossoms and the heavier sweetness of flowering jade plants.

He held his breath.

All around him, birds twittered mindlessly, joining the unceasing good cheer of water bubbling up and over the eight fountains in the eight themed gardens surrounding the forty-four-room house.

The noise grated against his nerves.

Another breath of overhot, too-sweet wind wafted past, and Rory’s grimace deepened. It was as close to Paradise as January in southern California could get and Rory hated everything about it.

This was Super Bowl season, for Christ’s sake. If he must, he’d forgo rain and snow, but surely a nip in the air wasn’t too much to expect in the dead of winter? L.A. took its reputation as the
land of fantasies and wishes-come-true much too seriously. It always had.

Shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans, Rory moved away from the shadows beside the house. Immediately, diamond-hard sunlight assaulted his eyes and he automatically reached for the wraparound Ray-Bans in his shirt pocket.

The only decent thing growing up in Hollywood had ever given him was an appreciation for a good pair of sunglasses.

Descending the wide front steps, Rory mentally nudged the estate’s last owner, his grandfather Roderick Kincaid, a little closer to the devil-tended fires of what must be his current abode. The old man deserved to broil for foisting the executorship of his will on Rory. The surviving Kincaid men included Daniel, Rory’s father, and Greg, Rory’s brother. Had Grandfather passed the hassles on to them? No. For whatever reasons of his own, the old man had named Rory. Rory, who hated Caidwater and everything it represented.

He’d shaken Caidwater dirt off his shoes ten years ago, vowing to never pass through its gates again. But thanks to Roderick’s demands, Roderick’s insistent lawyers, and Rory’s own unignorable sense of responsibility, here he was, weighed down by the opulent estate, all its contents, and a dependent aunt who was left under his protection as well.

The timing couldn’t be worse. He should be at home in Atherton—located in sensible, winter-cool northern California—basking in the Blue
Party’s gratifying interest in sponsoring his U.S. Senate candidacy. He should be capitalizing on the yet unpublicized endorsement of the state’s retiring senator.

Instead, he was stuck here, when the last thing an upcoming political campaign needed was to remind people that Rory was a member of the decadent Kincaid acting family. But thanks to his grandfather and the old man’s pack-rat ways, Rory had to waste time waiting around for a woman who bought and sold ratty old clothes.

He glanced impatiently at his watch. The woman was forty-one minutes late.

That was southern California for you. The weather was unseasonable, the residents were unreliable, and the only predictable thing was that he wanted out of L.A. ASAP.

An ominous clatter echoed up the flagstone drive. The skin on the back of his neck crawled. Ignoring the sensation, Rory strode onto the wide curve of the driveway that swung past the house, even though the feeling of doom dogging him deepened.

The metallic death rattle assaulted his eardrums again. Either the woman, this Jilly Skye, drove the world’s crummiest car, or what she
drive was screaming for new struts and shocks. Then the vehicle rounded the last hairpin bend in the driveway.

He’d been right on both counts. He believed the vehicle had started life in the carefree 1960s as a “woody” station wagon, but now it was coughing up the incline like an aged three-pack-a-day smoker. The car’s entire undercarriage shrieked
at the abuse, the grating noise making Rory want to shriek, too.

To add insult to injury, someone had thought it a good idea to repaint the thing—wood and all—cherry red.

To get a glimpse of the driver, Rory squinted, but the tinted windows made a clear view impossible. Once the car’s shuddering ceased, the driver’s door swung open. An improbably high-heeled sandal hit the flagstone. Its straps imprisoned a very small foot, arched high by the shape of the shoe. Like the car, the foot’s toenails were painted the color of cherry popsicles.

Rory closed his eyes, biting back a groan. Damn, but he hated this crazy town. Expect a business meeting, find a foot fetish waiting to happen. But he had to look again, and for just an instant he considered throwing over a Senate seat for a position as sales clerk in a chichi shoe boutique on Rodeo Drive.

Then the sole of the second sandal hit the flagstone with a
, bringing him back to reality.
It’s just a pair of shoes
, he told himself. The rest of the woman had to get better.

And she did. Get better, that is, and worse, too. Because as he stood watching, from behind the curtain of the red woody door a woman emerged. A short, curvy woman who appeared to be clothed in nakedness. And sequins.

In resigned amazement, Rory closed his eyes again.
Only in L.A.
, he thought, realizing he should have been prepared for this kind of thing all along. The last time he’d been surprised by a woman in an unexpected place had been right
here at Caidwater, nearly ten years ago. That was the night Rory had KO’d his father, then torn out of the house to escape north.

The car door slammed, and he risked another look, just in case. Nope, every inch, every improbable inch remained the same, including the winking sequins and stiletto sandals.

As he watched, the woman took a deep breath.

His brain went numb.

Probably from all the blood rushing to the lower half of his body.

He knew he was staring, but then, so was she. He thought her mouth was moving, in some sort of soundless mantra. She stalked toward him—if anyone in that kind of teetery shoe could actually
—and for an unfathomable reason, he stepped back. Then back again.

But she kept coming and he finally stayed still, taking the time to realize she was clothed in a nude-colored evening dress that clung like packing tape to her small waist and spectacular breasts. Then she stopped before him, a courteous three feet away.

Her hand came out. “Hello, sir. I’m Jilly Skye.”

He stared at her, his mind blank of everything but the spangly vision in front of him. Her hand inched closer and he looked at it dumbly, too. What did she expect him to do with it? He looked back at her face for a hint, and thought he detected her lips moving again.

Then her face cleared, her hand dropped. “You’re
Rory Kincaid,” she said, obviously relieved.

He blinked. “No. I
Rory Kincaid.” At least he was reasonably sure of that much.

She swallowed, her lips moved silently again, and then that hand whipped back out. “I’m sorry. I’m Jilly Kincaid—I mean Jilly
, Mr. Kincaid, and I’m pleased to meet you.”

She had a face the shape of a cat’s and green eyes, and he finally realized he was supposed to take her hand. Her small, warm palm and fingers gave his a brisk, impersonal shake. Very quick. Very businesslike.

Businesslike. Jilly Skye.
Oh, my God
, he thought in disbelief,
this truly is my afternoon appointment

Her eyebrows rose. “Well?” She smiled uncertainly.

Well, hell
. What was he supposed to do now?

He once more ran his gaze over the petite woman. She wiggled her toes in those hooker high heels and then adjusted a delicate beaded headband. Beneath it, coffee-brown hair squiggled to her shoulders in a mass of natural curls. He’d already noted the green eyes. Freckles splashed across her face. Her lips moved again, and he guessed she had an unfortunate nervous tic.

Rory mentally shook his head. Unfortunate nervous tic or no, this particular vintage-clothing dealer just wouldn’t do. Nearly seventy years’ worth of clothes and costumes overflowed every nook and cranny of Caidwater, making the cataloging a daunting task. With the Blue Party fund-raiser to prepare for and his own wish to get out of L.A. as soon as possible, he wanted to work with someone professional and efficient.

His gaze flicked over her again and another rush of blood surged toward his groin. He ignored it. From the time he was much too young, he’d witnessed every possible way sexual fascination went wrong. But unlike some of the Hollywood brats he’d grown up with, he’d learned from his famous family’s bad examples and boogied out of L.A. after just one major mistake of his own. Now when it came to sex, he always used his brain first.

With the Senate candidacy in the offing, he had a reputation to protect and people counting on him to uphold it. As tempting as it might be, even thinking about dallying with this bosomy little darling spelled disaster in tall tabloid headlines for all the world to see.

A smart man like him would immediately hustle her back into her car and back out of his life.

Just as he was forming the right words to make that happen, her eyes rounded and she swallowed a surprised hiccup of sound. He pretended not to notice, thinking perhaps it was her unfortunate nervous tic in full flower. But then she stumbled backward until her curvy hips met the cherry-red side of her car. Something furry and gray dashed past Rory. With eager paws, it swiftly scaled the woman’s dress until it came to perch on her shoulder.

Oh, hell

The woman froze, completely, except for her pretty green eyes, which slid in the direction of the big-eared, long-tailed thing. Which, of course, was an animal. A pet. But this was southern California, so the pet—between the size of a rabbit
and a guinea pig—wasn’t a cat, a bird, or even a goldfish. No, not any form of animal life, domesticated or wild, that normal people living in a normal environment would expect to find in the normal course of their normal day.

BOOK: This Perfect Kiss
4.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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